Cover stars of the latest issue of Clash Magazine, and on the eve of the release of the remixed and expanded ‘Raw Power’, Iggy Pop and James Williamson pick up the story of The Stooges, the band that burned too brightly – the pioneers whose time slipped away – and celebrate the legacy of the godfathers of punk.
Read the full transcript of our interview with James Williamson below and our interview with Iggy Pop HERE.
When did you start playing guitar, and who were your initial influences?
I started playing guitar around the seventh grade. I was born in Texas but my mother remarried an Army guy, so we moved around and I ended up in Oklahoma. One summer while visiting Texas, I wound up getting a guitar because I thought it was cool. My sister was bringing home Elvis records and so I though, ‘I gotta have a guitar’. So I talked my mom into getting me one. My uncle worked for Sears, so I ended up with an old Sears f-hole guitar with action about an inch and a half off the fret board. Anyway, when I first learned to play guitar a little bit, it was just chords and stuff, but then about a year or so later we moved to Detroit area, and it just so happened that I moved next door to a family that all played music. The son in that family, his name was Ken Black. He played electric guitar. I remember moving to Detroit – it was the summer when Martha And The Vandellas’ ‘Heatwave’ was a smash hit record. I would spend my days hanging over in his room, listening to him play and also learning how to play barre chords and things like that. By the end of that summer, I got good enough that I ended up getting my own electric guitar, which was a Fender Jaguar. Of course, the influences in those days were all the usual bands. There was a lot of surf music: The Ventures, The Garbagemen, The Beach Boys, all that sort of thing. And then, not that much later, The Beatles started breaking in the US and then it was a whole litany of all the usual bands.
You mentioned a Motown song there – that label was based in Detroit. Was Detroit a musical city? Did it have a healthy cultural heritage?
Oh, it was a crazy music city. Motown was everywhere, but they weren’t the only ones. I mean, there was music everywhere. I remember going to the state fair in Detroit one summer – it was probably around the time I learned to play guitar. There, they brought up this kid and put him on stage, and they had to keep an eye on him because he’d be falling off the stage and stuff – it was Little Stevie Wonder playing ‘Fingertips’. Music was everywhere – there was a lot of music going on.
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Were you aware of The Stooges before you joined? What impact had they made on Detroit?
Yeah. I knew those guys from when I was pretty early in high school. I had helped form a local band called The Chosen Few, and the singer, Scott Richardson, went on to do SRC, a local Ann Arbor band. I had gone away to school in New York, and when I came back I hung out with my old buddies from The Chosen Few who had by then added Ron Asheton as the bass player. I went up to a gig that they were doing in Ann Arbor and met Ron for the first time. Iggy was there too – he was playing drums for The Prime Movers – I had seen them but I’d never met him. I happened to bring my guitar along and I was showing him [Iggy] some of my songs during the break, and I think he always remembered that. I had been playing songs since the very beginning – I had figured out it was easier to play my own stuff than to try to learn somebody else’s. So I knew those guys very well when they started forming The Stooges. I used to go up and hang out at their house in Ann Arbor – mainly because they were one of the only bunch of people I knew who had a house – but they started rehearsing in their basement up there for what would be the Psychedelic Stooges. The Psychedelic Stooges were really something to behold. Iggy showed up painted entirely silver with no eyebrows. He used to play a vacuum cleaner and a blender with a microphone, and Scott Asheton was playing fifty-gallon oil drums… They were just wild. Somehow it worked, because everybody was stoned and everything, so they thought it was pretty cool. That was their initial impact: they were just completely different from everybody else. They were more towards Sun Ra or John Cage’s experimental music than they were a rock band at that point. And, of course, eventually, when they got their record deal with Elektra, they had learned to become proficient enough on their instruments that they were actually writing song-like structures. But at first they weren’t doing any of that.
How did you come to join the band?
