The Death Trip Supernova Of The Stooges
1969 and you're 15 years old. For the previous three years you've been swamped in lysergic symphonies, marathon guitar solos (even worse: drum solos) and blissful acoustic drippie-droning about pixies and bed-sits. The raw garage thrash that careered out of the '64 UK R&B explosion seem like a distant memory. Even the Stones had a touch of blurred vision in '67 before getting back to blues basics on Beggars Banquet. In '69, there were only mavericks, madmen and geniuses to rely on, like Jimi, the Doors, Beefheart and Tim Buckley, maybe the Velvet Underground if they survived. It would be a few more months before Mott The Hoople came along to sow the seeds of UK punk rock.
Then, one Sunday afternoon in August 1969, John Peel was doing his radio show. He was excited - and not about the Woodstock Festival raging that weekend either. Peely had just got a new import on Elektra Records that he wanted to play. Maybe we were expecting some folk-rock like label-mates Earth Opera. On the other hand, this was the label that had unleashed the Doors and released the first MC5 album the previous March. John's new hot biscuit was by a group called the Stooges and the track was 'Little Doll'. I know this because I wrote it down in FUCKING GREAT BIG LETTERS on the back of an acid-rock poster I was trying to paint. Buzzsaw guitar riff, Bo Diddley beat mutant, waywardly aggressive bassline and this bloke crooning:
“Liddel doll ah can't forget, smokin' on a cigarette”.
That was Iggy Pop. Spitting, snarling but offhand and blank at the same time. Like he didn't care. It reminded me of a depraved, less-musical Doors - without the organ. The Seeds and the Standells were in there too.
I had to get this album. And did [when I finally managed to track down a copy]. Years later, I realised that the reason that the Sex Pistols didn't turn my whole world upside down in '76 was because, great though they were, I had already tasted pure, unrefined punk rock six years earlier. The whole shock, simplicity and raw power angle had already been taken about as far as it could get by the Stooges. They dealt a simple message of adolescent, street corner boredom and frustration in a way that hadn't been heard since the early Stones. The Stones have been called the original punk rock group. That was true in the sense that their early music was snotty and primitive and they outraged parents like nobody since Elvis (and he was swiftly army-sanitised). But the Stones obviously respected the music that had inspired them. Keith was more concerned with replicating Chuck Berry's guitar solos and furthering the cause of Chess Records than upsetting older people's petty morals. He just did that naturally. Apart from Keith, the rest of the Stones came from nice, middle-class backgrounds.
James Osterberg grew up in a trailer park [although his mum was a teacher and he was bright enough at school to become president of the Student Council]. The Stooges were street corner punks with no further mission in life than to get laid, loaded and watch TV. The Stooges were the first bona fide punk band because they really didn't give a shit. They were dysfunctional. They could barely play any instruments when they started. They wanted the trappings of fame but couldn't be arsed to put in the graft. They were out of their minds on anything that became available. Ron Asheton's passion for groups like the Who was only matched by his obsession with Nazi regalia (much of '76's brief and ill-advised flirtation with such imagery came from Ron's swastika-sporting menace, as had Johnny Thunders' earlier swastika-sporting on the cover of Melody Maker). The Stooges were bored shitless and nihilistic. The US garage band ethic of 64/65 taken to its outer limits with cheap booze and drugs. Iggy felt an affinity with the primal spirit and simplicity of the blues, but he wasn't looking to provide a faithful recreation. We would never see the original line-up's infamous stage act but, according to witnesses, it made the album seem tame.
Not since the Velvet Underground had a band come along that so upset the ruling hippy echelons. But the Velvets had trendy Warhol connections, arty undercurrents, complex lyrics and a qualified avant garde trailblazer in the form of John Cale. At the beginning, the Stooges had nothing but noise, attitude and a couple of lucky breaks. They came on like a Molotov cocktail that had to be swiftly trampled under the carpet. Only now can their true importance be realised as the shockwaves just get bigger. This was punk rock's blueprint. They say punk wouldn't have happened without the New York Dolls, but that other classic destined-to-implode urban supernova couldn't have happened if Johnny Thunders hadn't had his attitude shaped by the Stooges (and the MC5).
