Calling From The Fun House: Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton
Ron Asheton has the creepiest answering machine message on the planet: "LEAVE...A...MESSAGE.... Thanks a million."
I tried for months to get through to the ex-Stooges and Destroy All Monsters guitarist, who's spent the last few years leading Dark Carnival and making his mark in low-budget horror films like Mosquito.
His New Order and New Race bandmate Dennis Thompson suggested I call Ron and pretend to be from Australia. Then after we spoke one night, he called the man himself and hooked me up. (Many thanks, Machine Gun.)
This interview with Ron Asheton was conducted from his home in Ann Arbor on Monday, November 2, 1998, between 6:30 and 8:30 PM. As anyone who read Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain's Please Kill Me or Black to Comm fanzine issues 15 and 16 can tell you, he tells a great story; what you miss in print is his extremely expressive inflections, the dialects -- he is an actor, after all.
K: Day before yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the recording of Kick Out the Jams, and the Stooges were the opening band. Any thoughts on that?
R: When they did the Kick Out the Jams record? Actually, we weren't the opening band. We didn't play, but we were certainly in the audience. I'm pretty sure we didn't play...I don't remember playing, but I know I wanted to be there, and I was there. I think The Up played.
If I remember correctly, we didn't play, 'cause it was very tense and they were very stressed out, and they wanted to keep it low-key. So they just had something very simple, not to make it a major production, I believe. We were there, though, and now I'm kind of glad that we didn't play, because they were really stressed out and some of them took acid to record...I know Wayne (Kramer) did. He got an SG that night and he usually played a Stratocaster, but he thought the SG had a little more balls. I remember him saying, "Gee, it was pretty strange playing a different guitar, not really being used to it and being on acid. " Dude, I couldn't have done it. No way.
So yeah, it is...hey that's right, and that's officially Zenta New Year. (Laughs)
K: That's correct. Thirty years, who woulda thunk it.
R: Who woulda thunk it. God, it's been that long, dear Lord.
K: So what have you been up to lately? I understand there's a recording project with Thurston Moore.
R: Oh, yeah, well, we already did two things. A year ago, last February, I went out and did two songs for a movie soundtrack, Velvet Goldmine. It's coming out this weekend, I believe, November 7th it premieres in New York. Michael Stipe (produced) and Todd Haynes was the director. They were putting together a band that was Stooge-esque, because the movie's loosely based on the relationship of Iggy and David Bowie.
So they got Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley and Mike Watt and Mark Arm. They were looking for a guitar player, and Don Fleming had just recorded the Dark Carnival CD (The Last Great Ride, pictured right), and he goes, "Gee, I just got done working with Ron Asheton. How about Ron Asheton? Is he Stooge-esque enough?" So he went back, took the idea to Michael Stipe, and the record company said, "Yeah, good idea. "
I went out and I wrote a couple of new original songs, and we jammed for about two or three hours. Just kinda went through and did all the old Stooges songs, the ones that Mark Arm and Mike Watt and Thurston Moore knew, and they wound up putting TV Eye in the movie, and a little bit of an original song I wrote. I liked the experience so much that I kept bugging Jim Dunbar, who was kind of the liaison man with the record company..."Well, gee, man, we've gotta keep this band together, we've gotta make a record."
Sure enough, London/Polygram let us make a record last July. So they have that movie soundtrack which we have one tune on, TV Eye, and shortly after that, hopefully the beginning of next year, they'll put out the Wylde Ratttz record, because the band's called Wylde Ratttz. In the movie, we're the backup band to this "Curt Wild" character. It turned out really well.
Besides those guys, we did about three hours worth of jams with Sean Lennon. Just came in and ran tape. On the record, there's little pieces of music between some of the songs, and that's some of the jam stuff. I mean, there is literally three hours worth of stuff. Of course, much of it didn't make it to the record. I have other CDs that were test pressings of possible arrangements or songs in order, where there's a lot more of the jams. I guess they decided to get it down to a little bit more rock 'n' roll kind of format, 'cause a lot of the jams...there are rock sections, but there's also a lot of really cool spaced-out stuff. Imagine two sessions of three hours where anything goes. "Roll tape!" We did, I think, altogether, 52 reels of tape, and that's a lot of tape when you figure, what's a reel of tape -- 150 bucks or something, if they get 'em at a discount.
It was fun. So I'm looking forward to that coming out, and then there's even talk of that band touring, and that all depends, of course, on everyone else's schedule. Everyone's real busy, but everyone's really into doing it. The guys are talking about going out for six weeks. At first there was just talk of a couple of New York gigs. I originally said, "Well, gee, that'd be fun but. . .not very profitable. It'd kind of be fun to go out for a bit and make a couple of bucks and have some fun playing for awhile, and not just playing two nights in New York and it's over." So hopefully something will be put together, if we can ever get those schedules to jive. I know that Mudhoney and Sonic Youth have the same booking agent, and he's real excited about booking it, so it's no problem, it's just a matter of getting people together.
Mike Watt is a total road rat. He's been on the road for three years now, non-stop basically. He took a little time off, he did Europe, the States, Europe, came back and did the States, and now he's doing the States again. We were supposed to even maybe play when the movie premiered this weekend, but Watt's on tour. He booked 52 shows in 53 days! The guy is just a total, total road rat. I mean, that's all he does is play. He can't stand not playing...and if he's not, he's on the computer. He's a pretty amazing fella.
Other than that, I've been doing motion pictures. Last Thursday, in the afternoon, I was flipping around the TV and they showed Mosquito. Mosquito's a picture that I acted in with Gunnar Hansen, who was Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre (pictured left.) Sure enough, the ABC pre-Halloween double horror feature Mosquito! That was really fun, to see that, and it's always a kick to see your name in the TV Guide. My partner, Gary Jones, directed that movie. We've got several screenplays; he's out in California, around Hollywood, Simi Valley. He's got an agent, he's directed some Hercules and some Xena and Honey I Shrunk the Children and some other TV series, that I AYPY thing that flopped. But we're out there selling scripts, trying to put money together to make movies...enjoying the writing aspect and writing screenplays, and acting, and still doing the music and trying to keep my hands in all the stuff.