Like I said, I knew them from very early in high school, several years before I actually finished high school, and once I was finished with high school, about a year after that I decided I would move up to Ann Arbor because there was just more stuff happening up there – and I didn’t know what I wanted to do anyway. Before long, I ended up moving in to a house with a bunch of the guys in the band. One thing led to another and they needed a second guitar and so it was kind of natural, because I was hanging out with the guys anyway, and they just asked me to join.
Iggy describes you as a “thug” on guitar – how did your style develop? Was it a product of the rebellious times you grew up in?
Yeah, well I take a little bit of umbrage to the idea of being a thug on guitar! (Laughs) But I guess that’s one way to describe it. I get asked that question a lot and it’s hard for me to answer very easily. It is the style that I developed in writing all my own stuff as I was learning how to play. It really is a natural thing for me. I learned fairly early on that I liked to play a lot of chords very quickly, and so in order to do that you have to… I developed almost an exclusive down-picking style – not so much up-picking – in order to hit those chords quickly. The resulting sound of that is kind of an intense thrashing sound, and that’s the aggression that people describe my playing as. I don’t know, there probably is some aggression in there. The guitar was always an emotional outlet for me, and so maybe it’s a combination of all those things. It is distinctively my style. When you hear me play, you can hear all those records that we made because it sounds just like that.
Having been a fan of the Stones, did you try and develop a twin guitar technique between you and Ron in The Stooges?
I wish we had done things like that! (Laughs) We just kinda played together and it was like, ‘Okay, you take the solo this time’. THat was pretty short lived – in 1971 I was in the band, and by the end of it, it was over. We were just trying to keep the band together, which was the main thing, and make sure we played the songs okay. But no, there wasn’t a lot of planning going on there.
You all lived together for a while in what was called Fun House. What was an average day there?
The band lived in the Fun House together before I was ever there. They would just tend to… it was a pretty big house, for one thing, and so they would tend to be segmented in different portions of the house depending on what they were doing. Mostly they would just hang out, get up late, and when they were practicing, they would practice late in the day or at night – it was kinda like a day for anybody really. The thing was, when I was up there, a couple of us moved to a different house, and then eventually I moved to a high-rise modern apartment. Scott Asheton was my room mate, and then Iggy had his own place. Ron was over staying at the Fun House and the roadies were there. So, it kinda got all split up. We would go back and forth to the Fun House for a little bit. It was a whole continuum of different places we were staying in by that point.
You’re accused by some people of being “dark” and of “accelerating the craziness” of the group. How do you respond to such claims?
Well, you know what? I’ve been vilified for many, many, many things over the years, and most of it is unfair, and having not been in the music scene for so long I wasn’t around to defend myself. But, you know, I was no angel, but I certainly don’t think I was the one responsible for anything other than trying to keep the band going and trying to make the band be as good as it could be. Most of those comments come from people who are not close to the band, and sometimes they are coming from band members, but it’s sour grapes, you know? So I don’t know. The guys that are still with the band, I don’t think we have animosity.
The use of hard drugs spiraled out of control in the group. How did the music and the ascent of the band suffer from this?
Well, it was terrible. Iggy, especially, at that point was in pretty bad shape. He wasn’t terribly reliable, but, with that said, I think we had some interesting music that we had come up with – I had started writing music for the band by then. So we had the core of what would end up being the next wave, which was the ‘Raw Power’ era stuff. Some of that is captured on the album ‘1971’ that was released on Easy Action recently. It was a different sound – so different that the guys from Elektra, when they came to visit, couldn’t relate to it at all. First they listened to that stuff and they thought, ‘I don’t think we can sell that’, and then the other thing that happened was then they went up to Ron Asheton’s apartment and he’s got all this nazi memorabilia all over the place. These guys are looking at this and going, ‘What the hell are we doing here? Get me out of here!’ So it was all of those things combined. But they didn’t walk out of there – they ran! (Laughs) But Ronnie, he was just a collector, you know what I mean? His girlfriend was Jewish! It was a weird thing with him, but people didn’t understand that, and so it didn’t go over too well, let’s say that.
When The Stooges were dropped by Elektra, was there a feeling of despondency, that this was all over?