Because they only played one show in the UK, the whole legend of Iggy Pop and the Stooges came from film footage, blown-up stories and three monumental albums. If anyone has ever embodied the whole punk rock ethic it is this band. Many have come close - none have eclipsed them. In 1969, they were aural leprosy - visually repellent. Exciting to some, antagonistic to others - thanks to Iggy's self-destructive psycho-freak show. Over 35 years later, they are up there with the very greatest bands of all time. If it hadn't been for them and the MC5, we might not have had a '76 punk explosion. They really mean that much. This is why and [some of] what happened...
James Osterberg started his musical career at school around '63 as the drummer in Ann Arbor's hottest covers band, the Iguanas. After going professional in '65, they built a solid following while also backing up visiting groups like the Shangri-Las and the Four Tops (Legend has it that Iggy played drums on the latter's death-pop girl group smash 'Leader Of The Pack' in '65 - not true). In '66, the Iguanas managed to release one single - a cover of Bo Diddley's 'Mona'. Jim split soon after and joined a blues band called the Prime Movers. The Iggy nickname had stuck after his stint with the Iguanas. After leaving the Prime Movers, Iggy went to Chicago and immersed himself in proper blues culture for a few months. 1967 wasn't only the year of flower power.
There was an upswing in interest in the blues, fostered by bands like the Butterfield Blues Band but blown stratospheric by Hendrix and Cream.
Iggy went to the source and sussed how to let out emotions, no holds barred. He saw the Doors and was particularly taken by the way Jim Morrison could push the boundaries of what you could get away with on stage.
Iggy needed a band that could be in sympathy with his pure madness. No show-off virtuosos or psychedelic sludge merchants. On the street, he'd run into Ron Asheton, who'd been in a band called the Chosen Few, his younger brother Scott, and their mate Dave Alexander. In 1966, Ron and Dave went to London to check out the groups, particularly the auto-destruction of The Who. Iggy immortalised the trio in 'Dum Dum Boys' on The Idiot:
“I remember how they used to stare at the ground/They looked as though they put the whole world down”.
The four started playing together while hanging out at the Fun House, Ron's house he shared with his mother. They dropped acid and watched the Three Stooges on TV. Have you ever seen the Three Stooges? I got obsessed when I stayed at the Tropicana Motel in Los Angeles. Larry, Curly and Mo were lovable buffoons. All different characters, but surreal like the Marx Brothers on acid. They also made a lot of noise.
A lot of the time this was a preferable way of wiling away afternoons than getting stuck into working up a set. They wanted to be in a group and get famous with all the trappings, but couldn't get motivated to sit down and write songs, or even practice, apart from Ron. Free jazz, acid and the Three Stooges, plus a hyperactive, wildly intelligent singer who seemed hell-bent on self-exorcism via self-mutilation.
The fledgling Stooges hitched up with fellow Ann Arbor residents the MC5 who, under the guru guidance of John Sinclair, were in their revolutionary White Panther phase. They were ultra-hip rulers of the underground in the Detroit area and got the Fun House foursome to play their private Halloween party on October31 '67. The new group called themselves the Psychedelic Stooges - mingling their two main obsessions - and created their own instruments. There was a microphone in a blender they called the Osterizer. This provided the 15-minute intro noise. Also a miked-up washboard, a white-faced Iggy playing Hawaiian guitar, Scott on bongos and oil cans and general abuse of what equipment they had.
Obviously it was all made up as they went along. The Stooges hadn't meant it to be high art. It was more likely to have been influenced by the free jazz sounds of Sun Ra and Albert Ayler which were firing up the MC5 plus the brain-twizzling experimentation of the avant garde.
The Psychedelic Stooges' first proper paying gig was at Detroit's Grande Ballroom in March '68. By now the blender had been ditched in favour of the classic line-up of Ron on stun guitar, Dave on bass and the moody, demonic presence of Scott on drums. Unlike, say, the New York Dolls, the Stooges weren't honing and refining the songs which would make up their first album. Most of it was a collision course assault off the top of the head. It would remain that way until they became a touring band with an album out. There would be onstage fights or regular confrontations between Iggy and the crowd. It was the wildman stage act Iggy fans have grown to expect, except a hundred times more unpredictable, spectacular and dangerous. Most of the damage was suffered by Iggy himself. One popular story of the time had him lying flat on the stage crooning 'The Shadow Of Your Smile' through his freshly broken teeth.
As time went on, the music became dominated by Ron's simple but deadly guitar riffs. He didn't solo much, just churned out the proverbial three-chord barrage over the pile-driving rhythm section. His brother became known as 'Rock' Asheton. Many retrospectives go on about Iggy and his antics - and so they should. But more credit should be given to the hotwired barnstorming whipped up by the band. They still weren't brilliant musicians but, like the Dolls and Pistols later, got across via their churning, psychotic attitude. That indefinable feel.
