Ron Asheton interview part two
And he's got his drumset set up in a place where he can go and bang on them once or twice a week. His chops are pretty good. I didn't get to see him actually record, but like I said, I went in after he was done tracking and got to mix some stuff and he sounded good as ever. And everyone always says they really like his drumming. Of course he did stuff with Deniz Tek (on Take It to the Vertical); that was back a few years ago.
So where are you now?
K: Fort Worth, Texas.
R: Yeah...The only time I've been in Texas is at the Dallas airport to catch another plane. They never wanted those Stooges to play in Texas. Never had a job. I mean, we'd stop there on the way to someplace, but we never had a job in Texas.
K: You'd be surprised how much interest there is in the Stooges down here...in Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin, especially.
R: Yeah, I know that. Gunnar Hansen (pictured left)...Leatherface...is moving back to Austin. His mother's there, so he's gonna be moving to Austin next year, so I might even come and visit him there. He's going to buy a house there in May.
K: Austin's a great town.
R: He was originally from there, his family. Believe it or not, they moved from Iceland. He was born in Iceland, and the family moved to Austin, Texas. And that's where he went to school and everything. It's only been the last, I dunno, ten or so years that he's lived in Maine.
K: I take it then that Dark Carnival (pictured right) is on hiatus?
R: Well, yeah. Niagara's doing her art show. She's been painting and being rather successful at it. She's had shows out in L.A., she's had a lot of shows in Detroit, she's gonna be going to New York, she's done lots of illustrations for Details magazine. As a matter of fact, Details magazine is having its "Woman of the Year" award, and they've given it to Jennifer Lopez. They're having a party in New York and they've sent out 400 invitations to different celebrities, and they hired Niagara to do the invitation, which was a life-size...whatever, pinup of a woman. Apparently, they're gonna fly Niagara out...Niagara's going to New York for the big party. She's been doing good.
It's the same kind of thing. We put out that record that's on Sympathy for the Record Industry (The Last Great Ride) and shopped it around and no one was really interested in signing that band. For some reason. Whatevah. So for me, doing the Wylde Rattz thing was just the incentive to stop that. I've been in Dark Carnival (pictured right) since 1991 and I put a lot of money into it, and now I just wanna see about getting my own deal. I really liked the band, good players and stuff, writing with Niagara. I like doing the spooky songs; she's more of a stylist than a singer, and she has to have special kind of material. I've got stuff that rocks and stuff that's really melodic that she can't do, but I enjoy doing the spooky stuff with her. Not that I don't like the stuff that I have to come up with, but it'd be fun for me to do my own thang So I don't know what's gonna happen with that. Right now I'm just lettin' it ride. I should say, "letting it rest."
K: I heard [Dark Carnival rhythm guitarist] Greasy Carlisi was having some health problems, and [Carnival bassist] Pete Bankert was playing with Dennis Thompson for awhile.
R: I think Pete did some weird record with Dennis. Pete told me a little bit about it.
And Greasy...It runs in Greasy's family that they have small arteries and veins. And they have a history of health problems in their family. Apparently he musta had like five heart attacks. We were on the road to New York and he was havin' chest pains. Everyone kept goin', "Marry your girlfriend; she's a nurse. Marry her so you'll have health insurance, because you keep complaining about your heart all year." and everyone's goin', "Gee, he probably had a heart attack." So one day he was cutting the lawn and he got severe chest pains, and he called up his girlfriend, who was a nurse, and she came from the hospital and took him to another hospital. Sure enough, he had to have angioplasties right there, where they open up the arteries and everything. They said he had a mild heart attack and he's probably had several. But he's feeling much better now. We kept telling him, and he goes, "What do you think it was?" and I go, "Probably it was a heart attack. " Here's a little guy who's very trim, hardly a pinch of fat on him, but it runs in the family, and he smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. But he's okay now.
We did those benefits for him. The first one was Dennis Thompson and Wayne Kramer and Deniz Tek -- the Dodge Main band -- Scott Morgan. They were like the headliners. They did a benefit for him to defray his costs, because he owed like 30 grand or something to the hospital 'cause he had no medical insurance. And we did a show with Dark Carnival headlining and about ten other bands. Made a little bit more money for him about a year or so later. But he's doin' bettah.
And as far as Pete working with Dennis...I never quite understood what it was. They took some old Rob Tyner voice and they played new music over it. Now Pete's back in Michigan from L.A.; he's lived in L.A. also. I'll have to call him and say "Hey" and see what that was about anyway.
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.
K: How long did you know Iggy before then?
R: From high school. I think when 1 was in the 11th grade, I noticed the Iguanas. They had talent shows. No, in the tenth grade I first saw the Iguanas. And then the 11th grade talent show, I was in it. I wound up playing in this jug band. I told them I could play harmonica, but I couldn't. But I went home and practiced for a couple of hours and came back and actually played the harmonica good enough to Get In The Band.