It was just kinda the last straw really. The band, it was pretty bad as it was. Iggy was becoming… This became a pattern with Iggy, and I’d seen it later many times, but in those days it was brand new for me. He was just not very reliable. He was getting pretty desperate, really. So, it wasn’t that long after that happened that the band just gave up. I mean, I got sick with hepatitis and had to go back to Detroit and hang out at my sister’s apartment and get over it, and Iggy needed to clean himself up. There was a lot of that going on. So the band basically broke up after ’71.
After that, Iggy was going to sign to MainMan and head over to London, and you were to join him. Iggy said that you were the only person who could understand him. Having agreed to work together again, what were your plans for the next stage? Did you have a vision of what you wanted what would become ‘Raw Power’ to be?
No, uh-uh. We knew we got along well together, and I think he knew he liked my guitar style. And he knew I could write music, because we had already been working together in 1971. His idea was to just make a complete fresh start – hire a new rhythm section and just start a brand new band. MainMan, when they met him and signed him on and got the record deal with CBS, they just wanted Iggy – they didn’t want a band, they just wanted Iggy. Their whole idea was to make pop stars – that’s what they had in David Bowie, and he just had a backing band. They would have Iggy and a backing band, but it wouldn’t be The Stooges. That was kind of the idea, but it was very sketchy at that point. All I knew, like I say, I was sleeping on my sister’s couch in her apartment getting over hepatitis and I didn’t have any idea what I was gonna do, because I didn’t have any belief that any of this was gonna happen. But anyway, I got a call one day and it was like, ‘Hop on a plane and come to London – we’re gonna start a band.’ It took me about five seconds to figure out I had absolutely nothing else going on so I might as well do it, so I grabbed my guitars and went to the airport and off we went.
So, you’d both cleaned up by this point. Were you serious about this project and determined to make it work after the failure of Elektra?
Definitely. I mean, both of us were motivated. If you go out there in the real world and try to feed yourself without any skills or any way to do that, pretty soon you figure out, ‘Okay, well I guess music is something we can do. Why don’t we try to do that for real so that we can make some money doing this’. That’s what we wanted to do. We went off, we had a good record deal, MainMan was pretty upscale, and we went over there. None of us had ever been out of the country before, so it was all brand new for us. Initially we weren’t able to find the rhythm section that we liked. We tried and tried… The guys in England at the time were a completely
different type than we were…
It was around the advent of glam rock, wasn’t it?
Yeah, everybody was wearing frilly shirts and big hair – it was all very affected, and we were Detroit guys and didn’t want any part of that. We certainly didn’t want those guys in our band. I distinctly remember sitting watching TV with Jim and just leaning over to him and saying, ‘You know what? Ronnie Asheton is a good bass player’ – he was the bass player in The Chosen Few, that’s when I first met him – ‘And his brother’s a great drummer and they play well together. Why are we looking for these guys over here? Why don’t we just call those guys up and bring them over?’ And he agreed. I like to tell that story because that’s another thing I’ve been vilified for, kicking Ron out of his guitar spot. But actually, in reality, that’s not what happened; if it wouldn’t have been for me, neither one of those guys would have ever been in the band again. That’s what really happened, and they were happy to come over and do that at the time.
Well, you’d rather be a Stooge than not, I suppose.
Yeah, exactly. And besides, he was really good at it! And oh, by the way, the bass is a great instrument! (Laughs) There’s nothing wrong with being the bass player. I think between the bass and the drums, those are the two most important instruments in the band!
You co-wrote all the songs on ‘Raw Power’. What do you remember about the genesis of those songs?