The MC5 kind of adopted The Psychedelic Stooges as their 'little brother band'. In September '68, they let them open for them at a gig in Detroit. The show was attended by Elektra Records publicity assistant, Danny Fields, who hung with the Warhol crowd at Max's in New York. Fields was bowled over by the two bands and persuaded his boss, Jac Holzman, to sign them both. While the MC5 got an advance of $20,000, the Stooges got $5000. This was a fortune. They dropped the 'Psychedelic' tag.
“I had a maternity dress on and a white face, and I was doing unattractive things like spitting on people,”
Iggy told Zigzag the first UK magazine to carry a major feature on the Stooges, in December '70.
“Just like in the movies, this guy came up to me and said that he worked for Elektra Records. He said to me, ‘You're a star’.”
Elektra was a good home for the Stooges. For a start, Jac Holzman named it after the Greek demigoddess who had killed her mother in revenge for murdering her father. By the early sixties it had become a major outlet for protest folk music and, in '65, jumpstarted an American blues renaissance by releasing the debut album by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. He signed a bunch of LA druggie hoodlums called Love, who married garage attack with love songs of sinister beauty. The label was considered the perfect home for the Doors even before Holzman and Love-Butterfield producer Paul Rothchild snaffled them up in August '66 (for the same advance he gave the Stooges). A few years down the line you'd think they might have learned a lesson with Jim Morrison, who was practically out of control by '68. But now the new blood could join his mentor - and later out-gross him on all counts.
Iggy idolised Jim Morrison. You can see it in the stances, hear it in the screams and feel it in the moments of sensual, hallucinogenic calm. Most of all, you can hear it in the crowd-baiting insults and antics designed to get a reaction. Any reaction. Jim pole-axed his career by allegedly flashing his trouser lizard. Iggy would turn ‘whipping it out’ into a fine art and also got busted for indecent exposure (in much less public or career-damning circumstances):
“Jim Morrison was my idol,” Iggy once told Zigzag. “If he were alive today I'd die for him. It was after I saw him that I decided I'd be a singer, no matter how much I laughed, cried or died.”
At a Jim Morrison memorial gig on the anniversary of his death (July 3) in '74, Iggy sang 'LA Woman' and improvised the lyrics, 'Jim Morrison died today. Jim Morrison was more beautiful than any girl in this town. And now he's dead. Now I cry.' A projected collaboration with Doors keyboard man Ray Manzarek later failed to get off the ground.
The Stooges went to New York in June '69 to record their debut album. This historic blitzkreig took place at Jerry Ragavoy's R&B Studio now the Record Plant - between June 19-21. Danny Fields had the ingenious idea of getting John Cale, fresh out of the Velvet Underground, to produce. He would soon be constructing the sonic nightmare-scapes of Nico's Marble Index, but this was a different story. Cale wore a vampire's cape and the group fired out the whole album off the top of their collective head in two days. This album they were smoking pot and the lyrics evolved from inter band wisecracks and sayings. Iggy maintained that he was trying to emulate the direct simplicity of the blues guys. It's a little-known fact that he supervised the mixing.
Talking of Nico, Iggy met the ice-queen chanteuse from the Velvets in New York when he became the only Stooge to feel at home in the ambi-sexual freak show that was Warhol's Factory. She came and stayed at the Fun House and, in between drug-fuelled sex, taught Iggy about European art and culture. The rest of the boys hated the Warhol scene and banished Nico to the loft so they could watch bozo TV in peace.
‘The Stooges’ was packed with primitive, gut-bucket groin-rattlers from the opening declaration of intent that was '1969':
“It's 1969 okay, all across the USA/It's another year for me and you/Another year with nutting to do”.
Asheton's blazing guitar the coolest wah-wah since Jimi - and crashing, near-shambolic, power-rhythm set the Stooges template. You'll hear this again, but Asheton's guitar was the sound of the Stooges as much as Iggy's voice. 'No Fun' is a humping giant. No wonder the Pistols loved the song enough to cover it. Someone also said the Stooges invented heavy metal. This was certainly one of the first times that The Riff became all, after those initial declarations from the Kinks and the Who.
