With the Stooges and the MC5, Elektra Records had cornered the market on the proto-punk sounds emanating from Detroit in the late 1960s. The Motor City five made their debut for the label with a live album recorded during two free concerts at the band's stronghold, the Grande Ballroom.
KICK OUT THE JAMS was a call to arms from the avowedly political quintet, and to judge from this blistering Halloween set, high-energy was at the top of their agenda, with incendiary opener “Ramblin' Rose” and independent single “Borderline” among the highlights. In both sound and attitude, MC5 was way ahead of its time, and this show caught the band at the peak of its rabble-rousing power.
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines a “machine gun” as a gun for sustained rapid fire that uses bullets; broadly: an automatic weapon.
The Rock & Roll Dictionary has a different characterization of the term. It states that a “machinegun” is a drummer from Detroit, Michigan who employs a battering style of rapid, hard strike drumming whom is also a founding member of the legendary Detroit rock group the MC5; broadly: Dennis Thompson.
Apparently Noah Webster had never been to Detroit…
Dennis “Machinegun” Thompson, co-founder of Lincoln Park hero’s The MC5 and now proficient blogger, is a man of many words, sentiments and ideals. Exploding onto the scene in 1964, DMGT became one of the original bad ass drummers of the era. He has held relationships and collaborated on stage with music’s elite, and has conquered all there is to accomplish in the Rock & Roll world.
Now, as he continues his worship of drumming, Dennis has added a new-fangled hobby to his extensive activity catalog: Blogging. Unlike many of the music legends from the ‘60s era, Dennis actually writes his own material and contributes to his blog project consistently. From the tales of playing with the Who, to rolling around and partying in Australia with Ron Asheton, Dennis relays these memorable instances through his own perspective and idiom for all fans and interested parties to enjoy.
Jarrod Dicker sat down with Machinegun to converse about his celebrated musical history with the MC5 and beyond, some upcoming aspirations and projects, his philosophies on life and politics and his current pastime blogging. Let’s Kick Out the Jams!
THIRSTY: Hey Dennis, Jarrod Dicker here from Thirsty magazine. I know you’re going through a tough time (read: Machinegunthompson.com) and I truly appreciate you taking time to speak with me.
MGT: This is sort of a sluggish time for me right now. I took care of my father for ten years. Myself and my wife Patrice took care of him the ten years after my mom died and we had a lot of great times together. It was pretty tough to see him go because he went slowly. I don't wish it upon anybody. It’s tough losing your parents. I'm getting through it.
No other band is more closely associated with the 1960s hippie, free love, abundant drug, activism movement than Detroit's MC5. The hard rocking five-piece band poured body and soul into forming a social-psychoactive revolution that they hoped would reshape the buttoned down, conventional landscape of contemporary American culture. The MC5 was founded on the notion that rules are to be broken and they became the very embodiment of no-holds-barred rock and roll.
MC5 - History - Part 1 Formed in 1964 by guitarists Wayne Kramer & Fred :Sonic" Smith as the Bounty Hunters they recruited Rob Tyner on vocals (originally wanted to be their manager) who comes up with the name MC5 and recruited Michael Davis (bass) and Dennis Thompson (drums).
The name MC5 was created by Tyner and chosen because it sounds like a car part and also stands for Motor City 5 which is apt because the band emanate from the tough city of Detroit a city famed for its car industry and simmering racial tensions in mid sixties America.
The band endures play offs, battles of the bands and any gig they can get taking an aggressive, competitive edge to these events honing their skills, performance and solidarity but without much success.
However with the burgeoning hippie scene the band's fortunes take a turn for the better when they take on John Sinclair, leader of the Trans Love Commune, as their manager. Sinclair was a major figure Detroit's counter culture and had served two prison terms for marijuana related offenses.
The MC5 had several managers in their history, Bruce Burnish, John Sinclair, Jeep Holland, Ronan O'Reilly, and Jon Landau
Each MC5 record showed a chronological maturity based on growth from our first records to the next one. We went through so many experiences from the bizarre to the sublime. The 5 encountered the dangers of being so politically and musically honest & forthright. Changes we were uncontrollably thrown into, so we morphed like butterflies to survive! We rolled with the haymakers...
Well, what it was, was that I had a friend named Billy Vargo who played guitar, and I'm thinking, how old were we, we were like maybe 15-years-old, and he was the leader of the band. We had three guitars, no bass, and me on drums. And I was doing it, I was playing.
My brother (rip) was 10 years older than I am, and he was a musician all his life. So when he was sixteen, I was six years old, and they had a rock and roll band, practicing music in my basement.
The drummer would leave his drums, so four year old, five year old Dennis would run down there and bang on the drums and Mom would yell down there, "Dennis, get off those drums, they're not yours!" But she'd always give me at least 10 minutes, you know?
So I got it from my brother, and at the tender age of twelve years old I was already playing weddings, and by fourteen I was playing clubs with my brother. So anyway, in high school and junior high school, I met the other guys and we had a band.
The band was called The Bounty Hunters, for Steve McQueen back in those days. Wayne played in the Bounty Hunters for a real short time.