We did the talent show (and that's the first time I also saw the Rationals), but I would just see Jim in the hallway, because he had that little...I mean today, he'd probably get his ass beat if he wore his hair like he wore it back then...it was like a regular haircut with little Betty Page bangs, like a teeny Beatle cut. And that was pretty radical, but I was they guy who had to really try to hide my hair, 'cause I had like a Brian Jones haircut, all the way over my eyes, and sideburns, and I had to sort of not wash it for a long time, so it didn't look like it was real long. But he'd see me in the hallway, and I'd be wearing leather vests and turtlenecks and looking way different than his cashmere sweater, chinos and tasseled penny loafers. So he'd always give me a nod, and it's like, "Yeah, this guy...I saw him play in that band in school, man. I wanna be in a band. He played good drums, and he got to sing a song, and he's in the band and everyone was cheering."
So, it was just a casual nodding thing in school, and then it wound up...all the hip kids would go to the Michigan Union cafeteria, which was dubbed "The Jug " Everyone was young enough, and we'd go in and sit down and we'd be there every afternoon. The security guards would come around once an hour and ask for ID if you didn't look right. We'd get kicked out, and we'd just wait half an hour and we'd come back in, and stay until we were kicked out again. But he kinda started showing up, and that's how I kinda got to know him -- just in the hallway, and then hangin' out at the Michigan Union cafeteria. He'd see me there, and by that time, he was in college, and was like, "Hey, it's you, how's it goin', man?"
So it started out this casual nodding in the hallway, then finally starting to talk, 'cause he was in college for awhile, at the U. of M., then he'd go to the cafeteria and that's where I'd be hanging out with Dave Alexander and sometimes my brother or any of the other guys like Bill Cheatham -us who were "the different ones," the ones with long hair. It was the only place you felt kind of okay, because even though out on the street, the frats, the jocks, they'd throw beer cans and shit at you, but you go to Michigan Union, you'd find people like that. The beatnik people, some of the older professors with the goatees and stuff, "Ah, yes, young man, what is your philosophy of life?" And the guy'd be some weirdo fag -- aanhhhh! That kinda stuff. But you met a lot of cool people that way. So that's kind how our relationship...started to grow.
K: Was that before or after you went to England and saw the Who and that?
R: After. 'Cause Dave [Alexander] and I just took off. Dave goes, "Aww, I'm goin' to England. " This was like 1965, man. I had a motorcycle and he had a motorcycle, so I sold my motorcycle to get my plane ticket. I said, "I gotta go " 'Cause we wanted to start a band. We talked about it. We thought if we went to England, the Beatles would be walkin' the streets, the Stones, man... y'know, it'd be total rock and roll nirvana. Well, we sorta found out different...there was no Ringo on the streets of London.
The only reason I really got to go was I had a friend who I went to high school and junior high with. His father got a job in Southport, England, working for Essex Wire Company. So I said, "We're staying with them. They said it's okay." But that wasn't true; we just showed up on their doorstep one night at ten in the evening. His mother answered the door an almost had a heart attack, and the next day, they shipped us right the fuck out, man. The old man took us down to this bed and breakfast place, which wound up being really cool, 'cause we had total freedom.
It was Dave and me, we had to share this one fuckin' room in this old house, this old couple, this old man and woman and these three giant dogs, but it was cool, because at 11:15 every day, we caught the train to Liverpool, which is about a 45-minute train ride 'cause it stops all the time, and we wanted to go to where the Beatles were; we actually went looking for the Cavern. And the Cavern's open, it's functioning every afternoon. So for like sixty, fifty pence, or thirty-five pence, you could go in and there'd be local bands playin'. And it was fuckint unbelievably cool. Here we are going, "Wow, this is it...we're in the fucking Cavern, and there's bands playing," and they're kind of on the level of bands that we're trying to start out; these guys playing the Cavern are the dregs of Liverpool and the surrounding areas. They're the little guys that get paid 10 dollars to say they played in the Cavern. But we went every fuckin' day and it was so cool.
We befriended these few guys. This guy Robert...at that time, the Mods were really happening, the Who just had My Generation, had just popped, so there were a lotta razor cuts, little razor haircuts like Pete Townshend haircuts. This guy Robert, he was still in our vein; he had big Brian Jones...even longer; sheepdog bangs, and his hair was down to his shoulders. It was like, "Wow, man!" and he took us to all the cool places where we could buy, with the little money we did have. .I loved those big pinstripe pants, wide pinstripe black pants with little pinstripes like Brian Jones, 'cause I was deep into Brian Jones. Real Beatle boots with huge heels...they were actually flimsy and crummy as hell, but they were so cool, to get 'em. But the actual three-inch heels... YES! We didn't have much money; we were basically living on one hamburger a day and a candy bar, but he took us everywhere. He took us to the Beatle houses. He knew everything, 'cause he was such a music freak. We got to have the grand tour of Liverpool.
So that trip to England was really a great thing. And when I came back, that was what totally changed my life. I could never look back again. Y'know, it's like, "Nope, I'm not gonna go back to school." I was a good student, even though I was kicked out -- the first guy with long hair. Going back was like, "This sucks. I don't belong here. " After that giant taste of freedom, to go to the Cavern every afternoon...now it's sifting in the classroom, listening to somebody try to teach me something that I don't give a damn about. "Fuck this! " So that was the brace that was put in my backbone, to get the guts to go out and do the music thang.