The other standout track was 'I Wanna Be Your Dog'. This was a place where Cale's simple approach hit a peak of effectiveness the icing is a one-note piano note of the sort that could've adorned the first Velvets album. The lascivious, leg-humping vocal is Iggy's sleazy peak:.’So messed up, I want you here...' The other tracks fly past like short, sharp shocks. 'Not Right', 'Real Cool Time'. Then comes the big surprise; 'We Will Fall'. A ten-minute mantra, where Cale gets to play viola, the Stooges impersonate a monks' choir and Iggy is off on another planet. The detractors - and there were many - dismissed this as self-indulgent filler. In 1969, it was okay (one or two members of the Stooges actually dismissed it as filler themselves - Ed).
The album was released in August in the US and September in the UK. It met with disdain and dismissal from the press and only reached 106 in the US while not charting at all in the UK. It was like it was something to be ashamed of amidst the welter of Woodstock generation backslapping vibes going down. The anti...EVERYTHING! Especially Crosby, Stills and Nash. The haircuts on the sleeve photos showed that we were getting our UK pop look back but distilled through drugs, lethal energy and delinquency. Only a few of us loved it and felt like outlaws or mental patients for admitting it.
The live shows were getting infamous. At that time, there were a bevy of weekly music publications to choose from. Between them, they had all you needed to know about all strains of music without the confined half dozen flavour-of-the-month rotation of our one surviving student rag-mag substitute, NME. Disc, Record Mirror, Melody Maker and Sounds all carried US news/gossip columns and would report on this force-ten bunch of degenerates whose singer cavorted about in broken glass, smeared himself in peanut butter and got into fights with often hostile audiences. Out of their time, out of their minds and taking rock 'n' roll to never-before-experienced levels of confrontation and racket. David Bowie certainly took notice (now there’s a surprise Plagiarism Ed), especially when looking for a first name for his new Stardust incarnation.
'The music drives me into a peak freak,' said Iggy in Rolling Stone in 1970. 'I can't feel any pain or realise what's going on around me, and when I dive into the sea of people, it is the feeling of the music, the mood.'
By 1970, the Stooges had roped in sax player Steve Mackay and, between May 10-24, they recorded their second album; ‘Fun House’. For this one they relocated to Elektra's studio in Los Angeles with former Kingsman organ-player Don Gallucci 'producing'. This time, the Stooges wanted to capture their live onslaught in all its glorious mayhem. To this end, they didn't so much need a producer but a decent engineer - which they found in veteran English gentleman Bryan Ross-Myring. He didn't mind blowing up a few monitors in the quest while the group trashed the studio. This album they were doing acid.
The band stayed at the Tropicana Motel on Santa Monica Boulevard, former residence of Jim Morrison. Sadly, it's no longer there. This place was fantastic! I had the pleasure of staying there on several occasions. Ancient Rome fell every night (and usually through into the next day). The place was the embodiment of late 70s-early 80s LA excess. The rooms in the cool section were positioned around a swimming pool, which only seemed to see any action when someone fell in. Dealers, groupies, drug causalities, strippers, musos, porn stars and maniacs floated in and out of rooms which usually weren't their own. God knows what it was like when the Stooges moved in. They'd still be favouring the place three years later when the New York Dolls came to town. It was in the Trop that Stooges road manager John Adams introduced the Stooges to a new drug to take the edge off the ever-present coke. Heroin. The group and crew - particularly Iggy - dived in with the gusto with which they approached every intoxicant. Except Ron Asheton.
Back in Ann Arbor, they holed up in the Fun House, or Stooge Hall - a dilapidated farmhouse on the outskirts of Ann Arbor. On June 13, the group were filmed performing at the Cincinnati Pop Festival for a national TV special. This provided some of the most famous images of Iggy - walking the outstretched hands of the crowd, pointing a silver-gloved finger, smearing peanut butter over himself, chucking pre-purchased mince-meat and generally acting like an unbridled psycho. But he also oozed sex appeal and charisma. If they'd only built up from
‘Fun House’ was released in August in the US (December in the UK). It didn't chart anywhere. No matter. Iggy called it 'Osterberg's Fifth Symphony’:
“I went into the studio knowing exactly what I wanted and this time it came really close.”
Fun House kept my mates and I company all that summer. I'd just been thrown out of school for drug and disruption-related grievances - so it made even more sense. All the rage, defiance and teenage energy pointing towards bad behaviour was in these grooves.
