Sunday, March 15, 2015

Remembering Rock Action: A Tribute to Scott Asheton

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

“God loves The Stooges.”

- Scott “Rock Action” Asheton, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, March 15, 2010

When The Stooges were given their rightful place in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, the music industry and mainstream listening public finally caught up to what some of us had known for years: The Stooges are one of the greatest American Rock bands of all time. Although it was a shame that the late Ron Asheton wasn't able to enjoy the moment, Scott was there to celebrate his brother's impenetrable legacy and also receive his own share of much-deserved accolades. After a life and career marked by considerable ups and downs, Scott was able to truly see the effect his drumming and influence had on generations of players. Nobody played the drums like this guy, and it was a great moment to see the man get the respect and acknowledgement he earned through his years in the trenches.

Exactly four years after that special night, Scott Asheton died at the age of 64. Today, one year after his passing, this writer is one of many fans spending the day looking back on the many incomparable performances the guy gave us on record and on stage in the 45 years between The Stooges and the day he left us.

Scott at His Best
Originally, my intention for this feature was to go through Scott's discography and select the 10 best examples of his unmistakable power behind the kit. My plan swiftly fell apart when I went through Fun House first and ended up listing every song on the album. I then grabbed The Stooges and Raw Power...and the exact same thing happened. By the time I got through The Weirdness (which paired Scott's thunder with that classic Steve Albini drum sound), the Georgia Peaches live disc that accompanies the 2010 Legacy Edition of Raw Power, Ready To Die and a good chunk of Sonic's Rendezvous Band bootlegs, I threw up my hands in defeat. Simply put, there is no such thing as an okay Scott Asheton track. He was the perfect drummer – heavy, economical, to the point and from the gut. (Just listen to those drum fills on “Search And Destroy.” Never before or since has a drummer done so much with so little.) In an era where a musician's talent was often measured by the length and grandiosity of his or her solos, Scott hit listeners over the head – and launched more than a few careers in the process – by simply cutting the bullshit and kicking ass. He didn't just make his drums talk – he made them scream “Fuck you!” to the pomposity of the era and brought Rock music back to its primitive roots.

Scott for Beginners
Although any song featuring Scott would serve as a powerful introduction for the uninitiated, here are the Stooges songs I'd choose if given only enough room to fill one CD to demonstrate his style:

“1969,” “Not Right,” “Real Cool Time” and “Little Doll” off The Stooges

“Down On The Street,” “Dirt,” “1970” and “Fun House” off Fun House

“Search And Destroy,” “Penetration” and “I Need Somebody “ off Raw Power

“Head On” off Georgia Peaches

“You Can't Have Friends,” “Greedy Awful People,” “She Took My Money” and “Mexican Guy” off The Weirdness

“Burn” and “Gun” off Ready To Die

In addition to being readily available right now for purchase, all 18 of these tracks are on legitimate releases that are considered part of The Stooges' official discography. While it is a policy of mine not to promote flat-out bootlegs (or releases of questionable /controversial origin), I will say that there is a staggering array of Stooges live records and compilations available to those who want to dig deeper into the band. A ton of this stuff is also easily found on YouTube. If you're looking for a good place to start, you simply can't go wrong with any live recordings of the Stooges' five-piece 1971 lineup with Ron Asheton and James Williamson on guitar and Jimmy Recca on bass.

Of course, there's also Sonic's Rendezvous Band. Formed in the mid '70s, the group featured Scott, Fred “Sonic” Smith of The MC5, Scott Morgan of The Rationals and Gary Rasmussen of The Up. Unlike many bands comprised of known names, this supergroup absolutely worked. The best (and only officially released) place to start for Sonic's Rendezvous Band is the amazing 1978 single, “City Slang.” Like The Stooges, there are countless recordings of Sonic's Rendezvous Band floating around. My tip would be to track down and listen to the studio recordings of “City Slang” and “Electrophonic Tonic” and build your collection from there once you pick yourself off the floor.

And if you want to go even deeper into Scott's history, check out his work with Dark Carnival (with Ron), Standfast (with his sister, Kathy) and the great Sonny Vincent.

A Stooge Speaks
For many, Raw Power will always be The Stooges' great moment. It wouldn't be a chore in the least to write a feature 10 times the size of this one on this album alone. And it would not have been the same record without Scott Asheton's drums to drive it forward.

“Scott was the anchor for the Stooges,” offers Stooges guitarist James Williamson. “He's the guy that would sit in the back of the pocket and hold everything down with his understated yet powerful - almost tribal - rhythms. While Scott didn't do any of the songwriting on Raw Power, he was nonetheless such an essential part of the group that his presence alone certainly impacted the music. Without him, it would have been a different recording for sure.”

Rollins on Raw Power
If you ever need proof that Raw Power changed lives, talk to Henry Rollins. A longtime (and very vocal) Stooges fan, Henry was kind enough to offer these words on Scott's contribution to Raw Power for this tribute:

Many years ago, a guy I played with said that when it came to Rock bands, if the drummer wasn't solid, it didn't matter how good the rest of the members were. The Stooges, and another one of the greatest Rock groups ever, Sonic's Rendezvous Band, had something in common: Scott Asheton.

I think America's single greatest Rock album is Raw Power by the Stooges. It wouldn't be a fraction of what it is if any member was changed. That being said, without Scott, there would be nothing for Iggy, James and Ron to stand on. Like a lot of people, I have deconstructed that album more than once. It's Scott's record.