Wayne taught Fred Smith how to play guitar...Fred would go over to Wayne's house and Wayne would show him how to play chords, and that's how that happened.
Fred became actually the better rhythm guitar player, by his natural, innate ability.
So I'm in high school, and this is about, we're talking maybe eleventh grade, maybe tenth grade, they formed the MC5, which was Wayne Kramer, Fred Smith, Rob Tyner, Bob Gaspar on drums, who has passed away, and Pat Burrows on bass.
They were in the band for maybe six months, and they aced out and did the Dave Clark Five show at the Ford Auditorium in downtown Detroit.
Well, they started moving into this avant-rock business, where they bought more amps and started getting louder and louder, and Bob Gaspar the drummer was bitching, he says, you know, "I gotta keep slamming these drums so hard, I don't wanna play this way." And Pat Burrows the bass player was gettin' pissed off, and said, "I don't wanna do this crazy stuff." (He was from the James Jamerson school of Motown bass playing). So these guys got disaffected.
So one day Wayne pulls up on his motorcycle at my house, and I'm still in 10th grade, so that's makin' me 15, 16? Somewhere around there...pulls up and says, "Hey, do you wanna play this job we got? Our drummer quit. It's a place called the Crystal Bar." And what it is, is a shot and a beer joint -- it's a dump.
They had flyers made up and everything...the name of the band's the Motor City Five. "Okay, I'll do the job." He shows up on his motorcycle in the middle of the night and [I] went down and did the job for the weekend. We had about three toothless bums just sittin' there. And here we are onstage playing "My Generation" and Yardbirds and Kinks and all.
This is affectionately dedicated to my fallen brother Fred “Sonic” Smith, his wife Patti, daughter Jesse, and especially his son, Jackson. “Picture the world as a huge scientific laboratory with all people being tested in a fantastic self-experiment. If man can make it through the maze of problems he has set up for himself, then, and only then, will he be the man of the future.
The man of the future must be created!” Thank you Gray and Francois These are Fred’s words. Those of you familiar with the album “High Time”, have seen the photo of Fred in full super sonic hero costume boldly standing in front of a blown up map of our planet earth. Fred’s quote circumscribed that photo. The year was 1971…
The man was truly ahead of his time. I remember the first time he wore that “Man of the Future costume live at the Grande Ballroom. Boy, did he ever put our then manager John Sinclair in a state of shock! “He’s lost his mind”, Sinclair shouted. But that is another story… Fred, you were always a mystery to me. You gave real color to the meaning of the word “paradoxical”. At one in the same time, he could be angry, but controlled, rough, but ever so smooth. He could be both distant and moody, but oh, so close and crystal clear.
The penultimate rebel, aloof and arrogant, but also your best friend and quiet comrade, and always at the ready to back any of us up when the stuff hit the fan The calm in the center of the storm. The strength. The man of the future must be created… You see, he was my cellophane flower in the fork in my road… At this very moment, this life we all share in this flesh and blood experiment is a gift! There is only five seconds, two roads, and only one cellophane flower. At this very moment your heart beating is a miracle.
Whomever God you pray to, whatever beliefs you hold so dear, you are nonetheless a co-creator. Fred felt we are all co-creators if we do not block ourselves. There is so much work to be done. If all you see is the cellophane, and meekly take the plastic smooth road, your paradise is lost. If you do not exercise your imagination you are at the mercy of folly, deception, and confusion. Your responsibility is to control your own destiny, your own future. This is what Fred taught me. Fred saw that cellophane flower at the fork in the road.
He picked that flower out of the ground and decided to make it real. He chose the hard and bumpy road and gave life to that flower. He gave it color, texture, and a heavenly aroma and most impotantly realism. I proudly pledge to join him in this ascension, solve the riddle of the maze, and become as he, a co-creator and a man of the future.
After all, what rebel worth his salt should weaken and give into cellophanes oblivion? I was his drummer, his friend, and I will miss him deeply. Fred, you were my John Coltrane. You changed my life and my way of looking at the world. You taught me to reach deep in my soul and find the man of the future in MY own image. Bless you my dearly departed friend and thank you forever.
I just heard on Monday of the passing of Steve “The Hawk” Harnadek. A friend caught the write up in the Detroit Free Press Obits section on Monday July 27th, and called me about it.
This is a sad day for me. Steve was my best friend during the early MC5 days. We would slip out of the MC5 house on tens of occasions to have some good fun. Just the two of us, but sometimes Michael would go with us. We especially loved going to the Stooges house for fun and games. We had to get out of the MC5’s band house at times just to get away.
So today I got hit with the concept of the shifting sands of personal priorities. I was feeling a bit angry that morning and afraid. Afraid of losing my father.
Boy, you can plan for the day, like a to-do list, or whatever, but indeed, you cannot plan for outcomes. No matter your intentions, be they good, bad, or indifferent, the capricious vector of random chance will lead the way of your day.
Everyone I know and work with was kind of depressed and feeling blue this day. Strange…
Never fails. If your expectations are rigid and inflexible, you will experience pain when they do not arise as you planned. Better to stay loose, rolling with life’s punches. The level of your inner peace and serenity is in direct proportion to your level of expectation. A man in the pursuit of peace will always expect the unexpected. At all times.