One thing that most people don’t know about those songs… Well, let me step back and say that we came over to London with a bunch of material from ‘1971’ – so we had ‘I Got A Right’ and ‘I’m Sick Of You’ and a bunch of stuff that we came over with, and that’s what we played at the Kings Cross gig, which was out only gig over there. We had all that stuff and we thought, ‘Hey, this is great; we should record some of this stuff’. And so we went into some demo studios and recorded those tunes, and later they were released, but we would keep taking them to MainMan, and MainMan would keep rejecting them. It became evident to us that Tony DeFries and MainMan, you know, they really didn’t understand our music. They didn’t like it and they didn’t see any potential for it to make hit records, which is what they wanted. We went on and on making these demos, but we couldn’t get anything they liked. Eventually, the thing that saved the whole thing was that MainMan got very much occupied with breaking David Bowie in the US, and so they quit paying attention to us. That allowed us to go into the studio unsupervised – no producer, no anything; just an engineer – and record those tracks the way we wanted to, and that’s what you got. It’s fairly rare that you get the ability to lay down something authentic like that on record. But in terms of the music, which is what you were asking about, another thing that’s not well known is that I wrote almost all of that music in my bedroom with an acoustic guitar. I would sit up there and work on new material because we needed to come up with new material as the other stuff had been rejected. That’s where most of that music came from, and then when Jim was at our house I would show him stuff, or sometimes he’d go off to a hotel or something and I’d go over there just to get away and play it for him there. But anyway, we would work together and he would come up with lyrics and we would modify the music in order to fit the lyrics and stuff… That’s how all those came about.
It was your first experience of recording an album in a studio. Were the sessions fun?
Yeah. I had no idea what I was doing – I was having so much fun! I’d been in demo studios, but I had never really tried to pull together an album. But we were ready for it. We had rehearsed really furiously for, gosh, I don’t really know how long, but weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks, because of the live gig and also just because we had nothing else to do. We’d do that every night, all night long, go down to the rehearsal studios. So we were pretty tight. We worked up that material and went in and just laid it down, and we’d keep going until everybody was nodding and agreeing that it was a good take, and then we’d move on to the next one.
MainMan insisted that David Bowie mix ‘Raw Power’. Were you happy with the results?
Well, that’s again more of the same. We recorded the album and we did a mix that we liked, and then we brought it to MainMan and they thought, ‘Oh my god!’ So they called on their golden boy David Bowie to sort of salvage the record. (Laughs) He was on tour at the time, but he took some time off, and Jim and I flew to Los Angeles and were in the mixing room with him until… Really, we have some culpability here. I mean, if we had have really objected, we should have said something at the time, but we didn’t. Anyway, he mixed it. David Bowie is very stylised, and so he put all of his touches on it and made kind of an arty mix of the thing. I shouldn’t complain – I mean, it favours me greatly with all of the guitars out front – but it just doesn’t sound too natural. Anyway, that’s the way it was, and it has a lot of historical value for that reason – nothing else sounded like it before or since. So I’m very happy that Sony is re-releasing that mix, because it’s been off the market for so long. There was Iggy’s mix later, and I think there are maybe a few technical issues with that, but the thing about it is that he brought a whole new generation of listeners – because by that time Iggy was a pretty well-known name – to listen to this music. And finally, the latest remastering brought up the bass and drums and so that’s all wonderful – I’m very happy with the Sony product that’s coming out. The thing about all of them is that that album is all about the songs and the playing, and really no mix – no matter how bad or how good or whatever – can really mess up those songs. The songs are special. The mix is a nice thing, but it’s not everything.
‘Raw Power’ did not sell well. Did this affect your commitment or your attitude?
Um… Well… Of course. In those days selling albums was the name of the game.
I would think it still is!
Well, not really, not like it was. Live performances in those days were not really where you made money. These days, albums are not really where you make money – live performances are, and they’re a lot bigger… There’s no real venue for albums – the radio stations don’t play them the same way that they did, and most people download albums one song at a time, so it’s a different kind of thing than it was then. But anyway, poor sales meant death in the rock and roll market, and we did go on and have a series of different managers who toured us quite a bit. And there was a point where we thought CBS might pick up their option to have us do a second album, but they didn’t. However, we were very prolific after that, so we wrote song after song after song continuously – actually, one of the reasons why that album wasn’t more of a success was that we weren’t performing it out live. What we would do is we would get very bored with the material and we would move on and play new stuff every time. If you were a Stooges fan, you’d come to the gig but you’d never hear anything you’d ever heard before! (Laughs) It wasn’t really a very smart way to be entertainers, but we didn’t really care about that.
