Sunday, March 16, 2014

More Power: James Williamson on Scott Asheton, Unheard Stooges & Beating the Bootlegs

Photo Credit: Mick Rock (Order Raw Power-Legacy Edition:

Author's Note (March 16, 2014): I'm profoundly shocked and saddened to learn that Scott Asheton of THE STOOGES died last night at the age of 64. I had no idea that as I sat here last night writing a positive update on Scott's condition below, he was in fact leaving this world. It was a mere 13 days ago that I spoke to James regarding Scott, and all seemed to be going well. Now, I'm playing "Head On" from The Stooges'  Georgia Peaches live CD and remembering the man and his incomparable style. What a drummer. What an influence. Goddamn, I'll miss hearing that guy play. My deepest condolences to James and the rest of the Stooges clan on their loss. Thank you, Scott. You were fucking great.

It’s been an interesting few days for James Williamson.

Nearly two days after I published a full-length interview with Williamson regarding his upcoming Re-Licked album, Rolling Stone followed suit and ran their own story on the Stooges-centric project. Less than 24 hours later, the Rolling Stone piece was revised to include a statement from Iggy Pop’s spokesperson, indicating that all might not be well with between the singer and the rest of his band. While this was later followed by another statement from Iggy that sort of calmed things down a bit, this level of media activity/controversy has made Re-Licked one of the most talked about and anticipated/debated releases of the year. With news of the album going viral and Williamson tearing it up at SXSW this week, it doesn’t appear that the buzz surrounding this latest chapter in the Stooges saga will die down any time soon.

And that’s a great thing, because some serious justice needs to be served.

When it’s unveiled this fall, Re-Licked will finally present a number of classic Stooges tunes in a properly recorded form for the first time. When Iggy and The Stooges called it a day in 1974, songs-in-progress like “I Got A Right” and “She Creatures Of The Hollywood Hills” were deprived of an opportunity to live on as legitimate studio recordings. Instead, these treasures were left to exist for decades in a perpetually recycled and regurgitated form, appearing on an ever-confusing slew of re-titled/re-assembled bootlegs. It’s become so wacky that not even Williamson can verify the source of some of the material that’s appeared on the market over the years. For example, a 2009 Cleopatra Records LP called More Power claimed to include 11 songs “recorded 1972-1973,” even though accurately placing the origin of the album’s versions of “Open Up And Bleed,” “Gimme Some Skin” and other tracks is a true head scratcher for the guitarist.
“I think I might have seen the album; I don’t even think I have a copy of it,” he says. “[The bootleg songs] come from a lot of different sources…I know they didn’t come from me. They could have come from Ronny Asheton’s basement, or Scott Asheton’s. Who knows what the source of [those recordings] was. If [More Power] has those songs on it, though, they would have to be live tracks, and could have come from the people who actually recorded the live tracks to begin with. We played those songs quite regularly back in that time, more like ’73-’74 in the last series of tours we did…They would not have been studio [versions]. ‘I Got A Right’ could have been kind of a demo thing, and actually ‘Gimme Some Skin’ might have been a demo thing too, so that’s possible - but certainly not ‘Open Up And Bleed.’ They were never recorded in a studio…It could have been a good rehearsal, though. We did some Detroit ones and things like that where they weren’t bad.”

So what does Williamson feel about this ever-growing pile of unofficial Stooges releases in the marketplace?

“What can I say? I don’t have any control over it,” he says. “If people want it, that’s going to happen no matter what we do. I think I’m flattered that all these years later, people are still buying that stuff. Even though it sounds like crap, they still want it because the songs are good. Sometimes, [the bootlegs] have other historical value and so forth. What I’m really hoping is that people will appreciate this fresh look at all this stuff that’s done properly.”

Although the songs on Re-Licked will certainly feel different without the presence of the Asheton brothers, fans can take solace in the fact that Williamson is offering one hell of a replacement rhythm section. Mike Watt’s talents and exploits in the music world are the stuff of legend, while Toby Dammit (a.k.a. Larry Mullins) once held his own in the mighty Swans. While nobody can ever replace Scott and the late Ron (just listed to “Head On” from the Georgia Peaches live disc included in the 2010 Legacy Edition of Raw Power for immediate confirmation of this fact), Watt and Dammit are more than capable of rising to this considerable challenge.

“They’re very, very good and we now have a lot of time together out on the road,” Williamson says.  “We have become very tight as a three-piece, and then of course there’s [Steve] Mackay on some of [the tracks]. It’s a fresh look at it, really.”

As for Scott Asheton, Williamson reports that the timekeeper – sidelined from touring in recent years over health concerns – is doing pretty well these days.

“He’s getting stronger and stronger,” he says. “He played on the last [Stooges] album, but it’s different to be in the studio. You stop and start when you want to or need to; you can control all that stuff. But when you’re playing in The Stooges, especially live, you don’t stop at all, really. It’s like one hour of continuous energy expenditure. Frankly, I don’t know how Ig does it. For me, it’s okay because I’m just standing there playing the guitar, but Toby Dammit is 20 years younger than we are, and it kicks his ass every singe night when we play live. Having Scotty more my age, pushing 65…it’s a real challenge. I don’t know if he’ll be strong enough in 2015 or whether he’s just gonna stick to the studio. We’ll find out, but I do think he’s doing much better.”

With all this talk of unearthed material, one has to wonder if there is anything from the post-reunion Stooges sitting in the vaults. According to Williamson, not everything that was recorded for Ready To Die was included on the album. One tune in particular, “Popular Pants,” could end up in the world sooner rather than later.

“I love that song,” he says. “I think it’s both funny and really sounds good, but it was more acoustic so it didn’t hold up against the rockin’ tracks very nicely. It was just too different, so we didn’t put it on there. But it’ll show up.”

An extraordinary collection of re-recorded Raw Power-era rarities on the way? The possibility of unheard Stooges material hitting the masses? This tale is far from over.

Visit James Williamson’s Official Website for regular updates on Re-Licked and other news.

Check out my previous feature on James Williamson HERE. 

Photo by Tanya Alexis


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