K: Dennis Thompson (ex MC5 drummer) was telling me how, when you guys were in New Order, you'd be sitting around the apartment saying, "I wanna be in a movie," and now you've done that, you've been in four or five of 'em.
R: Yeah, I think I did nine. They're all shot here; they're all Michigan pictures except for one where they came from L.A., but they cut my scene out. I auditioned; I wanted to be the cop, but the director was a Stooges fan. I'd never met him before...he goes, "I have this idea for a little scene for you." It was this party scene -- of course, they cut the whole party out -but that's okay, it was fun to do.
Yeah, I really enjoy that. I wanted to do that way before music. When I was a kid, I didn't want to be a fireman or policeman or anything. "I wanna be on TV!" And it's really fun to act, it's fun to play that you're somebody else. I just like the whole putting-together, just the working of making films. It's very tedious at times, but if you really love it, it's really fun to see the whole thing come together. So I'm glad to be working on that.
My partner, he's got Icebound, it's making the rounds of the studios; he wrote that with Gunnar Hansen. Bob Kurtzman and him are partners in that -- Bob Kurtzman directed Wishmaster, and he owns K&B, which is the fourth biggest special effects house in Los Angeles. So that's making the rounds of the studios now, and then right after that, our stuff goes out. Having Bob Kurtzman attached -- Wishmaster did well, they made it for six million and I think it made 25 million back -so that's gonna help get the project going. Hopefully, there's a small part in it for me. They're talkin' about makin' me the sloppy, dumpy cop, but that's cool. If I can do all that weird comedy stuff, I've always enjoyed that stuff. There'll be a lot of John Candy and Chris Farley bits. Oh yeah, I love all that stuff.
But also, what I'm looking forward to is if this Wylde Ratttz thing start's poppin' -- I think the record will do well because it's such a curiosity piece, just having that group of people, and those people being pretty popular. What I want to do, and I'm pretty sure it won't be that hard after getting all this press, is get a record deal and of course, make a record. Go out and make my own musical statement and then kinda buddy up...I spoke with Dennis Thompson, we might do something, but first, I just wanna have complete control on the first record. The songs'll be mine; I don't wanna have to argue with other strong personalities about how they want this or that to go. 'Cause I've done that all my life, and I'm sick of it. It'll be fun, but I'll probably wind up playing with Dennis...and my brother (ex-Stooges drummer Scott Asheton, pictured right), also.
K: So what is Scott doing these days?
R: Right now -- he went back to Florida, he's been up here all summer and fall. He went on a tour with Sonny Vincent. Have you ever heard of Sonny Vincent?
K: No, sure haven't.
R: Well, I hadn't either. (Laughs) But Sonny's pretty competent. He's real popular in Europe. His music is kinda Stooge-y, poppy, a little more poppy. My brother did a couple of months tour and a record with him, with Sonny Vincent. Cheetah Chrome (ex-Dead Boys guitarist) calls up -- "Hey man, come out to Nashville and make a record with me, man." So my brother goes and it was Cheetah Chrome and Sonny Vincent, and they got Captain Sensible from the Damned to play bass. So they did that, and Sonny went and hawked the record on some little European label, and did well enough to put a tour together. So they went out for like two months which, oh man, according to my brother, it was a pretty rough trip. A little less than he was used to. . . sometimes it'd be all of them sleeping on filthy mattresses in the attic of a friend's house. But then Sonny got some money together, and my brother came back, they brought the Captain over here. Cheetah bowed out; he didn't do it because he couldn't get the contract and the money he wanted, so he didn't go to Europe. But he did come and do this record.
My brother did another record with Sonny Vincent which he's trying to sell now, and I mixed it for Sonny. I played on one song and then I had one day to do...there were 12 songs; I did one in one day, and then the next day, I did 11 tunes (and I got the flu) because Sonny had to leave the next day. But it turned out pretty good.
Other than that, my brother's got a little...he's in business now, actually selling T-shirts, through ads in magazines. He designed 'em himself, a whole line of hats and T-shirts which he's been putting out, trying to get ads in little papers, and I took a few to New York, got Thurston Moore to buy one..."Tell your friends, here's his P.O. box..." Other than that, he's not doin' too much. I can't neglect him; I'll probably have him play on our record. Yeah, l've gotta do that.
K: Is he still doing anything with Scott Morgan, or is that on hiatus?
R: They just put out that Sonic's Rendezvous thing (Sweet Nothing). I guess that's Freddie Brooks, Fred Smith's old sidekick...he kinda did all Fred Smith's dirty work...and apparently they put out this record. I haven't heard it, but he's not doing anything with Scott. He's basically uninterested. He's kind of into the same thing...he wishes he could fall into a situation like I did with that Wylde Ratttz thing that's a specialty band, we can fall in and make a record that somebody's gonna back. So he's kinda Ann Arbor-ed and Detroit-ed out, he's kinda had his fill of just slummin' around here. Even though Scott Morgan has talent and everything, and there's talented people here, they just seem to stay here. They never break out. They either can't find a way, or nobody wants them, and he's kind of sick of that. His girlfriend and their child live in Florida, so he just went back down to Florida for the winter. They usually come up here for the summer. He has a house by the lake, so that's basically what he's doing...'hunt-on' and fi~shin'. Fishing is the most, it's his favorite thing.
K: I never woulda thought.
R: Yeah, he really is an outdoorsman; he's spent a lot of time outdoors. As children, we always enjoyed it, 'cause my father liked fishing. But for me...well, I like being on the water and stuff, but...I can't kill anything, so I don't like hunting anymore. I like eating fish, but I don't like them flopping around when I pull them out of the water. But he likes it...it's relaxing for him to sit out on the boat. With a can of beer, he's got a boat, it's his own lake, or he'll go to friends' who have lakes, they're all private lakes, so he has a good time.
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 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?
R: Oh, yeah. And I respect Jimmy for it. I still eat a lot of that stuff, too. Of course, I eat meat now, but I still love my brown rice and azuki beans and tamari and my miso soup. I still have my George Ozawa misokushi cookbook. I actually have a tamari shaker, the very first one I ever had that I used at the original Stooge house. Still have it. And I still do my stir-fry in a hand-hammered Chinese wok. So yeah, Jimmy Silver was important in that aspect. I love that food and I still...the only thing I stray from now is I sure do like meat, but even then, I don't eat that much meat.
K: So you were doin' all this wild performance stuffin teen clubs?
R: Actually no, not the Stooges. We didn't teen out. They wouldn't hire us. We were lucky...with the Chosen Few, I had played the very first night at the Grande Ballroom, the very first show ever when it opened. The Chosen Few opened up for the MC5, and we had a little medley from the Stones' EP where they do Everybody Needs Somebody, Pain in My Heart, and Route 66. They started out Everybody Needs Somebody with Bill Wyman on the bass going (hums bass line). I played the first notes ever at the Grande, and that was the place that we used to play, and that's the first time I ever saw the MC5.
We were lucky enough to have the Grande in full swing, and that was a good venue for us. There'd be sympathetic people there. The people that came there were supposedly, most of them, hip, so that's where the old Psychedelic Stooges really learned how to play and came forward, playing the Grande Ballroom. Thank God for the Grande Ballroom, or we wouldn't have worked. Later on, we weren't so free-form (a little bit when we were free-form), the MC5 (being that Jimmy Silver was friends with John Sinclair)...we would do some shows with them. Then we quickly got our little first album's worth of tunes together, and then we were able to just go out on our own and play all over the United States, actually. It wasn't widely accepted.
We played a show in Boston with Ten Years After. We opened for Ten Years After -- there was complete silence after every tune. The only person who was applauding for thefirst song was the president of our fan club, and she actually got her life threatened, so she didn't applaud. "Pretty bad vibes in here tonight." Of course, they went crazy for Ten Years After. It must have been hard for all of those people not to react to us when they were all flying on speed. Like Ten Years After -- you could see their faces when Ten Years After was playing, and these people had dropped so much speed, man; they're grinding their teeth and they're in fuckin' heaven, but they didn't like the Stooges. It was lucky for us that we really couldn't have gone out. I mean the club owner wouldtve... "Get these fucks off the stage. " It was hard enough having that first album's worth of tunes, going out and playing.
K: Y'know, you talk about music changing people's lives, well, Fun House really did that for me back when I was 14, and now my daughter who's 16 is digging some of that music too.
R: It's amazing for me...I remember when Bill Cheatham's daughter was 14-years-old, the day that she discovered the Stooges, and it was like wow, it's what, three generations, and I'm going, "Holy cow, now I now what it feels like to be Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker. " This stuff seems to have an interest, and the interest seems to be growing. It's probably been at its peak the last couple, three years, though when we were actually together, not that many people cared, to tell you the truth.
K: Thirty years down the road, you've actually started to get the respect that you never did.
R: Better late than never, I reckon. Like I said, I'm looking forward to being able to work. I just got back from New York September 4th or something like that. They flew us in; Mike Watt flew in from San Pedro. Thurston Moore, Mike Watt, and myself did a bunch of interviews to talk about the music that we did for the Velvet Goldmine movie, and it was great to hear those guys, even if I'd worked with them -- we were mostly working, and I didn't get to hear them talk about how important the Stooges, MC5, that stuff was to them. And to hear those guys flattering me when I'm sitting right there was like, "Aww, gee, aww, shucks." It was really cool.
Working with them, and them being popular, it's gonna help. Like I said, I tried to do stuff, but it seems like no one was interested in the projects that I had at the time. 'Cause I've always got a problem with bad timing, wrong place wrong time, or either I'm ahead of my time, or it's just not the right time, so it's always something.
K: Have you got a pretty big backlog of material written?
R: Yeah, as a matter of fact. The songs I gave up for the Velvet Goldmine movie, and then later the Wylde Ratttz, was stuff that I had written originally kinda for Dark Carnival, but Niagara didn't like 'em -- it wasn't stuff she was interested in. So I went, "Ahh,fuck it." Then [1 wrote more material] for the Stooges reunion, and that never happened, so I've got lots of stuff that I'm finally bringing up and getting the opportunity to present. And that's fun for me. I'm always writing new stuff, but I go back and go, "Gee I've always wanted to do that song." So now, hopefully, I'll have a chance, and I did get to recycle a couple of songs that I always wanted to do, for the Wylde Ratttz, which I'm happy about.
So far everyone that's heard it has seemed to like it, seeing that Don Fleming and Jim Dunbar live in New York, of course, so they play it for people and some of the photographers and interviewers have heard little pieces of it, or whatever, so I'm just hoping the record company doesn't dick around. Just put the damn thing out! They spent enough money, so of course they will. For them, it doesn't matter, but for me, "Get it out there!"
I wanna make a record and I do wanna play. I'll go out for a month, but I can't do the big giant road rat shit anymore. If I was being paid really well, it's a different story. When you're like nineteen and twenty-five, you don't care, but we were on the road for three years. I mean, that's all I knew once we made that first Stooges record. We were on the road all the time. We'd come back for two weeks, maybe, and that was the longest period I think we ever had -- I think we had a month off one time. Other than that, we were just continually on the road.
And then, what really soured the road for me was the Raw Power days, when we had nothing, no management, no record company. Or the management...we'd go through a couple of managers, but we didn't know anything, we were lost unless we were on the road. Basically, we were living in cheap hotels and weekly apartments. We just played. When your costume is so filthy that you literally stand it up in the corner at night, or go, "Don'` hang that there, it stinks so bad!" We had to hide our clothes in the bathroom or something, then have to put 'em on every night, never being any place long enough...it was a big thrill to do laundry. Imagine having to go "Oh, no," putting on a totally stinking shirt; the lurex pants that were just coming unraveled, just tearing your skin apart. I said, "That's it, fuck it, man." Eatin' in coffee shops and drinkin' every night, just can't do this, man...don't like it anymore.
For me...I'II go out for a month, and it'll be fun, and it will be different this time, 'cause I think it'll be a more appreciative audience...people that would wanna see something like that. Not just goin' out... " Well, here it is.... "
K: In the Please Kill Me book, your sister made some comment to the effect that when James Williamson joined the Stooges, it was "like a dark cloud descending." Was that just about the junk, or was it other things, too?
R: Y'know, I never read the fuckin' book, 'cause I enjoyed everybody tellin' me all the stuff so much. I got two copies of it, one autographed from Legs (McNeil) and one autographed from Gillian (McCain), with great big dedication pages. I read their dedications, but...
It was the bad junk time. So it was my sister that said that? Y'know, it's weird, because James was shipped to this boys' school, not in Manhattan, but someplace in New York state. We were at the Chelsea Hotel, we were making that first record, and then we played some shows, and he showed up one night at the Chelsea. I was walkin' down the hallway, I went, "Hunh?" and here comes a guy and it was James. I didn't really know James, other than the short time when he was in the Chosen Few, that one show we did together and the one week I was with him, and I think I saw him a couple of other times, he might have come here before he got shipped out.
It was a bad time, because he was a character prone to addiction also, and those guys were into heroin, and they sucked James in. Iggy really turned away from me, 'cause I was the only person [in the band] that didn't do junk...luckily, I had a girlfriend, and we had a house that had separate apartments, and I basically just sealed myself off from them. The only thing I would do was go patrolling at night, to make sure there were no lit cigarette butts, and I'd smell smoke and the mattress would be on fire, and I'd come down and Iggy'd be nodded out on the couch with a Lucky Strike in his mouth about to burn his lips (it had no filter on it), weird stuff like that. I was no longer a part of the band, it was like, " Yeah, he's with her, man, he's not with us, " and I'm like, "Yeah, right, assholes, I wanna be filthy and covered with impetigo and having to spend two hundred dollars a day...yeah, you guys are really cool."
So James came, and I wanted another guitar player, I'm going, "Y'know, I kinda wish I had another guitar player in the band," so we started auditioning people, and James heard about it, James showed up. And I said, "That's it, I wanna play with James. 'Cause all these other guys, they're good players, but they're so not our style. " I mean, this one guy, he was great, he was like Rick Derringer, he could play all the country stuff, and I'm goin', "This sounds stupid, I don't wanna play like that," I mean, it's gotta stay in my Stooge-esque guitar style, and James could play but he was still not totally well-formed in his ideas, to where he took a lot of the style that I had and incorporated it in his own style, but he had been playing a lot longer, so he had a little better expertise. And once those guys hooked up, I was gone. I mean, James and Iggy formed that junkie relationship, and in James, Iggy saw he had a person he could kinda control, and they somehow hit it off, and then the band broke up, and he wound up taking James to England, and then just dissed me and my brother, just dumped us.
So that's what she meant. When James came, it was...even though things were really in bad shape, once he came aboard, it was the total swan song. I mean it was some of the worst times of my life, just to see everything you had done fall apart, only because of drugs. It was fun when we were smoking marijuana and hash, and we had our little acid phase, but we were never into anything, and most everyone...we enjoyed smoking some pot, for me that was about as far as it went, then...BA-BA-BA-BOMM...our road manager, he used to be a junkie, and he brought the heroin in. He had just been clean for those couple of years, and he got back into it, and he drug those guys in, and that was like, "Oh, man"...it was a terrible ending. 'Cause it didn't have to end, but the drugs killed it.
K: It got a lot of people in Michigan in the early 70s.
R: It was a bad thing, and that's why if anyone talks about recreational heroin . "Yeah, it's cool if you just snort it on weekends..." Don't do it.
K: They're droppin' like flies down here in Texas. Six kids so far this month in Dallas/Fort Worth.
R: I know. They don't know what they're gettin' into. Hey, if anyone wants to know, from an "outsider on the inside," I've seen it, and I saw my whole world crumble. Friendships, the music, T'd wake up and, "Oh, I think I'll go down and play the piano today." The little Farfisa. "Hello?" It's gone. Iggy traded it for a spoon of dope. " What?! Goddamn it. Has anyone seen my little Univox amp? I need to do some rehearsing. It's gone?" Iggy would just take musical equipment and trade it for drugs. Y'know, he would never take the Marshall amps, but he'd take everything else...tape recorders, trading records and stuff for drugs. It's terrible. "Well, what's missing today?"
I'd have to nail my door shut when I left the house, my apartment. I had a padlock. Those guys'd come in there and they'd root through the place. They didn't have any money to spend on food or anything, and I'd be feeding them, and "Gee, we're not making any money, so damn, I just gotta feed me and my girlfriend." After a while, I had to lock up my place, 'cause they'd just come in and empty out the refrigerator. I'd come back, and it was a real stress for my girlfriend. She'd make bread and stuff, and those guys would eat it or she'd find it all torn apart downstairs, just eat the soft inside with a whole jar of peanut butter that they stole from us. It was just terrible, man. So just say...BAD. HEROIN BAD.
K: Were those guys using at the time you cut Fun House, or was that later?
R: No. This all came after that. Probably more for Iggy, because I empathize with him only in the sense that he had set a precedent with his stage antics, and he had to come up with stuff all the time. I didn't know, he actually told me that he took acid for every show for a year. And I went "What?" I was so used to him, I didn't even know he was on acid. His eyes always looked like he was crazy. He just smoked a bunch of pot...He had to come up with stuff, and it did start to drain him, mentally and physically, and he found the heroin probably to be relaxing in the beginning, but then it was like oh, man...
No, it wasn't till after we recorded that. When we did that, we still liked each other, we were still a band, all that was smoked was hashish or marijuana, that was the only drugs. No one was taking...at least I wasn't, or Dave or Scotty; Iggy was taking acid. In other words, it was just back to the so-called soft drugs.
K: Was Don Gallucci really the guy who produced Louie, Louie?
R: Remember that show called...it was a Dick Clark show, it was called...oh, fuck, I keep forgetting the title, it wasn't Swinging Time, but he was "Little Donnie Gallucci" of Don & the Goodtimes. He was on that Dick Clark show every afternoon at four o'clock. They had all the big bands, but it was more a surfer-based, California thing, but they'd have English bands and heavier bands, but he was the house band, so he'd do a couple songs every afternoon. Then he went on to be a producer, and it was really cool. They picked him, and we didn't even know that he was coming to a lot of shows in the beginning, and seeing us play, and then we kinda met him, and knew he was gonna be there, and "He's gonna be your producer," and we're like, "Hunh? Don Gallucci? Why does that sound familiar? If 's Little Donnie!" And don't call him Little Donnie, boy, does he hate that.
He was a short guy, he was always impeccably dressed in a really nice suit, and I'm going, "How is this guy, who's dressed in this really nice suit, gonna relate to the Stooges?" But he did an excellent job. He wanted to capture the show. I think he only changed the order of the set; he switched two songs, I can't even remember. What was even more amazing is when we first met him and we met the engineer, Ross Meyer -- he was pretty quiet, probably in his 50s at the time -- and I thought "Oh boy, we're in trouble." Little did we know we had very competent people in the control room. He finally started talking a little bit, and he goes, "Yeah, this stuffs all right. It's a big change from Barbara Streisand. " Hunh? He just got done doing Barbara Streisand's record. From Barbara Streisand to the Stooges... Whaat?
It turned out they did a fantastic job. And we had a great time, and we'd just come off the road, so our chops were...man, we were there. I mean, it was literally off the road, a week to get our house in order so we could go to L.A. for a month. So we were ready to go, and that's why that record was as smooth and good as it was. We did minimal takes; I don't think we did more than five takes, or four takes, and a lot of times we'd take the first one or the second one. It went really well.
K: The sound of the thing is still contemporary. I don't think anybody has ever matched that guitar sound.
R: Well, basically by then, everybody had learned to play and had a little bit more of a handle on what to do. The first record was a big pain, because all we knew was stack of Marshalls on ten. And that was the big fight. "You can't play a double stack of Marshall amps on ten in this little studio." I'm going, "Yeah, but man, that's the sound." So there'd be big fights...I think the compromise was I went down to like nine. But still, they overcompensated, taking a lot of the edge off. And I used the Flying V for half the tunes, every song but three.
But by the Fun House record, I went down to a Marshall 50, which could be on nine, ten...just a smaller cabinet, what I call "the refrigerator top;" I think it had six tens in it. And Dave just used a hundred watt with one speaker. So yeah, it was a bigger studio and it was a lot more fun. And we were treated like not stupid kids, but actually "professional musicians," which was like Hunh? I mean, that was only the second time I'd ever been in a recording studio. But by then, being that we'd been on the road so long, we really progressed. We learned an awful lot in a short amount of time. You can see the progression of our playing from the first record to the second record. Gee, that was like a year. We just played so much, everyone's abilities just increased unbelievably. I never thought of it until just recently.
K: It's on the job training.
R: Yeah. "On the job training." That's how the Stooges learned everything..."on the job."
K: It wasn't too long after that when you did that Cincinnati Pop Festival that was on TV.
R: Yeah. Oh boy. I've seen some of the footage; I think I'm in one of the pieces for like one second. All I remember from that was the big video camera guy didn't care about anyone onstage. I had to follow him...his wires were hooked up on my lead cords; he's dragging my fuzztone and wah all across the stage. "Stop it!" as he tried to follow The Antics of Iggy. For me that was a pain in the ass, pulling my stuff all over the stage. Luckily the roadies were smart enough to always tape the cords into the...lotta duct tape, electrician's tape, so there's no way the plugs can be pulled out. He's just pullin' my shit all over the stage.
But it was fun though...playing all those pop festivals. I mean, I can't remember if we recorded the record before or after the Cincinnati Pop Festival. Some of that's a little fuzzy unless I go back and think. 'Cause we were playing that...That whole Funhouse album was our set. Gallucci wanted to capture our set the best he could on record. He did a good job. We were playing all those tunes at the time we recorded them, but we didn't have to be in the studio and go, "Oh, we need some more songs." It was already all there, where like the first record, Jac Holzman who owned Elektra comes back and goes to Iggy, "Well, we're mixing the stuff...we can use some more songs. You got some songs?" "Oh yeah, yeah, we do." So I wrote Real Cool Time, Not Right, and Little Doll, simple as could be, very simple tunes, in like an hour or two, and Iggy'd come, "How you doin'? You got something for me?" He'd go upstairs and write some Iyrics, we rehearsed for a couple of hours and went in and did 'em all in one take. So we were well prepared the second time.
K: It seems funny that John Cale would have made the first album so sterile, coming out of the Velvet Underground, where they were kinda doing what you guys were doing. We keep hearing there's a Stooges box set coming with all these outtakes...you know anything about that?
R: I know that Ben Edmonds does some stuff for Rhino Records. Rhino had access...Elektra gave them all the master tapes, all the stuff they had of the Stooges. So he went out to L.A. to some studio and listened to all the stuff, and I pretty much told him, "Gee, I don't think there's much there," because at that time, no one really ran tapes for jams. We always jammed to warm up. That's how we warmed up -- just get together, we'd jam for an hour or something before we started cutting, but they didn't roll tape. He said he only found some different versions of tunes that he thought were interesting, and maybe one thing which I don't remember, that he said he found. But him and I were gonna go, and he asked me to help him, because he's mixed stuff before, but he's not really a studio person, so him and I were gonna mix it for Rhino and they were gonna put out this box thing, but something happened where they changed their mind. Somebody got fired, and that person apparently was attached to the project, and when somebody gets fired, a lot of times their projects go down the old shitter with 'em.
