This ain’t no Chinese Jazz, it’s the Stooges!: An Interview with Stooges Guitarist, Ron Asheton

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The Stooges have achieved legendary status in the annals of rock history. A combination of Iggy Pop’s public persona mixed with the rock’em sock’em energy of Scott Asheton’s fierce drums, Dave Alexander’s steady bass and the blues destroyed by the guitar of Ron Asheton lead to a new style of music – a proto-punk fusion that was direct and simple – a new brand of dirty, psychedelic guitar noise that was as intellectually challenging as the Velvet Underground and as primitive and powerful as the Troggs.

Formed in 1967, the group’s first gig was a Halloween show at the University of Michigan student union. They signed to Elektra records the following year and saw the debut of their eponymous album, recorded by John Cale, hailed by the underground press but not much else. Their second (and highly favored album), Fun House, appeared in 1970 to dismal reviews and low sales. The band then released their third and last album, Raw Power, in 1973, which inspired strong reviews yet was a commercial failure. The Stooges then disbanded.

After 36 years, The Stooges entered the studio and recorded their newest offering, The Weirdness. If Iggy planned a meticulous and articulate musical reunion that included tours and a recording, Ron kept the fierce, uncomplicated and direct sound that helps identify a Stooges track. In preparing for the recording of the album, the White Stripe’s Jack White as well as Shellac’s Steve Albini vied for the coveted position as engineer of the album. In the end, Albini won out as engineer. His style of recording was one that was hands off which lead to a more creatively free and organic sound. While his input was solicited, it was never forced upon the band.

Not only has Asheton continued to play music (and is influenced by such diverse sounds as The Who to Sun Ra) but he has a great memory and gift for storytelling. Consequentially, Asheton has started writing the fantastic tales from the Stooges original tours. Asheton says that he has thousands of unseen photos and stories and that he remembers most things that others forget. While he has shopped around his manuscript and is also looking for someone to help clean up his writing, he has yet to receive a fair offer for what he believes to be priceless rock and roll history (and rightly so; Asheton said that during the recording of their new album Albini would ask questions about certain myths that the Stooges embody and that he set the record straight between fact and fiction).

Interestingly enough, Ron didn’t let the Stooges fame and notoriety influence the album. Instead, he relished the fact that he was able to record an album that sounded distinctively Stooge-esque while not compromising what he has become as a talented musician in his own right.

While the weight of playing in a band whose small yet important oeuvre would be daunting to most, Ron has taken it in stride has played what Iggy wants him to play – not some complicated Chinese jazz shit but an authentic Stooges sound. Ron is happy to be back in the studio creating more Stooges albums. The reunion show, at Coachella in 2003, was for him a black and white thing: it would either open the door for more Stooges shows and possibly an album or suck so bad that it would be a glaring black tarnish in an otherwise glowing memory of what the Stooges were. Luckily, the show was a success and the rest is history. Asheton is humble and enthusiastic in telling the compelling tales of the recording process, elevated history and opportunities that being a member of the Stooges have afforded him (including roles in horror movies such as the Mosquito, Hellmaster, and Frostbiter), ultimately Asheton is regular guy: he likes museums and art, he watches horror movies and he is easy going and approachable. Whatever built-up idea people have about rock and roll and the icons that shape it, in the end he realizes he wouldn’t be where he is today except for the fans that put him there.

Ever since the Stooges disbanded in 1973, Ron Asheton has been a man of many hats: an artist vis a vis consumer culture through the detournment of TV guides (which is owned by Renee Zellweger), the guitarist in such bands as Dark Carnival and Destroy All Monsters; he also has been voted 29 out of 100 in Rolling Stone’s list of greatest guitarists. The Stooges will be on tour in April promoting their new album, the Weirdness, starting with a SXSW show on March 17th.