K: The early days of the Psychedelic Stooges are kinda legendary. But what was your concept -what were you guys trying to do?
R: Well, of course, everyone had played. I had played all those contemporary songs in the Chosen Few, and Iggy had played contemporary songs in the Iguanas, and he had the blues background. We wanted to do something totally different. So we thought, "The first thing we gotta do is get a band house." So we got a summer sublet, and we went there, I had to take a job in a head shop, and Iggy was a waiter. Of course, my brother wouldn't work, and Dave Alexander wouldn't work, but he stole money from home. Well, they gave him money. We had to pay our own rent and everything. So we just listened, listened to music, just listened, listened. I talked to Iggy a lot. I was really intrigued by the fact that Peter Townshend was talking a lot about this rock opera thing. And I'm goin', "Yeah, man," and I liked classical music, and I'm going, " Wow, we should do that, but we would really do it up, so it literally will be one continuous piece of music that changes and changes, and get like an hour's worth of music. So we listened to a lot, I listened to a lot of Ravi Shankar, we listened to a lot of Harry Partch, we listened to Gregorian chants (Iggy particularly liked the Gregorian chants), I loved the Buddhist temple music, the giant horns that go BOMMMN~, those huge horns and the tambourines and bells. So we just kinda wanted to do something totally different.
And it did start out with Iggy getting a Farfisa organ, my brother coming up, using timbales and a snare drum and the fifty-gallon oil drums, and I would use the bass guitar that I was playing with fuzztone, wah pedal. We invented instruments: putting a contact mike on the fifty-gallon oil drum; putting a mike against the lip of a blender with water; taking a washboard, putting a contact mike on it, and Iggy gettin' up on it with golf shoes with spikes and kinda doing rhythm things. We found that if you took a microphone and put in on a bass drum mike stand, take a funnel and you can lift it up and down and make different kinds of...almost like a bass synthesizer or something. WHIRRRRRRR...just different weird feedbacks through the P.A. Or taking an old Kustom amp and crashing it, putting the reverb unit on high..."Gee, it sounds like a thunderstorm or a rainstorm " We got Dave Alexander to do that, and that's what he used to do -- work all the weird instruments while Iggy played keyboards and I played the bass and my brother played this kinda bizarre drum set.
And it just all sort of evolved with time into the format...I said to Iggy one day, "You should just concentrate on singing. Let Dave play the bass, I wanna play guitar"...I originally wanted to play, I had taken guitar lessons for years, three years, four years; that's what I wanted to do anyway. We just sort of evolved...our sets were about a half hour to eighteen minutes. Whenever we played, I think half hour was the longest at that time. That's depending on how stoned we were. We'd get stoned out on marijuana and go up and just sort of jam, and just see where it would go. And after awhile, things started to develop. I'd come up with a little riff, and we'd have a foundation riff that we could start to jam, and then take it wherever.
And then of course it went to the point of going out and playing gigs, and then Danny Fields had discovered the MC5, and he saw us play a show with the Five and he went back and got us that record deal with Elektra. When that whole thing came about, we were still at that point. Our jams were a little more organized; it was a lot like some of the songs on the first Stooges album. And or course we had to make the record, and the question was, "You guys got songs?" "Oh, yeah, of course we do." We eventually just sat down and came up with a bunch of riffs and stuff, and pieces of music, and Iggy and I organized them, and he put the lyrics to 'em. And that was how the Stooges just sorta had to gravitate. What we were doing at the time was just a little too far out for any kind of mainstream record company.
K: Were you guys doin' a lot of stuff like We Will Fall from the first album?
R: Oh, no; actually it was high-energy blast. It would start out with, say, the riff from Little Doll; Dave would (hums bass part), but even faster. Big, slashing power chords, and then it would just erupt into total, John Coltrane chaos, where the saxophone was screaming, but just imagine everyone's screaming. My brother's doing his very poor Elvin Jones imitation. I got way into feedback, and I'd just go back there and try to yank these sounds out of this guitar, while Dave'd be holding down some kind of riff, and it'd just go.
That's why some of the sets were just eighteen minutes, because we'd start off on this riff, and I'm goin', "Okay, we've gotta hold it down long enough so Iggy can start doin' his little antics," y'know...let him work the crowd. And we knew that; we didn't even have to tell each other that, we were really such (at that time) of one thought that we'd let him go out and do his thing, and the show would just sorta build. As he got a little bit more frantic, the music got a little more frantic. Or if we got a little more frantic, he got a little more frantic, and then it would wind up just total power and chaos, where it's the exact opposite of "We Will Fall"...that was more Dave Alexander's contribution to the first record, because he was into chants and into the spiritual stuff, and he was always looking for a new way to get high, and this was..."If you keep doing this chant, you're gonna get high." So I'd go to his house, and after awhile, I'd think, "Gee, I guess if I said anything over and over for a half hour, it might make me a little dizzy, " but it did make us feel relaxed, so we thought, "Cool. It's something different." That was the total opposite of what we were back then, 'cause that was chaos. Total chaos.
K: That was the [original Stooges manager] Jimmy Silver, Zen macrobiotic influence?