Ron Asheton- Stooges interview
James Williamson, Scott Asheton (standing), Ron Asheton
by Jason Gross
PSF: How did "We Will Fall" come about? What that done to fill out the record?
Not really. (Jac) Holzman and Cale listened to a mix and said "It's kinda short on songs." So, of course, they asked if we had any more tunes and we said "Oh yeah, no problem." So basically, I had to write "Real Cool Time," "Not Right" and "Little Doll." Sitting in a hotel room in about one hour, Iggy comes down and says "HOW YA DOING? WHAT DO YOU GOT FOR ME, MAN?" He would listen to it and then he would go and write some lyrics. I think we rehearsed one time and then we went to the studio and did those three songs in just one take. It was a real budget scene. It took a couple of hours to get those guys up to speed and that's all we needed. We just hammered 'em out.
Dave Alexander's contribution was a chant and (supposedly) "you'll get high, man..." I guess we did get high even though we smoked a BUNCH of hash while we were doing it! It did go on long. It's one of those things where you either hate the shit out of it or you...
PSF: It seemed strange with everything else on there.
Well, it was Dave, just for him to have a contribution. He was getting into all the mystic stuff, which was cool. He said "Come here, I want to show you this chant. Try this for a while." I did and it was very relaxing. They actually had to stop us because we just wouldn't stop. OOOOOHMMMM, JAJA, JAJA.... We had the candles going and the incense and everything. It was mesmerizing. We didn't do it on purpose just to fill up the empty space but it turned out that we had to come up with a few more minutes of music.
PSF: After the record was finished and before the band started recording Funhouse, did you see that the band was evolving a lot?
Oh yeah. We were playing all the time. We learned to play on the road. The whole Stooge experience was totally learning by standing in front of people. Of course, rehearsing but also playing on stage. And we played ALL THE TIME. There was two years or more when were constantly playing, always on the road.
PSF: So you think the band got tighter then?
Definitely. During the short time of span between the first and second record, we progressed amazingly. That comes from just... sheer playing all the time. When you're young and you're hungry, that's what you do and you love doing it. Then being on the road... of course, I couldn't do that now and I wouldn't want to. Being constantly on the road, it was a new adventure then. "YEP, SOME NEW PUSSY TONIGHT. A NEW CITY, A NEW GIRL, A FRESH NEW FACE TONIGHT FOR ME AFTER THE SHOW." I felt good because I played and I learned something.
PSF: Another factor was that you had Steve MacKaye playing sax with the band?
He came a little later. We started bringing Steve on. We had "Funhouse" and we wanted sax. We were doing it without it (sax) for a long time. "Yeah, let's get him on the song." We really didn't take him on the road. He did a little bit before and then he did the session. We dragged him along until he got tired of it or we got tired of it. He went on to do other things.
PSF: What did you think of the recording of Funhouse?
By then, Elektra saw possible dollar signs so they got Don Galucci. Ironically, I used to watch a Dick Clarke-type show with Little Donnie- he was on the show every day. He started coming to our shows and we didn't even know it. He went back to Elektra and said "My idea is to have them do their show." On the record, we're pretty much playing our songs in the order that we'd do at our shows, except maybe switching two numbers. He had a lot of prep and it was really cool going to L.A. We had never been there so that was a real experience, going to Elektra studios where the Doors recorded their records. It was really cool.
We were a little more professional by then. It was more relaxed and were really able to work with Don. Ross Meyer, the engineer, said "I just got done doing Barbara Steisand and now I'm doing you guys!" He was excellent. They worked very well together and they knew what they were going to do. It was a giant step forward. Us being a little more confident in our playing... we were pretty geeked. "Wow, our second time in the studio!" We were hot because we just came off the road. So there was no cold time, no down time. It was like off the road and into the studio. We worked pretty quick. I think all that happened in a couple of weeks.
PSF: The sound is much more untamed than the first record.
Oh yeah, that also comes with our attitudes. Our confidence. I was scared on the first record. "Oh shit, what am I doing?" You do feel a little intimidated when people are telling you stuff. It's a great album. I enjoy it to this day.
PSF: Iggy's said that he thought the first album was kind of poppy while the second record is kind of funky and jazzy. Did you see it that way?
Yeah... it seems that way. I kind of agree with that. It was funk and jazz but it was also good old rock and roll too. It had elements of funk and jazz. The first one... was some kind of weird conceptual pop music. People listened to the first record and they're like "Huh? What is this?" That was the reaction of the critics and everything when that came out. "What the fuck is this pile of shit?"
PSF: Do you have any favorites from Funhouse?
I always love "Dirt." It's my most favorite. And of course the beloved "TV Eye," which is in the Velvet Goldmine movie. We really kicked the shit out of it. It's so unbelievably powerful. When I saw the film and saw the fake Stooges, it was like "HOLY SHIT..." It blew me away. We all did an incredible job. "Dirt" and "TV Eye" are probably my favorites.
PSF: What about "Loose"?
I get tired of "Loose" because I played it so many times. I won't do "Dirt." I've TRIED to do it with other people and it just can't be done. I refused to do it with the Wild Rats. They kept going "Do DIRT!" I said "Dudes, here me now, believe me later. I will never play that song. It can't be done." In Dark Carnival and Destroy All Monsters, everyone wanted to do that song and I'm going "you can't re-create this. It can't be done." It was just so perfect the way it was done with that group of people. I would never play it.
"Loose" I played with Dark Carnival, Destroy All Monsters and a thousand times with the Stooges. I like all of the stuff. The ones I wouldn't want to re-create... that's why I love "Dirt" so much. Friends of mine who were junkies would get in the bathtub, light candles, put on "Dirt" and shoot dope over and over and over... I'm going (sarcastically) "Wow, that makes me feel REALLY good!" I'm glad they enjoyed it but God... What a compliment.
PSF: How did the songs for Funhouse come together?
Same way. Developing riffs. Sitting in my room and the basic foundation was coming up with a chord riff. "Iggy come down here." He'd pop his head in- "I hear something I like." I'd be sitting in my apartment, we had a band house we were lived. He'd say "that sounds cool- why don't you work around those lines." Or I'd say "hey listen to this" and we'd both digest it or he'd say "maybe... turn THAT around." He helped out with arranging it. He always claims that he wrote a lot of the stuff but it's really not true because he couldn't play. We got him a guitar... He was an integral and important part of putting all the music together, of course. 'Cause he's no dummy, he did write the lyrics. Mostly, I would come up with riffs and then the middle eight or certain choruses and he had suggestions. He'd play minimally- he'd say "I can only play it with one note but listen to this."
We did collaborate an awfully lot together. "Dirt" was Dave Alexander's riff. We'd get together and practice would always start out with a jam. We'd go over pieces. "Funhouse" was also Dave's riff. He came up with those and we built on them. That's how the tunes came about- jam sessions, me sittin' there playing, Iggy going "I like that."
PSF: What about "L.A. Blues"?
That was our tribute to ourselves, our original roots. I was DEEPLY into John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. It was our FREAK OUT! Our whole set was a freak out. We'd say "Now it's time to freak out." So we'd end the set, we'd be playing a tune and it just like... Unlike the record, where they made it a separate thing, it would just digress or progress into the total free-form. I thought "let one go and go where ever you wanna go until you're totally peaked out and then just leave the stage." I'd have blood all over my guitar and strings, I'd loose my pick.
But they wanted to make "L.A. Blues" separate and it was WAY sterile compared to how we usually do it. That was my brother going "Uh, I don't know, what do we do?" I'm saying "Well, just pretend! Freak out, man!" He'd just be going diddle-liddle-liddle. I guess that day he just didn't want to freak out. It's WAY sterile compared to how really did it. I got a couple of good things in there, Steve got a couple of good things in there. But it was MUCH more violent in person because it was the culmination of the show. It was my time because I was pretty much a static player. I'm not a poser, no classic rock and roll poses! Not a lot of round-houses going around, like Peter Townshend. I went to the ol' Brian Jones school- you just stand there and look a little glamorous. That was just the chance for me to pour out all of my frustrations and move my body. It was some kind of cosmic aerobics with some piece of wood and metal and these stacks of Marshall amps that WOULD DO ANYTHING I WANTED THEM TO DO! I would make all these incredible sounds.
It was much tamer on record. That's the one thing that Don didn't capture. They should have just segued. But they thought, as record company people do, "No, cuts. There has to be DIVIDING LINES between the songs for radio airplay." That's still the same today, the same stupid rip-off. "There's tracks." "Can't we just play?" "No, that's why they call them tracks!" So we said fuck it and they made a separate thing. My brother's attitude was fuck 'em.
PSF: After Funhouse, there was some songs like "Way Down In Egypt," "Searching For Head" and "Private Parts", which wasn't released. Was that a different direction for the band?
Actually, "Searching For Head" was from my brother's band that he was doing with the roadies. When we weren't playing, they'd get together in the afternoon and they'd get to play with the toys! Rock Action was the band. I'm going "These guys can't play." It reminded me of... me.
PSF: Were drugs a big problem with the band?
At that time, shortly after Funhouse, was the bad discovery of heroin. By then, drugs had taken over everyone's lives but myself so I had to do the unspeakable... Tie myself down with one woman and have her move in with me so I could have SOMEBODY that was sane. I'm not about to do any heroin 'cause I saw what it was doing to those guys. I WAS OUT OF THE CLUB! Things just fell apart. We just played and played and played. Once heroin was introduced into the picture, it was the beginning of the end.
PSF: How did James Williamson enter the picture?
When I went with Scott Richardson to Birmingham, Michigan to play in the Chosen Few, Williamson was in the band. The first time I played with them, that was the last time James played with them. He was sent to the reform school. I met him that one fuckin' time. We rehearsed for about a week and played that weekend. That was the first time I met him. When we were in New York, his step-father, this mean guy, put him in the boy's school in New York. When I came out there to play, he'd show up to say hello and I didn't even really know him.
