Don't you try to tell me what to do
Everybody always tryin' to tell me what to do
I don’t know if anyone ever tried to tell Iggy Pop and the other Stooges what to do. If so, I’m pretty sure they didn’t listen.
I learned a lot about the Stooges from Gimme Danger, Jim Jarmusch’s new documentary about the group. (You can click here to read my review of that movie.)
For example, I learned that Stooges guitarist James Williamson said good-bye to rock ’n’ roll and went to college to study electrical engineering when the group broke up in 1974. Williamson moved to Silicon Valley after graduating from Cal Poly Pomona, and eventually became vice president for technical standards at Sony Electronics. (Among other things, he worked with other industry members to codify the technical specification for Blu-ray video discs.)
Williamson and Ron Asheton – one of the original members of the Stooges – first met when both were in high school. Williamson had formed a cover band called The Chosen Few, and Asheton eventually became the group’s bass player. But shortly after Asheton joined The Chosen Few, Williamson left the band. (Williamson’s departure wasn’t voluntary. His high school suspended him because his hair was too long. When he refused to get it cut, he was sent to reform school for several months.)
Williamson joined the Stooges in December 1970, just in time to see the group dissolve. (The breakup was the result of drug and alcohol problems and the fact that the two albums the Stooges recorded before Williamson came on board were commercial flops.)
Stooges frontman Iggy Pop (whose real name is James Osterberg) had been blown away the first time he heard Williamson play the guitar:
The first time I heard him play, which was in a basement in Ann Arbor, he did something that later became known as punk or speed metal – a great number of chords, almost all at once – but which at that time came from no known musical vocabulary. His playing had dirt, but it did not lack authority. You could hear the intelligence in it.
So when Iggy hooked up with David Bowie and went to London to record a new album in 1972, it was Williamson he invited to join him – not Ron Asheton nor his brother Scott (the original Stooges drummer).
Asheton couldn’t believe it:
I saw [Iggy Pop] at a party and he offhandedly said “I’m going to England. Oh, by the way, I got a [record] deal and I'm taking James [Williamson].” I’m thinking, “Thanks a lot, pal. You shit on your two fucking buddies who started the band.” I was shattered.
Eventually Iggy did invite the Ashetons to come to London and play on the new Stooges album. But Ron was told he would have to play bass instead of guitar.
“[Williamson] was supposed to be a helper for me,” Asheton told an interviewer many years later, “but he totally usurped my position.”
Iggy and Williamson handled all the songwriting for the Raw Power album, and Asheton wasn’t happy about that either:
So [Williamson] and Iggy were the songwriters. They wouldn't let me do nothing even though I would come up with pieces. Jim [Osterberg] 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 [given] even a fuckin' “thank you.”
Today, many critics and musicians tout Raw Power as one of the greatest rock albums of all time. But it didn’t sell much better than the first two Stooges albums, and their record company dumped them shortly after it was released.
The group’s manager, Tony DeFries (who also managed David Bowie), severed ties with them about the same time – reportedly because he believed that much of the money he had advanced to the Stooges had been squandered on drugs
With no record deal and no management, the Stooges threw in the towel for a second time in 1974. Iggy Pop and James Williamson recorded an album together in 1975, but couldn’t find a record company willing to release it until two years later, after Iggy had released two successful solo albums (The Idiot and Lust for Life).
Williamson did some producing after that, but devoted most of his time and energy to learning about computers. “I gave up being a Stooge to study calculus,” Williamson told The Guardian in 2010. “I designed computer chips, working with geeks who had no idea about my past and who wouldn't have heard of the Stooges.”
In 2003, Iggy Pop and the Asheton brothers reformed the Stooges. The band toured successfully and even released a new album.
When Ron Asheton died of a heart attack in 2009, Iggy tracked down Williamson and asked him if he would take over as the Stooges’ guitarist.
“I told him I had a full-time job and couldn’t do it,” Williamson told The Guardian. But the aftershocks of the 2008 recession forced Sony to tighten its corporate belt. Williamson was one of the Sony executives who was offered early retirement.
He accepted the buyout offer and picked up his guitar, which had been gathering dust for 30-odd years. After spending a few months getting reacquainted with his signature riffs, the 60-year-old Williamson made his second Stooges debut before 30,000 fans in São Paulo, Brazil. It was the biggest audience he had ever played for.
One of Williamson’s biggest admirers was Johnny Marr, who played guitar for the Smiths and Modest Mouse:
I'm his biggest fan. He has the technical ability of Jimmy Page without being as studious, and the swagger of Keith Richards without being sloppy. He's both demonic and intellectual, almost how you would imagine Darth Vader to sound if he was in a band.
(Darth Vader? Really?)
* * * * *
“Raw Power” is the first track on the second side of the Stooges’ 1973 album of the same name.
Iggy Pop initially mixed the album, but the Stooges’ record company wasn’t happy with the result. So David Bowie was asked to remix it.
Twenty years later, Iggy’s original mixes were released as Rough Power.
Several years after the release of Rough Power, Columbia Records invited Iggy to re-mix the album. Iggy purposely pushed the recording levels into the red – causing considerable audible distortion – and the resulting album may be the loudest one ever released.
Both James Williamson and Ron Asheton said they preferred David Bowie’s mix of Raw Power.to Iggy’s 1997 version, although neither had liked the Bowie-produced album when it was originally released.
Here’s David Bowie’s mix of “Raw Power”:
Click below to buy the song from Amazon: