❉ A fine tribute to a guitarist still deserving of his dues, a key ingredient in the Stooges’ trailblazing sound.
“He had a beautiful touch as a musician…. He developed such a unique sound and approach to his instrument and writing that I don’t think that everybody got it at first, but over the years other generations caught on. I think a lot of good musicians were influenced by what Ron pioneered.” – Iggy Pop, 2009
Mr James Osterberg, better known to you andI as Iggy Pop, recently marked his 72nd birthday in the way only he can – with a typically riotous, flesh-flaunting and stage invasion-tastic show in Melbourne, Australia, with his crack team of sidemen including longstanding guitarist Kevin Armstrong. With an artist of Iggy’s stature and death-defying longevity, it’s hard to separate the man from the myth, to the extent that sometimes it overwhelms any attempt to take clear-eyed stock of his life and legacy. Jimmy (as his friends call him) was of course complicit in this, from early interviews where he embellished his backstory as trailer park trash from the Motor City to one of his first solo efforts, 1977’s Dum Dum Boys, an elegy of the erstwhile Stooges.
One man missing from Dum Dum Boys’ “whatever happened to…” role-call of Iggy’s one-time partners in crime, which namechecks former bandmembers Zeke Zettner, James Williamson and Scott ‘Rock Action’ Asheton, was Scott’s brother Ron Asheton (1948 – 2009), who has recently received his due in Ron Asheton: The Stooges, Destroy All Monsters & Beyond by writer & musician John Wombat with his partner, artist Ruth Moreira.
Not that Ron was forgotten by his former bandmate, with whom he founded The Stooges out of the ashes of the Prime Movers. Indeed, Iggy spoke movingly on Ron’s death in a 2009 interview on Detroit radio’s Deminski & Doyle show: “As long as I don’t think about it, I’m OK. And then when I think about it, I’m not OK. He had a beautiful touch as a musician…. He developed such a unique sound and approach to his instrument and writing that I don’t think that everybody got it at first, but over the years other generations caught on. I think a lot of good musicians were influenced by what Ron pioneered.”
While in the vox populi, Iggy and the sound of the Stooges are as one, a key ingredient in the Stooges’ trailblazing sound on those two Elektra albums, The Stooges (1969) and Funhouse (1970) is the searing, stinging, scuzzy, skin-peeling snarl and razor-sharp riffing of Asheton’s guitar. Ron was reluctantly demoted to bass guitar for 1973’s Raw Power, replaced on lead by the more frantic, heavy metal sound of James Williamson who joined the band shortly before their first dissolution in 1970. Asheton would not play on another Iggy Pop album until the Stooges’ reformation in the new millennium for the albums Skull Ring and The Wierdness.
John Wombat’s biography of Ron Asheton goes some considerable way towards filling in the gaps in the guitarist’s story between the initial and resurrected incarnations of The Stooges and is a fine tribute to a guitarist still deserving of his dues. You’ll find within its pages that although he rarely left the state line, he was far from idle during those long, Iggy-less years and a reasonable amount of page room is devoted to his post-Stooges bands, The New Order and Destroy All Monsters, two idiosyncratic outfits with no real peers to speak of sound-wise except perhaps Pere Ubu, Sun-Ra, Spacemen 3 and acid rockers Hawkwind, who like the brilliantly named Destroy All Monsters’ vocalist Niagara, had a strident, sexy frontwoman as their visual figurehead. It’s this period of Asheton’s life and career that Wombat is able to expand upon most colourfully, for although Asheton’s recollections have not been collected, in his absence John has drawn upon vivid testimonies and reminisces from those who knew him best during that period: Principally, Niagara herself and the enigmatic Colonel Galaxy, thanked effusively in these pages and the source of many rare and unseen photographs reproduced herein.
The picture that emerges from these pages of Ron Asheton is that of a strictly regular guy, more straight edge than his Stooges brothers, his tastes in substances extending to not much further than root beer and hard liquour; and an unreconstructed product of Atomic Age, Baby Boom America, born into the industrial-military complex, his adolescent imagination fired up on war & monster movies, horror comics and military paraphernalia kitsch, a keen comic book artist/collage maker and – in one of the most affecting and unexpected chapters – enjoying a late in life career renaissance as part of the indie Americana B movie scene in cult movies such as Wendigo, Mosuqito and Hellmaster. Like a documentary about a minor player with a liminal existence on the fringe of a much wider scene, there’s also amusing cameos from big shots as varied as Jim Morrison and William Shatner from the highs and lows of the Stooges era and its fallout.
Summing up, this is a briskly efficient portrait – in the anecdotal style of NY punk bible Please Kill Me – of a downhome guy who had an instinctive relationship with the electric guitar, about it seems no one in his orbit had a bad word to say for him, remembered with love and affection by all concerned, and wore his claims to fame as a punk originator lightly, keeping his leather booted feet down to the ground.
❉ ‘Ron Asheton: The Stooges, Destroy All Monsters & Beyond’ by John Wombat & Ruth Moreira is published by CreateSpace, RRP £24.00