The three-pronged attack of side one is one of the greatest song sequences of all time: 'Down In The Street', 'I'm Loose' and 'T.V.Eye' flagellate, stomp and maintain a momentum of mercilessly escalating mania. Asheton piles on killer, sheet-metal riffs and wailing solos while the rhythm section is now as funky as a Detroit hooker's discarded kleenex. Iggy comes into his own competing against such a riotous backdrop and connects each of the three tracks with the Tarzan call from hell. 'I stick it deep inside cos baby I'm loose' he intones. The neck hairs still stand bolt upright. This is raging cacophony or killer street funk, whatever way you wanna look at it. More outrageous and incendiary than anything heard before or since. It has to calm down after that and 'Dirt' weighs in as the slowest thing the Stooges ever did. The album's only 'ballad'! A murderous back-alley sex-crawl with Ig milking the 'do you feel it when you touch me' refrain like a snake around a carcass.
It's 1970 so side two gets off the launch pad with 'I Feel Alright (1970)', another pungent tribal tub-thumper with Iggy 'outta mah mind on Saturday night'. Side two shows the Stooges on top of their game and stretching into other directions. The title track is riveting, riding a stop-start sleaze-vamp which could be Wilson Pickett's backing band let loose in the opium den. Steve Mackay wails on sax and, over the course of nearly eight minutes, the track manages to hit a level of intense hypnotic shamanism rarely attempted, let alone reached, in rock music. But that's nothing compared to the closer,.'L.A. Blues', which used to close the Stooges' live sets in an orgy of noise and chaos. It's the ultimate realisation of their free jazz fixation. No recognisable beat, just a raging torrent of instrumental abuse and Iggy losing his marbles to a frightening degree, howling and growling. No deep meaning here. Just all-out sonic attack and screaming wreckage. All the pain, rage and demons unleashed in a five minute primal scream of aural bloodletting. So ended ‘Fun House’, one of my oldest, most trouble-causing friends. A senses-blasting pinnacle of rock 'n' roll - punk or otherwise.
In time-honoured fashion, when the album was completed, it all went horribly wrong. Very fast. Danny Fields fell out with Elektra and got sacked, which meant the company, which had already let go of the MC5, didn't know what to do with them. New York gigs in August were a gore-fest circus. Dave Alexander was replaced by roadie Tommy Zettner after getting too messed up (!).
They lost their manager Jimmy Silver. John Adams took over and followed through with the heroin initiation he'd began at the Tropicana. Ron steadfastly refused but watched in dismay and anger as the Stooges disintegrated around him. Their potential was massive as their chops got better. They could have taken over the world. Now the only way was down. 'It destroyed the Stooges,' reflected Scott Asheton ruefully, years later.
Steve Mackay was sacked in October, just escaping with a minor habit which he sat out and beat. Iggy and Scott, along with the roadies, were full on junkies by the end of the year. Dave Alexander had escaped smack but hit the booze and died in '75. Zettner was later also fired over his inability to handle smack and died that same year. He was
replaced by Jimmy Recca. Ron couldn't cope with Iggy's full-time junkiedom but also didn't like the way his name was now being billed over the band.
“There are things I don't remember,” said Iggy in The Guardian in '96. “I used to reach blackout point really easily and still be walking around. I'd wake up with bumps on the head, blood on my shirt and green coming out of my penis.”
1971 continued the descent as the band flogged their equipment to buy drugs. Iggy got caught stealing from his parents and there were even rumours that the group were sticking up petrol stations. In June, Iggy was late coming onstage at New York's Electric Circus because he couldn't find a vein. This episode was watched with some fascination by future casualties of the NY punk scene: Johnny Thunders and Dee Dee
One of the most famous Stooge stories is the time Scott took a short cut in a rental van from Ann Arbor to Detroit. He drove under a low bridge, neatly wiping the top off the van and depositing himself, two mates and the band's equipment all over the road. That summer, the Stooges didn't do so much split up but dissolve in convulsing, drug-addled pieces.
Roadie Bill Cheatham had been playing second guitar since the second album sessions but left under a dope cloud. In came James Williamson, who'd been in the Chosen Few with Ron. Out of reform school, death's head face and a bit of an attitude. Williamson wouldn't be second guitar for long.
Iggy, Scotty and James moved out of Stooge Hall into a Detroit high-rise while Ron distanced himself from the junk and the band and retreated further into his TV and Nazi obsessions. The band started missing gigs and got the push from their agency. Heroin, Nazis, nutters, raucous albums that didn't sell. Elektra dropped the Stooges in June when a representative heard the songs which would constitute ‘Raw Power’.
1972 and Iggy was all fucked up with nothing to do. The Stooges split up properly when they lost their deal and went back to their moms, leaving Iggy a penniless wreck. One night at Max's Kansas City, he met long-term fan David Bowie, who saw him as an inspiration. At the time, Bowie was riding the space-ways as Ziggy Stardust, the alien pop star who kills himself onstage. Like Lou Reed before him, Iggy was an amazing talent who went all the way. The real deal. This was Bowie around that time - taking artists under his wing and letting them do their dangerous thing while he extracted ideas and a bit of a thrill.
Bowie's manager, Tony De Fries, called Iggy to a breakfast meeting and the ravenous Stooge ate six breakfasts. He then signed Iggy to his Mainman organisation (not the Stooges). Bowie had just rescued Mott The Hoople from oblivion by giving them and producing 'All The Young Dudes'. They were flying too. I'd been helping with Bowie's fan club and Mainman put me in charge of starting a club for Mott. When the news came through that DeFries had now taken Iggy on board - I was catapulted several feet in the air! I'd been disappointed when the brilliance of ‘Fun House’ hadn't been taken further. This could be great. Defries had got him a new deal with CBS.
Ron Asheton didn't think so. When Iggy flew to London to record ‘Raw Power’, he took James Williamson with him as band leader and guitarist. Ron was gutted - but later swallowed his pride when his services were called upon - to play bass with his brother Scott. Iggy still needed the Asheton brothers to spark the Stooge-style magic. Now they would be called Iggy and the Stooges. The pair flew into London in early June and commenced rehearsals for ‘Raw Power’. With big management and huge possibilities back in the sights, the Asheton's wild creative ju-ju was muted in favour of Ig and his new mate's aspirations to the mainstream success required by DeFries. As ever, it wouldn't be that simple.
It couldn't have been anything but a total bummer for Ron when he was relegated to bass in favour of Williamson. His guitar was the sound of the Stooges. Williamson was undoubtedly a pyrotechnic exponent of the frets but Ron had lived through the Stooges from the inception and developed a relentless simplicity which was the group's heartbeat. But he would do anything to keep the group together.
While rehearsing the album, Iggy picked up on the generally dull nature of the UK music scene. He watched BBC2's The Old Grey Whistle Test trot out its procession of bland singer-songwriters. The Dolls had caused a storm with their appearance a couple of months earlier when they were called 'Mock Rock' by somnambulant host 'Whispering' Bob Harris. Now folkie warbler Judee Sill was on there dismissing all rock'n'roll bands as 'young, loud and snotty'. Iggy promptly wrote a song called just that (It also became the title of the first Dead Boys' album in '77).
The Stooges finally got to play London on July 15 - at the Scala in Kings Cross. The cinema was currently putting on all-nighters which were very popular with hardcore speed freaks. The night the Stooges played their first and only London gig, Mainman thoughtfully arranged a secret Ziggy Stardust gig for the benefit of a planeload of US journalists who would be essential in hyping up Bowie's impending American blitzkreig. The gig happened to be at the world-renowned Friars club in my home town of Aylesbury. It was the gig where Bowie had unveiled Ziggy Stardust the previous January. His first proper stronghold. As the Stooges gig was an all-nighter - remember I'd just been in trouble for drugs - and I was involved with Bowie's fan club, I opted for Ziggy. I also thought that Iggy gigs would become as regular as Mott The Hoople appearances in the coming months. Twat. Of course, the Scala would become one of those gigs attended by everybody in years to come. The reality was a smattering of the UK's few Stooges fans and a gaggle of curious speed freaks.
Iggy wore silver pants, matching hair and liberal sploshings of slap. Mick Rock took the iconic image for the front cover of ‘Raw Power’. As I witnessed Bowie's pivotal fame-cementing appearance in the company of the world's press, I couldn't help thinking that there was something, erm, not right about the double-booking here. There had been doubtful under-currents already. When Bowie snaffled Lou, Mott and Iggy for his Mainman collection, he couldn't have dreamed that Ziggy Stardust would get so big so soon. Unless he was trying to make sure that he had the competition safe under his belt. That's what another former Mainman artist, Jayne County, thinks. Maybe Ziggy couldn't risk the world's forgotten boy stealing his thunder. The Scala would be the only gig that Mainman allowed Iggy to play until Detroit the following March.