It was thought that nobody could relate to your music. Were there considerations to make The Stooges more mainstream?
We liked to eat, so we figured that we better do something! We continually tried to make our stuff more…not mainstream, but to make it more accessible to people. I think later, the stuff on ‘Kill City’, which I’ll talk about in a little bit, became a little more along those lines. But no, we mostly just did our own thing. I think that there was room for us to have become more accessible earlier, but we thought we could convince people that what we were playing was what they wanted to hear. I think that the reason, personally, that we didn’t get more acceptance in those days was that we were so different that people’s ears, they just couldn’t hear the music. But nowadays, there’s been a whole succession of bands who have imitated that sound and that style, and so [The Stooges] became quite popular and now it sounds familiar to people and that’s why, even today, those albums sound contemporary. But people like them now because they’re familiar with that kind of approach.
You were fired at one point, but returned for The Stooges’ final tour. Is that right?
Well, yeah. What happened was…I can’t tell you the whole story, but basically MainMan moved us to a house in the Hollywood hills and we had one of their little minions, Leee Black Childers, was staying at the house. I was seeing a girl, Cyrinda Foxe, up there. It ended up badly, and she was a good buddy of his, and so he kind of had it in for me. I seem to attract this type of thing, I don’t know why – like you said earlier, the guy that caused all the trouble. Anyway, whatever it was, I was the fall guy for everybody taking drugs and screwing up. One day I was told my services were no longer needed. So I left. It was very short lived though – I was gone for maybe three or four weeks, and then the whole band was kicked out of there. I wasn’t any worse than any of the rest of them. Once they were all kicked out, the first thing they did was to ask me to rejoin, because they needed me to play guitar for them. So that was very short lived.
It’s reported that when you got back in you took control of the musicianship and tried to tighten the professionalism of the band at that point. Was this out of sheer frustration at the band’s laziness?
Actually I had been trying to do that ever since I joined the band! I felt like if we’re gonna do this, let’s do it right. While I was out of the band, I happened to see a session at Capitol Records and it was Scott Thurston playing piano, and I was taken by that and got his contact info. As soon as I rejoined the band I hired Scott Thurston on keyboards. Right away the thing started becoming a little more musical. Iggy was all over the place, and so it was hard to pin him down on stuff. The rhythm section is the rhythm section, but I just wanted the people to play tight, and given the music that we had, play it as well as we possibly could. So yeah, I was really driving that, but “taking control” is a little bit strong. I think I was just trying to be a focal point for what we had to be doing out there.
Why was Iggy so unreliable? What was his downfall and what drove you guys to breaking point?
He had a lot of interests. We were all young guys so there was all kinds of girls, drugs…you name it, it was there. We were easily distracted and I was trying to keep the band focused on being a band. The Stooges weren’t real big on practising and things like that. These days all the bands are pretty professional, but back then… In the old days, if The Stooges practised at all you were lucky!
What signalled the end of the band?
We had gone on some very lengthy tours across the country. They weren’t well planned tours – the management that we had would take whatever gigs they could get for us. And so we started hop-skipping across the country; we’d do a gig in the midwest and then fly down to Florida, then come back to LA and then go to New York…it was just endless. Because of all that lack of planning, we weren’t making any money out of it anyway, we were just paying expenses. So it was getting pretty rough for the band and everybody was getting tired. The final straw was we went to play the Michigan Palace. The management put us in a little local bar down there as a side gig just to get a little extra money, but they hadn’t researched it. We walked in there and started playing, and everybody in the Detroit area really came to see us because they liked us, but basically it was a biker bar. We started playing and Iggy starts getting out in the audience and, how he does, he hassles people out there. And there was one biker leaning up against the rail and Iggy comes up to him and this guy just hauls off and cold-cocks him. It was a scary night – we felt pretty lucky to get out of there alive. A couple of days later we did the Michigan Palace gig and those bikers came back and they started throwing stuff at as – bottles and cameras and all of that. We egged them on and stuff – because we were so stupid. We did all that, and of course that’s captured on the album ‘Metallic K.O.’, but that was kind of the end. Actually, in hindsight, one of the things I’m not really proud of is ‘Metallic K.O.’ Because although it does document a point in history, I think what happened is that it also glamourised the whole violence thing. Later, the punk movement became very violent, and I think part of that is directly related to ‘Metallic K.O.’
