Calling From The Fun House: Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton
K: Speaking of old bands, what about the rumors of a Stooges reunion?
R: Let's see, it was two years ago, I believe it was two years ago this October, I got a call. I was washin' dishes, and [drummer] Larry Steele, who's in Dark Carnival, happened to be staying over here and he was expecting a call (he lives in Atlanta). So he picks up the phone, and he goes, "There's a guy on the phone that says he's Iggy." Larry being not really familiar with Iggy's voice, I said, "Yeah, right. Just hang up on him." I get that bullshit all the time. That's why I screen my calls So he goes, "No, no, he said he's Iggy."
So I picked it up, and it was Iggy. I was surprised that he called. Got a little bit of small talk, in which he's gotta tell me everything he's doing, and how cool he is, then we're getting around to the point. Rick Rubin had gotten a hold of him (or his manager) and proposed the idea of doing a Stooges reunion record, and I know that my brother wanted to do a 20-year anniversary of the Stooges. He would go to New York and hang out with Iggy, he went three or four times, and they'd jam, and they'd talk about it. My brother was really into it. I was surprised that he was really wanting to do it. Finally my brother went to New York and Iggy was really cold, he was just, "Well, I donwanna do it" and that was the end of it. My brother said, "Fuck it," and came back.
So I was surprised by that, and I said, "Well cool, I'm kinda busy. " He goes, "Well, maybe we can do it next year." So I'm going, "Yeah, '96, '97, that'd be cool." And he goes, "No, no, later -- I'm booked for a whole year." And once he said that, I kinda knew it'd never happen. But I don't think it's gonna happen, because he's busy with his own life and I think he'd look at it as a giant step backwards to be re-associated with us, because he always tries to pass the blame for any Stooges problems on other people. Although it was him that was the junkie, it was him that quit the band, it was him that lost deals. I don't think his ego could take hooking up with us again, because he keeps his band invisible.
That one band he had with Ivan Kral and some of those guys, that was a good band, but once they got some recognition, he dumped 'em, or would treat them weird. I remember Ivan calling me up and going, "What's up with him, man? We can't do any interviews or anything." He's Iggy, he's the star, he wants to be the centerpiece. So Ivan goes, "What should I do?" I go, "Quit." So then they quit. He said he just couldn't take it; Jim (Iggy) was getting weird.
So he keeps these invisible people. He would never work with us. He always seems to take the opportunity to put down my brother or especially me in every article. He actually called me a year ago this past April...he'd just gotten back from the Sony release party at the Sony Building for the Raw Power remix that he did. He called to chat, and he'd heard that I'd done something for this movie that was supposedly about him and his relationship with David Bowie. Little did he know.
I'd gotten an earlier test pressing they'd had for press agents and stuff, and I'm goin', "Oh, shit. "
I remember Don Fleming...we were talking about it, and he goes, "Yeah, Iggy's mixing Raw Power," and I'm going, "Oh, yeah, it'll probably be great" (being sarcastic). Don Fleming goes, "You know what? When Iggy's Raw Power mix comes out, I'll bet you're gonna go -- we always used to say how bad the original David Bowie mix of Raw Power was -- Fleming's going, "When you hear Iggy's mix, I guarantee you're gonna say, 'Man, remember that great mix that David Bowie did?" So I heard it, I got the advance copy from his manager, and listened to it. Then I called Fleming and I'm going, "Gee, Don, I just listened to Iggy's mix of Raw Power. Man, I sure loved that old David Bowie mix. Was it ever great. "
But basically, all that Iggy did was take all the smoothness and all the effects off James (Williamson)'s guitar, so his leads sound really abrupt and stilty and almost clumsy, and he just put back every single grunt, groan, and word he ever said on the whole fuckin' soundtrack. He just totally restored everything that was cut out of him in the first mix, and I thought, Damn, I really did like the old mix better.
Actually, I didn't even read the liner notes, the little cover story in the booklet. Then Larry Steele calls up from Atlanta and goes, "Yeah, did you get that Raw Power thing?" I went, "Yeah, Iggy's manager did send it like he promised, the real copy and that was pretty nice of him." And he goes, "Have you opened it up yet?" And I go, "Well, no, I've been just looking at the little press kit thing." And he goes, "Well, uh, are you sittin' down?" and I go, "Huh? Well, yeah." Then he goes, "Let me read you something," so he starts to read the part where Iggy goes, "The Ashetons? (Hahahahaha) They couldn't put a home aquarium together without me. " Awww, man, I was so fuckin' mad, because I'd just spoken with him, and here he's slagged us again.
I don't think any amount of money...we were offered (a long time ago) a pretty good amount of money to get together and do a video, play on a TV show, blah blah blah, but his ego can't stand it. "Hey, you're looking at somebody else but ME! " And he really is that way. He's got this weird feeling about us. I've never said bad things about him, and even now, I'll tell the truth about how he treated me, but I'll always give him his just praise and I liked the time that we spent together and everything, but he he just seems to take some great pleasure in putting me down. It's starting to piss me off, man. So I don't think that we'll ever hook up again.