Then he heard some rumor that they'd come up with some alternative, they were just gonna re-release this...like "The Best of the Stooges," and get three CDs or something, or they were gonna do maybe four, two of them of Stooges, another one Iggy and the Stooges, and then just some Iggy stuff. And then that kinda went nowhere. And I was just remembering the other night that Iggy's record on Virgin did so poorly that to recoup losses, they put out some double CD that they actually used some Stooges on, and it was supposedly out for sale. I hadn't heard anything, and I forgot it, but I was thinkin' about money the other night, and I thought, "Gee, we never got paid for that." Somebody did say that Virgin put out a two-CD thing under the name Iggy Pop that actually had Stooges songs on it. I'm going, "Man, I've gotta tell my lawyer that." So I've never seen it, and I don't know anybody who has it, but a pretty reliable source told me. I can't remember who it was but somebody said that they saw it.
K: Deniz Tek mentioned the possibility of another New Race tour.
R: When'd you talk to him about this?
K: It was probably March.
R: So it was this year. He never mentioned a New Race reunion to me. I know he wanted to put together a band and tour Europe. I dunno. I remember him mentioning my brother. At that time, I'd never gone to Europe myself, and I was really loyal to Dark Carnival, and I think I told him I wanna go with Dark Carnival first, because they wanna go, and it's not fair for me just to cast aside my band and for me to go to Europe without them, and all the recognition just going to that interesting little group of people playing. So I believe that kinda turned him off.
I know Dennis Thompson mentioned it the other day. But for me, I dunno. I wanna do something on my own before I go out and do something like that. I'd rather go and take what I want and I don't have to put up with anybody else's ideas and stuff, although I like them and those guys are great and I'm not opposed to doing that, but the first time around, it seems like I'd be cheating my own people or myself. I should go myself and play my tunes. I'm not trying to be real egotistical, but that I should go play Radio Birdman songs the first time I'm in Europe...I mean, I have to go play my songs. With New Race, we did all Birdman songs in Australia except for one Destroy All Monsters, two MC5 songs, and one Stooges song which I don't think even made it to the CD. It just isn't right. It's not fair.
K: Do you think that there's a chance Dark Carnival might get to tour behind this Wylde Ratttz thing?
R: No, because I'm not playing twice. [I'll tour with the Wylde Ratttz because] I really like playing with those guys and the other benefit, which is really a good benefit...it's well paid. Even though I really respect Deniz Tek, I think he's great, I really love his music, and of course Dennis Thompson and I go way back, I think that the Sonic Youth guys and the guys who are happening now, Mark Arm and Mike Watt, there's just a much greater audience. The New Race thing, that'd be a curiosity piece, but the Wylde Ratttz...already, the booking agent said he'd do it in a second, where I think we might have to shop around to find a booking agent to do that particular thing.
K: Having a tie-in with the film would help too, I'd imagine.
R: Yeah. And I know the film is premiering in New York, then they're gonna have a premiere in L.A., and then it'll get limited theatrical release because it has homosexual overtones...I mean, Todd Haynes is gay, he's openly gay, and he has a gay agenda, and Michael Stipe is gay, and he's executive producer. So there it's...it's a love story with no woman in it. The only woman who's in it, who plays like the Angie Bowie character, she's kinda dumped on. But in reality, they treated the Angie character properly, because Angie did have a lot to do with creating David Bowie. But she gets dumped on...in spite of that, when I was doing an interview; Todd and I actually sat down and did an interview, just the two of us with somebody...he actually said that Miramax said, "Hey, listen, you take all this fag shit out of there, and we'll really go gung-ho, we'll really put it in the theaters. " But of course, that's not Todd's vision, and he had integrity enough to say, "No. "
So it'll get limited release, but...I enjoyed it; I got to see it when I was in New York in September. They had a screening for the media and I got to go, and I didn't expect...I thought, "Well..." Thurston Moore had seen it, and he goes, "Well, you know, it's dark, Todd's stuff is always kinda dark, and it does have the homosexual overtones, but I like it. " But as a filmmaker, I was very surprised...we talked about film, I guess he spent seven million dollars and man, it looks more like 25 million on the screen. I was very impressed.
And one thing I was also impressed with...if you like music, it's got tons of music, almost too much. But the music production...it says right at the beginning, "When you see this movie, play the music loud" or whatever. He has the music loud, and it sounds really good. When they did the scene where the fake Iggy character, the Curt Wylde character...they had him down to all the different haircuts, hair colors, actually the same costume, and we did TV Eye, and boy, the band sounded great. It's really great to hear the Wylde Ratttz, us guys, playing that music with a guy pretending he was Iggy. Even though they just hired some actors and it was all backlit so you couldn't see their faces, the actors they chose, they were playing the proper guitars that Dave and I had played. One guy had a white Stratocaster which you could see, and the other guy had a Precision bass, which Dave had for a little while
But to hear that music and to see that, it was actually...I got goosebumps, chills for a few seconds. It's weird to see a movie that's pretty much fictional, but does have a foot in reality that you were part of, and to see that was thrilling, and I actually enjoyed the picture. For me, the homosexual thing...it wasn't like blatant, naked buttfucking stuff, but it didn't bother me at all. I don't think it detracted from what the picture is. I thought it was a damn good movie.
K: That's as close as you'll ever get to seeing the Stooges, I guess.
R: Well, that's what I told all the interviewers. "Hey, if you guys ever wanted a Stooges reunion, on screen here and the Wylde Ratttz, 'Stooges 2000,'that's probably the closest you're gonna get, because those guys love Stooges songs, and the way Thurston Moore, Mike Watt, Steve Shelley, and especially Mark Arm...when we first did the Wylde Ratttz thing, Mark Arm, I'd never met him before. Before we tracked my new songs, we just jammed the first night, and then holy shit, the guys all knew the tunes, it wasn't like I had to show them the songs, and when I heard Mark Arm, it sounded just like Iggy. He got to do his Iggy imitation...the Iggy that I liked, when Iggy wasn't a crooner like he is today. He was singing in this real rock voice, and it was like, Whooa, man. It was a weird feeling, like that band, the Wylde Ratttz, is probably the closest anyone will get to experiencing the Stooges.