‘Raw Power’ was recorded between September 10 and October 6 at CBS's in-house Whitfield Street Studios (where they left plenty of ju-ju for The Clash to record their first album a few years later).
By October, the Stooges had relocated to the Tropicana and a house in the Hollywood Hills, where they were surrounded by groupies while financing a prodigious drug intake with CBS' money. It was now almost like Iggy was being kept under wraps. Mainman still wouldn't let him tour while Bowie was now busting out in the US too.
‘Raw Power’ was mixed in LA by Bowie. He didn't even attempt to produce the Stooges, just tried to trim the wildness to his own visions, bringing it in line with the curiously dry and limp-wristed production of his other '72 rush-jobs - Lou Reed's ‘Transformer’, Mott's ‘All The The Young Dudes’ album - and even his own Ziggy Stardust. The original Ig and Williamson mix was the real wild child. It was the all-too-familiar great tunes-rotten mix scenario suffered by countless artists hatching something crucial. Bowie used latest studio technology to reverb up the vocals and bump up Williamson's supercharged axe-widdling. But he lost a lot of the rhythm section's own raw power in the process. It would get restored later but, in'73, was the old diamonds in the mud - again. Glammy and refined. Not quite right for the aural volcanoes spewed up by the Stooges. Iggy later tactfully called the mix 'polite'. That summed it up neatly.
‘Raw Power’ finally appeared in May '73 in the US and June in the UK. By now, glam rock was in full, watered-down chart-friendly swing, while noodle-tastic progressive rock was vastly popular with the average punters. This was also the time when the New York Dolls were bursting forth with their debut album - itself another great songs-dodgy mix scenario.
Having said all that, there's no denying the quality of the songs. The rockers - 'Search And Destroy', 'Shake Appeal' and the title track are surging energy flashes with dynamic, volatile backing. Ron might've stepped down from the guitar spotlight in favour of Williamson's cleaner, virtuoso assault but, locked in on bass with brother Scott's jackhammer beats, it was beautifully obvious a titanic rhythm section had been spawned, which was tighter and more powerful than the original Stooges. There is more light and shade on this album, which is obviously geared more towards the mainstream. 'Gimme Danger', 'Penetration' and 'I Need Somebody' are assured, atmospheric slowies. Closest to the original ‘Fun House’ mania are the epic, twisted 'Death Trip' and 'Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell' - possibly the sleaziest grind ever to emerge under the Stooges name. Iggy sounds positively ravaged.
The month ‘Raw Power’ was released in the UK, I sat with Bowie in a hotel bar after a gig in Oxford. He was touring on the cusp of Ziggy-mania (and would retire that character in a few weeks). Much to my surprise, Bowie had phoned up that afternoon and invited me back to see him after the show so we could have a chat for the Mott fan club newsletter (He wasn't doing interviews at the time and I was actually too shocked to take advantage of the situation):
“How's Iggy?” I enquired. “Ohh....' He smiled with a limp wave, “He's....fine. I think he's in LA.”
It was the smile of a parent humouring a naughty offspring. No wonder Iggy was frustrated and feeling neglected by Mainman and his one-time saviour.
The truth was, Iggy was going bonkers. DeFries had let him do one hometown gig in Detroit that March. During a radio interview for the gig, Iggy stripped and started pulling his pud. Mainman had actually dropped Iggy the month before I spoke to Bowie, and would be closely followed by CBS. They felt he was too much of a liability. Bowie had taken what he needed and now had his sights set on his next personna - Aladdin Sane. Maybe Iggy was in there too. He'd already been the 'Jean Genie'.
By July, Iggy was in New York, then LA, on his own death trip. The Stooges were still playing sporadically - now augmented by Scott Thurston on keyboards. Meanwhile, Iggy was losing it big time with voddy and downers. 'I'm not a punk any more, I'm a damned man', he would mutter. Another rumour said that Iggy nearly died on stage at the Whisky-A-Go-Go. That was bollocks, he told Zigzag:
“We were playing the Whisky for five nights - two shows a night...and I'd never given two shows a night because I have to give it all I've I've got or else I think I've failed. By the time the third night rolled around, I was simply incapable of getting up. My back was wrenched and I could hardly breathe. People were going around saying I'd OD’ed and all this crap.”