I said "I want another guitar player." It was a stupid move. I wish I would have never done it. I wanted to fatten the sound. When I play a lead, there's more of a sound there. We started auditioned guys. Iggy liked this one Mexican kid and I'm going "No, no. It's not that he's Hispanic, he's got this whole other style, like country." Then all of a sudden, James shows up. Holy shit, out of the blue. He came and heard somehow that we were looking for people and he showed up. I thought "Cool, I'm for that." That was the beginning of James.
But James was into bad stuff. He wasn't into junk at that time but he fell right in line with THE EVIL PROGRAM. He was supposed to be a helper for me but he totally usurped my position and eventually, kicked me out from playing guitar. When the Stooges finally broke up, he hooked up with Iggy and went to England.
I've finally forgiven him. I saw him about a month ago. He actually came here. I thought I'd never wanna see him again. He called up and he said he was gonna be in the area. I thought "ah, well." We had a nice time. We talked and he didn't apologize for anything, which he didn't have to, but I could tell he was being humble and there was friction and there was some stupid things done by him. It was nice that we got to clear that up. The beauty of it was that we didn't have to say a word. He's got a great job with Sony, he's got a wife and two kids. He's doing very, very well. Goes all over the place with his job. So that was a bridge mended.
PSF: When James ran off to England with Iggy, how you get called back into the band?
Around early '72, the band was totally broken up, scattered into the wind. Iggy had gotten big time into junk and did his drug thing. But he decided "I gotta do something." I mean, he's no dummy. He ACTS like a dummy but he's no stupid person. So he got his shit together and went to New York. He said "I'm gonna get myself something." It worked out that Bowie was there. He was a fan, he liked the Stooges, the management was there. He got the deal.
He came back to here to gather up some things I guess. So, I saw him at a party and he offhandedly said "I'm going to England. Oh, by the way, I got a deal and I'm taking James." I'm thinking "Thanks a lot, pal. You shit on your two fucking buddies who started the band." I was shattered. A couple of months later, he calls up from England. "We auditioned about a hundred bass players and drummers and none of 'em are any good. You guys wanna play?" My first reaction was "YOU MOTHERFUCKER!!!" That's what's going on in my head. If I could just reach through the phone! So I'm going "Yeah, sure, we're not doing anything." He says, "Uh, OK, we'll send you all the pertinent information." It all went down in a week and two.
Next thing I know, we're in England in BOWIELAND, Main Man Bowieland. It's from Bumfuck, figuring out what I'm going to be doing, going to deeper and heavier shit with political intrigue. We were treated GOOD but different. Main Man wasn't about a band, it was about Iggy. He signed with them. "It's Iggy." They didn't sign me so it was true but we were part of making the legend. He took it upon himself that he was the creator. We were the ugly, side cast-offs of the monster he created. They gave me a nice place to live though. All we did was work, work, work, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, record, record, record. It wasn't a band scene, we wouldn't hang out. It was basically me and Scotty and James that would hang out. Iggy was off in his own Bowieworld and being groomed as a star by Main Man. So, he really didn't hang with us other than rehearsal.
We did rehearse a lot, about six hours a day except Sundays. We practiced from midnight to 6AM, that's Stooge hours, we LOVED the night time. We'd come home and I'd take dinner from the night before and drink and talk for a while. But it wasn't a band thing, especially after the management... Once Jim got into the picture, he was pretty much... he would go off with certain women. He moved out of the house because he wanted to be with certain women and he wanted to be ALONE. Then I had the whole third floor with a grand piano. That was OK by us 'cause by then, we got the big picture and that was "I'm here to do a job. So I'm gonna hang in just for the sake of keeping my career going and seeing where the chips will fall."
PSF: What did you think of Raw Power then?
I felt really bad because I had music to present. But once again, it was the old... He had partnered up with James. James always loved Keith Richards and he even emulated him in his personal style and appearance. He finally got his Jagger-Richards. So he and Iggy were the songwriters. They wouldn't let me do nothing even though I would come up with pieces. Jim would actually almost go for something. Little suggestions I made for the tunes, little twists. Not that I did any major structural changes. But I did do pieces to enhance and I was never recognized for it or even a fuckin' "thank you."
For me, it was frustrating. Any experience you get in the recording studio is beneficial to your own growth. But for me, it was kind of bittersweet. Then when we finally moved to L.A. and heard the acetate of the record, I'm still playing ball with them. We're still clinging to the idea of 'the band.' When I heard it, I'm going "Man, it's terrible. It sounds like SHIT! There's no drums and no bass." So of course, the Asheton brothers get shit on again.
All that bullshit... Iggy's got a right to go off and do his own thing. It's cool and I appreciate him calling me back and that's another experience. But still, there's no bass and there's no drums.
See Part 4 (of 4) of the Asheton interview
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