K: It's really a shame, 'cos those first two records are the most real stuff he's ever done.
R: Absolutely. And he takes credit for...at one point he did say, several years ago, "I showed those guys every note that they played. " Well, he can't play guitar, it's bullshit. And by [the time of the first Stooges album], he hadn't been drumming in a while, and he couldn't drum for very long (although he was a good blues drummer in his time). But he can't play guitar, so how can he show me what to do? He wants to take credit for everything.
K: Had Scott been playing the drums prior to the Stooges?
R: He played drums in the band at school. He played snare drum. And we had a little band...Dave Alexander, Bill Cheatham, my brother and myself had a band called the Dirty Shames, where basically, we just got together, chainsmoked cigarettes, drank a lot of Coca-Cola and played along with records. He borrowed Johnny Morgan's drumkit (Scott Morgan's brother), so he had played a little bit. He had a basic idea of what to do, and he just sorta came along and learned, like we all did. Just kinda grew up with our instruments, and we were actually onstage, trying to come up with those Stooges ideas.
That's all he really did; he did borrow a drum set, and he would go and hang out with Dave and the Morgans to some of their band practices, and he picked up a little stuff. He asked those guys, "Show me this, show me that." He'd watch them and then he'd emulate...he did know like the paradiddles and flamadiddles, 'cause he took drum lessons for a long time, and he did play in the band. But he pretty much learned how to play on the kit by himself.
I had taken guitar lessons also, but I played bass in the Chosen Few, which is a band of Scott Richardson's (who was later in SRC), and we played all that Stones, Beatles, Pretty Things, Yardbirds...all the good stuff at the time, so I knew how to play all those tunes.
K: Was the Chosen Few before or after the Dirty Shames?
R: That was after. The Shames were kinda like our high school thing. We were the most popular band in town but we couldn't play and we never played a job. Because we looked really cool, we all had Brian Jones haircuts, and wore really cool clothes, and we bragged a lot. We hung out at the record store, and everyone said, "Man, you guys are the greatest band. " That was our joke -"Wow, we're a popular band, and no one's ever heard us play!" And like I said, we couldn't play. We'd say, "Okay, we're gonna work on two songs: The Bells of Rhymney off the Byrds record, and then the flip side of' She's About a Mover by the Sir Douglas Quintet - We'll Take Our Last Walk Tonight. "No one's ever heard of that one; maybe we can even say it's ours " Then we'd play along with the tunes and..."Okay, take off the record...Uh-oh, well at least the drums are sorta playin' it." I mean, we were so bad, that it was a true joke.
So I went on to the Chosen Few...got a call from Iggy, who was working at Discount Records, and said, "Hey, there's this guy down here who's lookin' for a bass player." 'Cause I'd been in the Prime Movers and I got fired because they really found a better person. I hadn't really learned how to play bass yet, I could just kinda halfass play. I learned a lot in the Prime Movers, I learned all my blues progressions and I was actually in the band for a few months when they found a very competent player, who was actually going to the university in the music school.
So Iggy was still working at Discount, and that's when I came down and met Scott Richardson and we talked. We went up to his manager's apartment over on Southview and we hung out all afternoon. The next day I wound up going back to Birmingham, Michigan, to rehearse to play that next weekend. That's also the first time I met James Williamson. He was the guitar player, and he had just been sent to juvenile school, so that was his last job before he had to go to juvie, and then he went on to some strict boys' school. They actually put him in a juvenile institution for I don't know how long. (I just saw him about a month ago.)
So that's the first time I did that whole Chosen Few thing. That lasted that season, and the next season, the other guys -- as soon as they got out of high school, they hadda all become doctors and lawyers. It was the end of the Chosen Few. The parents sent a letter. Scott and I were the only ones...you know, we wanted to be musicians And everybody else's parents sent letters: "The boys will no longer be in the band. It's time for, you know, reality, on to college. Al will be a doctor, and Richard will be a lawyer." It turned out Al became a doctor, Richard became a lawyer. I think they wanted Stan to be a CPA, but Stan became a plumber.
K: Probably makes more money.
R: Probably makes plenty of dough, man. So Scott and I just sort of went on and bummed around, talking about starting a band, and then Iggy finally...that's the time when he'd been in Chicago and was hanging out with Sam Lay and stuff. Iggy finally realized he's not gonna be a blues drummer. So we all went to Chicago and picked him up, came back here, and Scott hooked up with management, who got him a real nice backup band, which was the Fugitives, kind of a well-known Birmingham-based band. They played all Top 40 and they played all the teenclubs, and they were one of the regular weekend bands that made a good living. So they were gonna be Scott's backup band, and I had a choice to go with Scott and play bass, and actually make some money and get to wear a nice Beatle suit (of course, he got to dress like Mick Jagger, but the rest of term had to wear Beatle suits) or...Iggy finally goes, "Hey, let's start a band. " Of course, it really didn't take too much thought to work with Iggy and my brother; it was Iggy, my brother, and me, and that was the beginning of the band.