By '74, the Stooges were on their last legs. It was the only job they knew and their singer was careering along some dark path that could only end up under supervised care. Some of the time. He might have been supremely stupid - well, out of it - but still could turn on the heat and a sense of danger you never see today. In February, when the Stooges played Wayne's Rock And Roll Farm in Michigan, local bikers the Scorpions harangued and pelted them with eggs. Ig sang, 'You can suck my ass, you biker faggot sissies' and got clocked for his trouble by a beefy Scorpion. Not to be shut down, Iggy offered to take the whole gang on at the following night's gig at the Michigan Palace. Gimme danger, indeed.
The Stooges were fully expecting to get killed. Instead they were pelted by coins, eggs and bottles. Someone taped it and the cassette came into the possession of Nick Kent. The whole unholy Stooges last stand was released in '76 by Skydog as ‘Metallic K.O’ - a compulsive document of a band in disintegration.
There's some new songs - 'Head On', 'Rich Bitch', 'Cock In My Pocket' - but the sound is fairly abysmal. This record is more of a combat document. 'I've been egged by better than you', he tries to taunt. Crash! Zing! Splat! It's 'Louie Louie', mainstay of a thousand garage bands' first thrashes. 'I never thought it would come to this, baby' exclaims Iggy. His last words on a stage with the Stooges are, 'Thank you to the person who threw that glass bottle at my head'.
Uneasy listening. It turned out to be the Stooges' swansong. The group split for good and Iggy went into a mental hospital. Ironically, it would be Bowie who rescued him and resurrected his career a couple of years later with ‘The Idiot’, but that's another story. We're here to call the Stooges the first and greatest punk rock band of all time.
Iggy did indeed pursue a (patchy) solo career while Ron raised some rock action
with New Order (the original one) and the awesome Destroy All Monsters.
Since then, Iggy seems to have come to terms with himself and his legend - but can act as wild as he ever did. It's just in his blood. Going by his recent unnerving but riveting display on the South Bank Show, Iggy is still mad as a sack full of wet mice. The great Ron Asheton took it harder and spent years mourning the Stooges:
“We fucked up, man,” he told Mojo in '96. “We could have been the American Stones. But we messed up big time. It was freefall. We didn't stop till we hit the bottom.”
Nowadays, Ron is feeling a lot better as the Stooges are whisked into a position of total punk reverence. In 2003, the surviving members sorted out their demons and reformed for Iggy's ‘Skull Ring’ album. Then, with Mike Watt from the Minutemen on bass, they went on tour to give several new generations a glimpse of what it was all about and what might have been. Reviewing a show at the 10,000-capacity Jones Beach Theatre near New York, The Independent said 'they returned their songs to the basement of the funhouse where the template for garage-rock was formed...they played their anthems...with a freshness and fidelity that transcended time.' Iggy's performance sounded like he was shorn of cabaret expectations and back on the street - 'the original bored, lustful, clever, heart-felt trailer-trash misfit'.
This was originally supposed to be for just four gigs. Obviously, it went well - as they're still going strong. Last year, they even popped up on a tribute album to bluesman, Junior Kimbraugh, playing a dirty boogie called 'You Better Run'.
A Japanese album has appeared called ‘Telluric Chaos’ (see review elsewhere in this issue), which captures the revitalised Stooges live in Tokyo last year. There's a full review elsewhere - but, safe to say, they still sound like controlled dynamite, tearing through stuff from the first two albums and ‘Skull Ring’ with the necessary bludgeoning ferocity. The Asheton's, who uncannily sound even more seismically evil than back then, are joined by Mike Watt of the Minutemen on bass and even Steve Mackay, who Nick Kent once reported was dead. Iggy just sounds like he's having the time of his life. This makes any other 'rock' album released this year sound like it's trying too hard. The Stooges don't have to try. They just ooze lethal energy.
The Stooges are going to play ‘Fun House’ in London in August. We need 'em now just as much as we needed 'em over 35 years ago. If not more (if you've been watching your identikit festival bills and their endless squeaky blandness).
In retrospect, you couldn't have changed a thing in the story of the Dum Dum Boys. 'I never want to be squeaky clean!' Iggy protested when I suggested he was mellowing a bit sometime in the 80s. 'I helped out! I've done my share! No doubt about it! I know it!' Then he let out a triumphant howl and punched the air.
There was an EP in the mid 70s called ‘Jesus Loves the Stooges’. You know it’s true. The rest is up to you.
Kris Needs tMx 20 07/05