Dennis Thompson of the MC5 on playing over the volume of Sonic Smith and Wayne Kramer

Dennis Thompson, drummer MC5: Well, I wasn’t impervious to the volume when the boys bought Marshalls.  You see, back in those days the PA systems in the clubs we played were very very primitive. And drummers were never mic’ed.  So the guys had Marshalls and they played hard and loud, the volume was on 10.  I had to develop a style of playing extremely hard for the drums to cut through that wall of electrical sound. I had blood blisters underneath my skin, calluses on every one of my fingers on my left hand.  They would all explode every time I played so my left hand was just raw meat.

What I didn’t like about it was that I couldn’t play anything more delicately. You know, something more on the lines of, you know, 32nd notes and double-stroke rolls and things that require your wrists and not your arms. I had to use wrists and arms and play really fuckin’ hard for the drums to cut through.  I would get comments all the time that, you know, ‘Dennis you gotta play a little louder. ‘





So I would just hit until I was just really, really playing hard.  I was breaking cymbals.  Sinclair used to be so pissed.  But I was breaking 22” cymbals, one a week.  I’d go through 20 or 30 drum pairs of drumsticks per two shows, three shows. We used to order them by the gross, 5B and 2S.  Big.  2S is lumber.  That’s how you learned how to play the rudiments, with the big fat sticks.  Heavy sticks, so it builds up your wrist.  I’d break a rim on the snare drum, bass drum pedals, bass drum heads, tom tom heads. Unbelievable shit that I wouldn’t do now because nowadays you’ve got the remote in-ears and I’ve got the sound just the way I want it, dialed in, ‘cuz I’ve got a 16 track mixer. But back then, like I said, the band’s putting out a loud, ferocious sound that you had to play over.