Ever prepared for that dismaying phone call, or that unannounced visit from a relative or friend, or bad news such as a good friend passing away. Steve was an essential part of our crew. He constantly kept me laughing to the point of tears. He had great little quips like “Strictly weird”, and “O-mind”, (meaning a person was totally out of it smashed.)
He watched our backs like a bodyguard. He worked his ass off. He was a joy to be with. I will miss him dearly. Our crew consisted of the Five, John Sinclair, our manager, Steve and two or three road men. Last but not least, Jessie Crawford, (our Spiritual Advisor). Actually, he was really our great friend and all around helper and made us laugh all the time. His main gig was to introduce the band on stage. “Brother’s and sisters, the time has come for each and everyone of you to decide if you are going to be the problem or the solution, It takes five seconds, etc…”
After introducing the band we would run on stage to a huge roar from the crowd and then Jessie would run and get behind me and the drums. I would break 10 to 20 sticks per show, (to drummers, they were 2B size) and Jess would hand another stick to me the instant I broke one. Thanks Jessie wherever you are. So, like today, we had a 10/12 man gang.
Here is a good Steve, Wayne & Dennis story. It was in the rolling hills of San Francisco Marin County where we were staying a few days at the famous Dr. Timothy Leary’s home. “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out” was his mantra. He passed away in 1996. He was gracious enough to put us up while we were on tour there. Sorry we drove you and your wife nuts Doc.
The three of us were in a rented Mustang and we were high on multiple choice drugs headed back to the Doc’s house from a night of mischief on the town. We were driving on a twisting two lane road populated with all these expensive homes. I was in the back seat and we were all laughing and joking around.
Then I get this goofy idea. “Hey Steve.” (he was driving and I was in the back seat) “You gotta sing “Mary Had A Little Lamb” in falsetto and I’m gonna put my hands over your eyes and Wayne will tell you how to turn.” Insanity a-go-go right?
So he starts singing “Mary had a little lamb…” in this high pitched, squeaky falsetto voice and would get in a couple words and then he started to laugh hysterically. I took my hands off his eyes and shouted, “C’mon man! Get it right!”
So we do it again and he almost made it through the whole tune, and then he drove straight off the road. The next thing was “KABOOM!!!” We were parked 30 feet below the road we were on in this guy’s garden! Fortunately we landed square on all four wheels. BABOOM!! CRASH!!!
The guy comes runnin’ out and says “What the f**k is going on here!” “I’m calling the police!” he screamed. We were stunned for a minute but the LSD was so good we all started to laugh again. Talk about crazy…
Well, the cops come and we bullsh*tted our way out of any type of ticket. We sobered up enough to put on the dog. We were very good at this type of instant changing. Actually I think we were all changelings.
We told him the car’s lights went out and we couldn’t see for a few seconds and before we could stop we went over the cliff. We all acted shook up and scared.
We told him who we were, (The MC5) and dutifully put him on the guest list plus two for the ballroom show the next night. The officer called a tow truck for us. The poor guy’s garden was totally ruined, and he threatened to sue us. He never did. I think we gave him a hundred bucks. We made it back to Dr. Leary’s house in one piece and laughed a long time about our adventure.
This was my Steve.
So, be on guard incessantly. Just calmly at the ready. Let your will try and control the day. Any day. You will pay. Trust this. There are costs attached to everything. The less you cling to this material world, and the less addicted you are to sensual, emotional and physical instant gratification, the freer you will be. Anger needs to be tamed. Anger needs to be recognized, and addressed. The same with fear. Fear of all bents and persuasions.
These two menacing and all pervasive human antagonists are always poised backstage to come to the fore, and lead your show. Anger turned inward creates depression. We really need to understand ourselves and our personal relation to fear and anger. Let your imagination be your guide. Taking an in-depth honest approach to your demons gives you the power to see a hell of a lot more clearly than to assume all is well. It is not. Not one of us alive is not in some way struggling with these two ogres.
Listen to yourself. Quiet down and rest your thoughts with some silence each day. Upon awakening, tell yourself the day is going to be a good day no matter what happens. Practice this continuously on a daily basis. You will be amazed at how the bare practicing of letting anger and fear go, will smooth the rough edges and balm your inner soul.
Some will say this is the age of sedation. Doctors in this country are very quick to provide a prescription drug to relax you, alleviate your sadness, your depression. Do cats and dogs need Prozac? Do cows need Zoloft? Do birds require a minimum of 1000 milligrams of Oxycontin to get through their extremely busy day of all that flying and food foraging? You can answer that one. The older I get, the less I presume to know. But I can tell you this, drugs and alcohol are not the solution. They are a symptom of the problem.
Emerson said it best. “Simplify, simplify, simplify!” Oh, what divine wisdom he befell. Hell, it’s just too simple to be true.
Steven ‘Hawk” Harnadek, 61, passed away July 19, 2009, at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital. Cremation arrangements entrusted to J. Gilbert Purse Funeral Home, Adrian.