Dark Carnival came close, 'cause I remember we played shows, and Niagara does her interpretation of Stooges songs. It's Iggy-esque, it's Niagara and her special Niagara treatment, but with that music, we had kids, when we played Australia...Iggy had just been to Australia before we went, and all the kids that came up said, " Well mate, seeing you guys play, mate, was a lot more than seeing Iggy play the Stooges, because it felt like I saw the Stooges when I saw you guys. " They said that Dark Carnival's interpretation made them feel more like they were seeing the Stooges than when they saw Iggy doing his version of the Stooges, and I thought that was really cool. Any kids that come up and say that...and a lotta kids came up saying, "You did it, mate... actually, Iggy's band really sucked. They can't even play Stooges songs. " So that made me feel good. It's expensive to go to Australia; we broke even, so we should be happy. He probably came back with a few bucks. I think I came back with 400 dollars in my pocket. Of course, 1 bought about a thousand dollars worth of souvenirs.
K: It must be nice to go someplace and have your music be appreciated. In that respect, Australia seems to be ahead of us here.
R: They're an incredible rock and roll audience. Very appreciative, so it was a real joy to go and play. I mean, I love Australia. The crowds were like they were when the Stooges and the MC5 were kind of at their zenith, their apex, the time period when the crowds used to come and just go nuts for that stuff. The kids, that's how they are now. Deniz Tek, of course...he keeps going back, and he's going "It's pretty dismal, 'cause the economy's bad," and now they're into hip-hop, and they're into garbage...there's no rock down there anymore. And I'm going, "Now wait a minute. You're not telling me that Australian kids are wearing their ball caps backwards and Nike shirts and huge Beavis and Butthead shorts and those long pants that look like you're wearing a skirt and with the underwear showing?" I'm going, "Nooo, not Australia, nooooo... "
K: It's like a cancer.
R: I'm going, "Damn." How could they think that was cool? For me, I can't believe the way kids dress now. It's too..."Dude. Do you really think that's cool, dude?"
K: It's all marketing.
R: Oh, yeah. Nowadays, all clothes are nothing but walking advertisements. I mean, jeez -- your hat, your shirt, everything has gotta have some logo on it. The United States has turned into some sort of brainwashed group of kids that'll wear anybody's costume just to advertise their shit.
K: I was gonna ask you something about Empty Set. It's been a coupla years since you did anything with Billy Frank.
R: Well, for a little while, Bill was in Destroy All Monsters, before Larry Steele stepped in, and Larry was just a better drummer. Bill's a real competent drummer. He's real mechanical -- his meter is fantastic. But Larry Steele is more like in between my brother and Dennis Thompson. He's a heavy hitter; he plays a little bit more into the music than my brother, and a little bit less than Dennis Thompson, so he was the perfect person for that band. I always liked Bill, and he'd always come up with these projects, so it was cool to be able to go to L.A. and do some recording. In 1991, he flew me out there...I hadn't played in L.A. in 17 years or something, so I thought it'd be cool to go out there. We played the Coconut Teaser, and he had it all recorded. But basically, in a weird way, it kinda pisses me off, because he's taken all the stuff we've done and just sorta made it his own little project. I don't talk to him that often, and he kinda goes ahead with things without telling me, and I don't really see any money, and he's really milked the shit out of it. I haven't seen a penny in years, so I'm kinda mad at him that he would do that.
K: Your name is all over the thing (Empty Set's Thin, Slim and None/Flunkie CD.)
R: Well, yeah. He's using it to make money on his own. I think the last monies I got from him were like...God, it's gotta be like five years or something. And it wasn't that much, it was a couple bucks. And he's taken this and just taken all of it that we recorded, we did studio stuff, we did a bunch of live stuff, we did some stuff here in Ann Arbor, and I did it as a friend, and he paid me to do a little mixin', and after that, I just kinda went, "Gee, Bill, where's the money? When I see that you've got an Italian version, and there's an Australian version, and a German version," and it pissed me off enough that I don't really talk to him. Not that I don't wanna talk to him, it's just...that's just kinda rude, you know? All in all, for all that stuff, I've probably seen less than a thousand dollars, and he's made more than that.
And now, this thing that was out on Alive, some compilation (Motor Cify's Burnin), somehow he was involved with that, and he put on a song that we did with him...it was supposed to be Party Girl, and of course we didn't have a picture 'cause he just snuck it in. The song that's advertised on the jacket isn't even the song that's on the fuckin' record. There's no Michael Davis on it! He used all the names again, and somehow he said, "Well, they put the wrong song on" -- they put a song on that I didn't write; I co-wrote, and he put on his song and used those names...it says Michael Davis; I played all the guitars and the bass.
K: It's billed as "Ron Asheton's Destroy All Monsters."
R: Yeah, right, and I never saw a penny. It was just "Here if is." He said: "When the money comes in, I'll send you a check. " Well, that was fuckin' a year ago, man. I know the money is piddly, but still, it was the principle of it. I figure there's not that when things start poppin' and I've organized my legal stuff, I'll have it looked into, 'cause I do have a lawyer and stuff. Right now I'm just waiting for the Wylde Ratttz stuff and it's not like I'm gonna go after him, because there's no giant money there. He might have made a couple thousand dollars there, under five, but still, damn, dude. I'll never work with him again, and there's no reason to, 'cause I did all that as a favor, and for fun, for old time's sake, a couple of trips to L.A.
When we did that, he calls me up and goes (it was what, '94 or '3), "We're gonna make a video in - Mexico, and we're gonna pay you all this money to do it, and blah blah blah." So I get there, and I'm goin', "I don't know;" over the phone, I'm goin', "Gee, I sure hate to go to Mexico, man. It's awful hard and dangerous to work down there, and you guys better have money to grease some palms or you're gonna have trouble with the police and all kinds of shit." I got there, I was so relieved; the whole thing fell through. They listened to me; the camera crew were taking a hundred thousand dollars worth of equipment down there. They realized, they were more worried about their equipment than the money they were gonna make.