I really miss him.

He was great. We are lucky.

Sonny Says It All
As we remember Scott Asheton today, let us also think of all the great musicians out there right now who create magic under incredibly difficult circumstances. There are so many people playing in shitholes across the world who are worthy of your time and support. In honor of Scott, find a band you've never heard of before and check them out. Buy your next 10 albums instead of downloading them for free. Hit a basement show in your area. Buy a band's shirt at the merch table and help them fill their gas tank and hit the next city. 

Support music that has balls and heart. If you ever need a reminder of what that is, put on a song featuring Scott Asheton.

As one of Scott Asheton's longest-running friends and musical cohorts, Sonny Vincent had the opportunity to see a side of Scott that few fans ever witnessed. While The Stooges get plenty of love these days, there were plenty of years – entire decades, in fact – that saw Scott working hard to simply keep going. I conclude this tribute with the following story by Sonny, originally posted a couple of years ago on his Facebook page and reprinted here in full at his request:

I would like to share something somewhat personal, sad, mysterious and somehow very important to me. Anyone who knows me knows that I am absolutely crazy about drummers, I swear I have spent entire days (if not weeks) solely thinking about Charlie Watts and what a perfect creation he is. Sometimes I listen to Charlie so intensely, the world disappears. Same goes for Jerry Nolan, Machinegun Thompson, Mitch Mitchell, Keith Moon, Rat Scabies, tons of Motown dudes, many, many drummers all the way to Luis from Bell Gardens, California. Sure, I do listen to all the parts in music, but there is something about the drums that can not be bullshitted. Lots of dudes can play a bunch of rehashed riffs on a guitar and polish em up, but there is no polish that can create a groove and the kind of passion a drummer must provide. Maybe for some music, but not my kind of RockNroll. Sometimes listening to music, I blot out everything else in my cognizance and only listen to what's going on in the drums. Don't get the wrong idea, I can get by without food or human companionship simply by listening to the guitar on 'I Want You Back' by the Jackson 5 or better yet something by the MC5! But there is always this extra attraction for me that the drums provide. The drums transport a lot of the passion in my world. That brings me to my pal Scott Asheton, the drummer of 'The Stooges.'

I first met him in Detroit back in the day and then later in the '80s when him and Rob Tyner were at a show of mine in Detroit. I hit it off with Scott right away and in no time we were laughing and goofing off like bad delinquents. Later I invited Scott to play drums on a song for one of my albums (Roller Coaster). Again at those sessions in NYC, we got along great and had tons of laughs. Later that year, I asked Scott if he wanted to do a tour with me. The Stooges had long before broken up, as well as the Sonic Rendezvous Band. He occasionally did some shows with Scott Morgan and filled in with his brother and Niagara's band 'Dark Carnival' sometimes, but generally Scott was picking up manual labor whenever and wherever he could. I remember one time he told me he was digging fence pole holes at a farm in Michigan, and this was in the winter. A fuckin' crime that a drummer so great and killer had to be regulated to shit work to feed his kids. Between him and his dedicated wife (she worked part time as a nurse), they struggled through very tough times.

Anyway, sometime during the '80s... I had asked Scott to do a U.S. tour with me but he couldn't...for reasons I don’t wanna say 'why' here because it's his biz. We talked a lot on the phone though (I was living in Mpls back then and he was in the Detroit suburbs.) During one of the phone calls, he said he sent me something in the mail. A few days later, I received a large pack of flyers that he had run off at a copy shop. He called again and said "Yeah, Hey Sonny! I figured that since you were hitting nearly every town in the USA and Canada, you could post these flyers around the clubs and the hip areas where you go and maybe I could get some work that's not in the ice cold." I swear that's exactly what he said. Folks, can you fuckin' believe it? I put the flyers around and he didn't even get any calls! But that's not the saddest part. For me it is simply a crime through and through. That the drummer of the fuckin' Stooges, one of the monolithic 'greats,' is sitting at his kitchen table hand-drawing a motherfucking flyer to get work. After writing his name he lists the albums he played on. Then he draws a lightning bolt on the middle of the page and his wife or kids color it in???? This is beyond fuckin belief .. But it's true, cold fact.. Could you imagine Ringo Starr having to do this?? Ummm.. yeah... ummm let's see... Name –Ringo Starr ummm.... Experience .. ummm yeah let's put it at the bottom... umm Abby Road, Meet The Beatles, Sergeant Pepper. ABSURD, no?

Often, this whole thing made me dizzy and a bit tearful at times. Later, Scott was in my band, we recorded albums together, and did tours. I always told him if Iggy ever called he could just ditch me in Kansas or wherever we were. And I have never parted from this flyer. Normally it is not more that 50 feet away from me. When I travel, it's in my bag. It's part of me, like my skin, where I go that flyer goes. I reminded Scott of it years later when we were on tour in Europe. I showed it to him and he laughed. We had many good times together and considering my fixation on great fucking drumming, you can imagine it was heaven for me to work with him. A lot changed since Scott sent me that flyer. The Stooges reunited and both Scott and Ron were able to enjoy the glory they deserved after some long living in a sort of limbo/shadow. And also the money came to Scott when he played huge festivals around the world with the reunited Stooges... No more digging fence post holes in the ground in the winter in Michigan. It all made me very happy for him. My brother.

Photo courtesy of Sonny Vincent 


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