During the psychedelic haze of the late '60s, the grimy, noisy and relentlessly bleak rock & roll of the Stooges was conspicuously out of time. Like the Velvet Underground, the Stooges revealed the underside of sex, drugs, and rock & roll, showing all of the grime beneath the myth. The Stooges, however, weren't nearly as cerebral as the Velvets. Taking their cue from the over-amplified pounding of British blues, the primal raunch of American garage rock, and the psychedelic rock (as well as the audience-baiting) of the Doors, the Stooges were raw, immediate, and vulgar. Iggy Pop became notorious for performing smeared in blood or peanut butter and diving into the audience. Ron and Scott Asheton formed a ridiculously primitive rhythm section, pounding out chords with no finesse — in essence, the Stooges were the first rock & roll band completely stripped of the swinging beat that epitomized R&B and early rock & roll. During the late '60s and early '70s, the group was an underground sensation, yet the band was too weird, too dangerous to break into the mainstream. Following three albums, the Stooges disbanded, but the group's legacy grew over the next two decades, as legions of underground bands used their sludgy grind as a foundation for a variety of indie rock styles, and as Iggy Pop became a pop culture icon.
After playing in several local bands in Ann Arbor, MI, including the blues band the Prime Movers and the Iguanas, Iggy Pop (born James Osterberg) formed the Stooges in 1967 after witnessing a Doors concert in Chicago. Adopting the name Iggy Stooge, he rounded up brothers Ron and Scott Asheton (guitar and drums, respectively) and bassist Dave Alexander, and the group debuted at a Halloween concert at the University of Michigan student union in 1967. For the next year, the group played the Midwest relentlessly, earning a reputation for their wild, primitive performances, which were largely reviled. In particular, Iggy gained attention for his bizarre on-stage behavior. Performing shirtless, he would smear steaks and peanut butter on his body, cut himself with glass, and dive into the audience. The Stooges were infamous, not famous — while they had a rabidly devoted core audience, even more people detested their shock tactics. Nevertheless, the group lucked into a major-label record contract in 1968 when an Elektra talent scout went to Detroit to see the MC5 and wound up signing their opening act, the Stooges, as well.
Produced by John Cale, the Stooges' primitive eponymous debut was released in 1969, and while it generated some attention in the underground press, it barely sold any copies. As the band prepared to record their second album, every member sank deeper into substance abuse, and their excess eventually surfaced in their concerts, not only through Iggy's antics, but also in the fact that the band could barely keep a simple, two-chord riff afloat. Fun House, an atonal barrage of avant-noise, appeared in 1970 and, if it was even noticed, it earned generally negative reviews and sold even fewer copies than the debut. Following the release of Fun House, the Stooges essentially disintegrated, as Iggy sank into heroin addiction. At first, he did try to keep the Stooges afloat. Dave Alexander left the band and after a spell in which Zeke Zettner and then James Recca took his place, Ron Asheton moved to bass as James Williamson joined as guitarist, but this incarnation wasn't able to land a record deal, despite recording a handful of demos. For the next two years, the band was in limbo as Iggy weaned himself off heroin and worked various odd jobs. Early in 1972, Pop happened to run into David Bowie, then at the height of his Ziggy Stardust popularity. Bowie made it his mission to resuscitate Iggy & the Stooges, as the band was now billed. With Bowie's help, the Stooges landed a management deal and a contract with Columbia, and he took control of the production of the group's third album, Raw Power. Released in 1973 to surprisingly strong reviews, Raw Power had a weird, thin mix due to various technical problems. Although this would be the cause of much controversy later on — many Stooges purists blamed Bowie for the brittle mix — its razor-thin sound helped kick-start the punk revolution. At the time, however, Raw Power flopped, essentially bringing the Stooges' career to a halt, with the band's disastrous final gig captured on the live album Metallic K.O
In 1976, Bowie once again came to Iggy's rescue, helping him establish himself as a solo act by producing the albums The Idiot and Lust for Life and playing keyboards in Iggy's road band. In time, Iggy established an international following as one of rock's great renegades, but the other Stooges didn't fare quite as well. Dave Alexander died of pneumonia in 1975, aggravated by an inflamed pancreas. James Williamson returned to Iggy's circle as a songwriter and producer on the albums New Values (1979) and Soldier (1980), but in the 1980s he dropped out of music and began a successful career in electronics. Ron Asheton and Scott Asheton launched a band called the New Order (no relation to the successful British group), but it didn't fare well and soon split up. In 1981, Ron Asheton was recruited to join New Race, a short-lived side project formed by Radio Birdman guitarist Deniz Tek which also featured MC5 drummer Dennis Thompson and Radio Birdman alumni Rob Younger and Warwick Gilbert. However, the group (as intended) split after a single Australian tour and album. After returning to Michigan, Ron gigged periodically with Destroy All Monsters and Dark Carnival, acted in a handful of low-budget films, and in 1998 he recorded with the ad hoc band Wylde Ratttz, featuring Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth, Mark Arm from Mudhoney, and Mike Watt, ex-Minutemen and fIREHOSE. Wylde Ratttz's cover of "TV Eye" appeared on the soundtrack of the film Velvet Goldmine, but the group's album remains unreleased. Following the Stooges breakup, Scott Asheton played with a few local groups in Detroit before joining Sonic's Rendezvous Band in 1974, with Fred "Sonic" Smith of the MC5, Scott Morgan of the Rationals, and Gary Rasmussen of the Up; the band earned a potent reputation as a live act, but record labels were wary and the group slowly faded out by the end of the decade.
In 2002, Ron Asheton and Scott Asheton joined J Mascis + the Fog for a tour in which they performed a handful of Stooges classics from the group's first two albums. The show's were enthusiastically received, especially in Europe, and word got back to Iggy Pop, who had been talking with Ron Asheton on and off for several years about a possible Stooges reunion. In 2003, Iggy was recording the album Skull Ring, which featured contributions from a number of noteworthy bands, and he decided to add the Stooges to the roster; the Asheton brothers backed Iggy on four cuts (with Ron handling both guitar and bass), and on April 27, 2003, the Stooges played their first concert in 30 years at California's Coachella festival, with Mike Watt sitting in for the late Dave Alexander. The reunited Stooges began hitting the road on a semi-regular basis for the next three years, playing major festivals in Europe and the United States, and in the fall of 2006 the group entered Electrical Audio Studio in Chicago, IL, with engineer Steve Albini to record The Weirdness, an album culled from 22 new songs written by Pop and the Ashetons. The Weirdness was released in March 2007, followed by a major world tour.
The Stooges' beloved guitarist Ron Asheton died in January 2009.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine & Mark Deming, AMG. Page update 4.26.08.
back: Iggy Pop: Biography
also: Scott Asheton