So the tour was cancelled, and that's when we did that recording. I said, "Well, let's just go in and cut some tracks instead." Spend the money on that. So we wound up doing that, then I came back and we had all this other stuff to do, and then...L.A. riots, man. I was there in L.A. for the riots. Bill was like, "Here's a little reward"...they're payin' for me to fly out, we had some fun things to do and some parties and some business things I was gonna take care of. The second day I was there, I went up to Bug Music, the publisher who handles all the Stooges stuff and many great things, and went to my favorite bar, the Powerhouse, right next to Bug.
It's like you walk into this place, it's been there for 35 years, it's like walking back into the 50s. The guys like Joe the bartender, he's been there for thirtysome years. Old Naugahyde...even if it's 90 degrees outside, and they don't have a/c in the bar, it's dark and cool. I'm goin', "Wait a minute, how come it's so hot outside, the inside of the bar is like it's air conditioned and they don't have an air conditioner?" It's like a magical place. It's nothin' but drinkin' people...prostitutes, blue-collar guys, old rich Jewish women with sunglasses and diamonds who just wanna hide in the corner and drink. It's so cool, I love it.
The ballgame's on TV, Frank Sinatra's on the radio, so we're sittin' there drinkin', and watching the ballgame, and Joe goes and clicks it off and I was just gonna say, "Hey, whaddaya doin'," and he knew the Rodney King verdicts were coming on. Holy shit. Everyone's quiet. And watching this, I hear all the "Not guilty, not guilty," and I think, "Uh-oh, trouble, trouble, trouble." And Joe cuts off the TV and goes, "Drinks on the house. All right! " It's like "Support your local police. " That's cool, that's cool.
So we're havin' some drinks, and I'm with Bill Frank, and "Bill, we gotta get out of here." So everyone's starting to talk. The whole bar, everyone's turning to these people, this old Jewish woman goes, "I'm glad they got off because two years ago, these two black guys came in our house and beat my husband to death and beat me and stole my diamonds" and I said, "Wow, I understand," and then I got up and go, "Okay, everybody, I'm serious, everyone should beware, and everyone should go home, or be careful the rest of the day, 'cause the shit is goin' down right now." Joe goes, "Ah, no, if something goes on, it's gonna take at least till the weekend."
Me and Bill, we left the bar, we stayed for a coupla minutes, shoot back down to Santa Monica to his apartment. Soon as I get there, I turn on the TV, and as soon as I turned it on, I saw Reginald Denny get beat, so I was right. And then it was curfew...every night you had to close the windows, even though we were ten miles away, and smell the burning of rubber and that horrible house burning smell.
So it was weird being in L.A. after living there, and got to see panic buying...just like a movie, Bill and I went into the 7-Eleven and we're standing in line, we got some water or something, and there's a guy going "We're gonna die. We're all gonna die!" And Bill slapped him. It was like, "You're scaring everybody." It was iike, where's the camera? Okay, come out. This is Candid Camera, right? All the food shelves were empty and I was gonna have dinner with Ray Manzarek, so I call up Ray and I go, "Well gee, Ray, I guess we're not havin' dinner tonight. " And he goes, "Well, you're right, because the limo's coming; we're going to Bali, the limo's coming any minute. " He packed up his family and a bunch of stuff and they went to Bali until the riots were over. He said, "I've got people in the house guarding my 3,000-year-old Egyptian artwork."
So he went to Bali, and we went next door to see if there's any food left. This wonderful Japanese guy, I love him, especially his daughter, she's so beautiful...he sees me all the time, I go over there all the time to buy liquor, water, beer and stuff And I open the door and the first thing he does is his hand goes under the counter; I'm like, "Wait a minute, it's me, man." He's got a .45 under there. The same thing -- the place is like picked out. He goes, "You last one. I'm closed, lock door, don't come back. I'm lockin' up." It was weird being in L.A.
K: Was it shades of Detroit '67 or what?
R: Weirder than that, because in Santa Monica, there's hardly any black people, if any, in Santa Monica. They actually burned a few stores in Westwood, near our area. They burned an old dayschool that was only a couple of blocks from Bill's apartment. It was weirder, 'cause at least we knew what we were up against in Detroit. The Stooges used to rehearse in '67...the MC5 had a great big old apartment building; it used to be a dentist's office. It was like three floors, and that was like their little power hippie commune. We rehearsed in the MC5's room and we went to go practice. I'm goin' to these guys, "There's a riot goin' on, man. Whaddaya mean, we're going to practice? We don't need to practice when there's a riot goin' on. " So we're goin' to Detroit, and tank.s stopped us. A tank on the expressway. "Go back." Loudspeaker. "Go back. This road is closed. " Whaaa? They re-routed us the other way. Man, that was weird, but at least I knew, this is full-force, but to be in L.A., it was a lot different.
Posted October 15, 1999
KEN SHIMAMOTO WRITES: Word is the Wylde Ratttz release is delayed because Warner Bros just bought their UK affiliate - they're moving offices, etc., but it's NOT dead yet. This is probably advantageous, since they didn't want the band associated with what was not a very successful film -- it cost $US7m to make; grossed $US1m in national theatrical release (although it will probably make it up in video rentals).
Once the rec is out, there will probably be a tour of some sort; they've discussed all options from a couple of showcase gigs to a full-blown national tour (probably no more than a month's duration, hitting the strongholds on both US coasts and in the midwest). As for Australia and Europe: They're waiting for someone to put a deal together.
Ron is also also shopping a seven -song demo by a "specialty project" called Creature 79 with his girlfriend Dara (former gtr/vox with His Name Is Alive); he plays guitar on all the tunes. There is some from two prominent indie labels; if one of them bites, they'll cut more tunes, possibly with his brother drumming."