The music you made is now described as proto-punk. That makes you a pioneer of the scene that came subsequent. What did you think of the bands that followed in your wake?
First of all I didn’t think much about it because I’d already moved on, doing other things. But I thought it was kinda neat that these guys had actually figured out a way to make money with all this stuff, because we certainly never! (Laughs) I also didn’t think they were as good as we were. There have been a lot of bands that were good though. I didn’t really relate to the punk thing too much, but by the same token, I could see what they were doing, so it was kinda cool for a while. But I wanted to circle around, because we hit on a couple of things that are related to ‘Kill City’. So, that very same Capitol Records studio that I met Scott Thurston in, we ended up going back in a couple of weeks ago and remixing ‘Kill City’. I’ve got a friend named Ed Churney who’s a master engineer and mixer – he’s done everybody’s records. So he took a crack at it [‘Kill City’] and I’m telling you, the end result is just fantastic. I mean, we finally reached the full potential of that album. We’re gonna re-release that some time this year. We did that at Capitol Records right there where I had met Scott. It just sounds fantastic.
Does it feel good that you’ve managed to improve the music and get it sounding how you always wanted it?
Yes, it feels great. After that comment about making the band more musical, of course that wasn’t The Stooges, it was Iggy and I – plus Scott Thurston and the Sayles brothers and so on. But anyway, it was our songwriting and it had become, y’know, not mainstream but very much more accessible. And so I think had The Stooges been able to keep it together, who knows what would have happened. Of course, we didn’t get a record deal with ‘Kill City’ and so the rest is history: Iggy went on to be a solo performer and I went on into the electronics business, and here we are.
After that, you didn’t speak to Iggy for almost twenty years. Did you guys fall out?
Yeah. Actually it’s funny, because the ‘Kill City’ thing was a big catalyst for all this. I went to school trying to learn about computer design and so on, and in the meantime XXX (44:40) had approached me and offered to pay for me to finish up ‘Kill City’ and release it on XXX. And so, you know, I was a student and needed the money so I took it and finished it up. I thought it was a good release for the time; it wasn’t perfect – my skills were limited – but I did the best I could and I thought it still sounded good. So we released it and Iggy had a fit, because he and David Bowie were making so-called professional albums at that point. That was his first take. And then what started happening was that kids started buying it and all of a sudden it became an underground thing, and now all of a sudden Iggy started thinking, ‘Shit, well this is kinda cool’. He and David used it to get another record deal for him. So now he kinda liked it, and he though, ‘Well, you know what? I’ll try calling up my old buddy James and see if he’ll produce the record for me.’ So he asked me to do ‘New Values’ and, once again, I needed the money – besides, I thought it would be kinda fun, and it was. I pulled in a bunch of LA musicians that I knew – Scott Thurston and a bunch of other guys – and Jim brought the drummer Klaus Kruger over. Anyway, we did ‘New Values’ and I think it turned out great. I love that record to this day. I think that everybody played well and it sounds good. But the record company didn’t like it, because what they were hoping to do was to put together James Williamson and Iggy Pop and come up with a punk record, and ‘New Values’ wasn’t a punk record. So, when it was finished, they didn’t really promote it that much. Later some of the songs got to be quite popular – like ‘On Board’ and so on. But they wanted to try it again. They wanted to put together another album and they decided to record it in the UK and pull together a bunch of punks to play on it. They invited me to do it, and I really had my doubts about it from the beginning, but I decided I would do it. So I came over to London and we auditioned a bunch of guys – we got Glen Matlock from The Sex Pistols’ original line-up, and Steve Nueu (47:45) was a guitar player he knew, kind of a young punk kind of guy, Barry Andrews (47:45) was from XTC, I think, Klaus Kruger was still around, and so on. So we pulled this band together, but I never really had a good feeling about them or their music. Then Iggy came over very unprepared, because he had just finished ‘New Values’ and he hadn’t had time to write new material. And then finally the last straw was that they put us up in Wales at this place that you live in and record at, which was a very bad idea in my opinion. So, you know, you gotta have some time off from the studio when you’re in the studio, but not up there! So you’re living and eating and recording and doing everything with these people twenty-four/seven, and it was just a disaster. I got so that I was very, very unhappy there, and very unhappy with what was being recorded and how it was being played. The net (49:10) of it all was that at one point after the basic tracks were laid down, one day Iggy and I… I quit and he fired me all on the same day. So that was it. We were both so pissed off with each other we didn’t talk for twenty years.
