MC5- Dennis Thompson PSF Interview

by Jason Gross
PSF: Even before the MC5, how were you involved in music?

MGT: My mother used to sing on the radio until she got bronchitis. My father back in the '30's played the upright bass in a Slovak band when he was courting my mother- these young drunken Bohemian Slovaks playing traditional music. It was like rock and roll for my dad. It was pretty safe in Detroit back then though.
I started playing drums when I was four. When I was 8 or 9, my family would get together- my brother would play guitar and my sister would play piano so we'd play together. My brother also had a rock and roll band, playing all those instrumental songs. You'd have four guitar players and no bass. They'd rehearse in the basement and leave the drums downstairs. So I'd go down there and play until Mom would say 'get off those drums Denny, those ain't yours!' Little did she know...

To raise a son who plays the drums, you have to be a beautiful and insane parent. I was playing in bars when I was 13 with my brother, playing weddings when I was 10 just to make a buck and be playing.
PSF: What was the local music scene like around the mid-60's in that area, just before you joined the MC5?

MGT: There were garage bands vis-a-vis the Motor City Five, The Amboy Dukes, Bob Seger & the Last Heard, Mitch Ryder etc.. Sock hops, high school parties and dances. Really tame compared to the football games- that's where everyone got their ya-ya's out. The big names then were Duane Eddy, the Ventures, early Beach Boys, Motown, Stax, Otis Redding. The Beatle and the Stones were just starting to hit. The first English wave...
PSF: So how did you meet up with Wayne, Rob and Fred?  

MGT: We met up in the ninth grade (1963) at Lincoln Park high school- a greaseball and jock school. Back in those days, you were one or the other. We were the black jackets and pointed shoes crowd. The MC5 actually played at my graduation in '66 at an all-night party. We did "Black To Comm", sorta way, way ahead of the time... We were the weird guys, the outcasts. All different in our own ways. A couple of us were kicked out of school. Fred was expelled for just having long hair. We ran the gamut. That just solidified us and made us stronger. Our favorite bands were the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Yardbirds, Kinks, Paul Butterfield.

PSF: How did the band change after meeting up with John Sinclair?

MGT:  Before we met him, we were pretty much into playing rough and tough rock and roll. We didn't care about jazz, just about being the best rock and roll band we could be. We used to rehearse and practice a lot. We had an ethic and we wore our hair long and started to smoke a little pot. We were just trying to be really good players.  

Right about the time we graduated from high school ('66/'67), we met Sinclair, the resident beatnik poet/philosopher at Wayne State University in Detroit. They used to have an Artists' Workshop with poetry and jazz. That's how we met John. Rob met him and struck up a conversation- they were both deep into jazz.

 It was a natural relationship that followed. So Rob brought us down to the Artists' Workshop where you had all these jazz bands doing stuff like Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Archie Shepp & Pharoah Sanders. We came in there with "Black To Comm" at full volume. (laughs) It took a while but John Sinclair fell in love with us. All of a sudden, we went from high school heros who used to win all the Battles of the Bands to the audio vanguard of the artistic community at Wayne State University. At the time, you had all sorts of other things happening. You had the riots in the streets here in Detroit.

You had the women's rights movement and the minority movement. We're hooking up with this beatnik philosopher poetician, being followed by the police already. The next thing that happens is that we meet Russ Gibb. He was a free thinking person and saw what was happening in San Francisco and New York. He took a chance and leased the Grande Ballroom. Sinclair brought Gibb down and asked us to be the house band of his new venue, this ballroom. We said yes and became the houseband at the Grande for the next eight months and we played for free, & rehearsed there in the dead of winter wearing 5 layers of warm clothes. No heat yet... No money yet.

 PSF: How did "Kick Out the Jams" come together?  

MGT: We started playing the Ballroom and built a good crowd but there weren't any national bands there yet. The local bands were really good . Nugent, Mitch Ryder, Stooges, Bob Seger, and the Rationals. We would sit back and watch these other bands and yell 'Kick out the jams or get off the f**king stage! C'mon, we gotta rehearse- get the fuck outta here!' As the Grande drew some national notoriety, Procol Harum and Janis Joplin would come and play and we'd still be yelling 'Kick out the jams!' Finally Rob penned the words for the song but he didn't write out the whole thing with 'get off the stage.' It became 'Kick out the jams, motherf**ker!'

 PSF: Did you think the band was part of a music scene in Detroit?  

MGT: We were the vanguard. If it wasn't for the MC5, all of these bands would have been nothing. Someone had to do it for free and get the scene established. That's what we did. We established a venue for all these other groups to launch themselves to national attention. Every weekend we would play with anybody and everybody via that constant exposure and our desire to be a great rock and roll band and develop a very strong following. Based on our following, we were matching up all the groups in Detroit and these bands would bring their camps into the Grande. Pretty soon, it was all filled up (it holds 3000 people). There wasn't anything else going on in the city at the time, zero. At that point in time, you had the Filmore and the Avalon so the ballroom phenomenon was catching on. That brought attention from the record companies to this town because we started to fill the place up before we started to bring in national acts. Once the national bands started coming through, then it was a done deal.

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