So it was an acrimonious split.
Well, the thing is, these days we try not to pick any fights with each other because I don’t know how many more twenty-year periods we’re going to have! (Laughs)
You retired from music in 1980 and eventually moved into working in the computer industry. How does a Stooge fit into a world of nerds?
Well, it was quite an interesting dynamic to morph myself into that world because I was fascinated by what they were doing. I mean, the computer industry was just revolutionary in those days, and I’ve never regretted making that move because I’ve got the experience to work with some brilliant people and be a part of this whole wave of the personal computer and the Internet and all the things that have happened over that period of time. But coming from being a Stooge to working on calculus and differential equations is kind of a huge existential gap! (Laughs) And I don’t know how I did it, to be honest with you, but I managed. I’ve always had a natural mathematical inclination – I’m no math guy by any means, but I could adapt myself, I guess.
Are there any parallels at all between a life in music and a life in computers?
Yeah, I think so. Especially where I live; the Silicon Valley is a unique place where people start up new companies and they create new things that nobody ever thought of before and they just don’t care – I mean, they do care but they don’t care. And they weren’t afraid to take chances, and they were bold. At first, when I first got back into it back in the early Eighties, this place was more rockin’ than rock ‘n’ roll, it turned out. Rock ‘n’ roll had kind of plateaued for me, and people in the Seventies were making crap, as far as I was concerned. It had just become a business for people. But this was exciting; people were doing brand new things. So yeah, that was more rock ‘n’ roll than rock ‘n’ roll! I think now, of course, the computer and networking industry has also matured, and the rock business has become big business… I think the younger people have tried to revamp it over those years, and that’s good, but I think these days, being back in it, it’s kind of interesting. I don’t see too many bands rocking it hard these days though. And so, looking at it a little differently for us coming back out and playing, first of all it’s the line-up that people want to see because they never got the chance to see it, but also maybe I think we can show some of these young bands how to rock a little bit. Because that’s what we do, and I think we still do it pretty well.
When did you first hear about Ron Asheton’s death?
Very shortly after it happened. I forget who it was, but somebody shot me an email. I had been talking to them about other things and then they shot me an email – it might have been Carlton Sandercott (54:00) from Easy Action, I’m not sure. He said, ‘I’m sorry about your mate’. I had no idea what he was talking about, but of course I found out shortly thereafter… And then, it was maybe only a few hours later, Iggy gave me a call to break the news. So yeah, it was pretty shortly after it happened.
Did you think that The Stooges would quite once and for all at this point, or did you entertain the notion that they may give you a call?
Oh, no. I was working for Sony, I had no intentions of going in the band or any of that. At first, we were just talking about whether I was going to go to the funeral or not. Then, of course, later Iggy was talking about would I be interested in playing the guitar. I told him I couldn’t. I mean, I had a job. I’d come do the Hall Of Fame with them if they got in. He was just thinking… These gigs get booked a year in advance, and so he had a whole bunch of gigs booked for The Stooges for 2009 and what was he gonna do? That’s what was on his mind and, of course, ultimately he just cancelled all the gigs. But originally I had no intention of doing it. It was later when things changed that that all became possible.
Have the band been working on any new songs? Are there any plans for a new album?
Yeah, we have. Once I got playing again, then of course I kind of naturally tried to mess around with different things. Jim and I had been talking about maybe we should release at least a single or two, just to get some things out there for people to hear, rather than try to wait for a whole album’s worth of material to develop. So we’re still considering that; we’ve got three or four [songs] that are pretty far along at this point. We’ll see what happens, but I think you’ll see something come out.
Does the new music sound like classic Stooges or is there a modern influence in there?
You’ll notice the same kind of thing. It’s still me playing lead guitar in that style. They’re new, but they’re still us.
You’re to perform ‘Raw Power’ in its entirety in London in May. Has this album taken on a new life for you from its original?
It has taken on a life of its own. It’s being re-released and the Sony people have done a really good job of promoting it and so on, and people are really accepting of it now. I think it’s like Platinum now or something – it has been a successful record, it just took a long time! (Laughs)
Will there be any surprises at these shows?
Oh, too soon to say. We’re still working on the set a little bit, tweaking it here and there, adding this and taking this off. We’ll do all of ‘Raw Power’ but we’ll do a lot of things from ‘Kill City’, a lot of things from in between (58:20). So the set is about twenty-four songs long. I think the people in Hammersmith, from what I can tell, are really ready for it, so I can’t wait to do it.
The new edition of ‘Raw Power’ comes with a second disc, ‘Georgia Peaches’, which presents a one-hour live concert from Atlanta, 1973. Do you remember this gig?
Oh yeah, very definitely. We had a great time there at Richard’s in Atlanta. We did a week there and it was a really fun time – the crowd was fun and they were way into us. Yeah, I’m glad they picked that. I think it sounds good. Once they got through the little guitar problem they had on the recording at first, once they got that figured out, the rest was sounding pretty good.
Did you know that show had been recorded?
No, I didn’t know anything about it. I think they had a live recording truck there for something else and so it just got recorded at the same time.
Disc three in the ‘Deluxe Edition’ features unheard outtakes. Was it fun to rediscover these?
Yeah. I had completely forgotten about those. I was involved in the decision about which ones that we would actually release. Those came out really well.
Why were they never released? Was it a case of, like you said earlier, that you were so prolific you were discarding songs as quickly as you were writing new ones?
Yeah. Normally bands, when they record in the studio, they don’t release everything that they put down on tape. Some of the songs on that one, you can hear just the same riffs but with different lyrics on top of them. They became other songs on the album, or they just didn’t get finished.
Why is ‘Raw Power’ so revered now? What makes it so special?
I just think it’s the songs. It’s the songs and the way that they’re played – that’s what is unique about that record. It’s authentic music and I feel that it was captured in a way that was really in a pristine form. Nobody was producing that, nobody was messing around with it – that was the way we intended it to sound, and that’s how it sounds. And I think audiences have caught up to it.
Is this you back in music for good? You’re not heading back to computing any time soon?
Well, I still consult for Sony, and so I have two jobs now! But no, I don’t plan to do that. We have a three-year horizon on the Stooges thing and then we’ll take stock of where we are at that point. I don’t wanna be doing this forever. I don’t like to see bands getting old and becoming a joke for people – that’s not right. So we’ll do it while we’re still having fun and while we can still do a good show for people and can still play okay, then beyond that, we’ll go off into the sunset with our Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame award.
I’m going to Detroit in September, hoping to see some of the city’s musical heritage and hot spots. Where do you recommend I go?
Well, you should go visit the Grande Ballroom, for sure. That was a huge venue in those days, and it’s still going, so you should definitely check that out. There’s another thing called the East Town as well. But if you’re in the States in September, you ought to try to co-ordinate it with our upstate New York gigs.
Words by Simon Harper
Read Clash Magazine’s full interview with Iggy Pop HERE.