1948 - 2009
STOOGES guitarist Ron Asheton, the man whose thuggishly primeval guitar sound pointed the way for aspirant punk rock axemen the world over, was found dead at his Detroit home on the morning of January 6th 2009. Ron was 60 years old and had been at long last reaping the benefits of his immense influence with the re-formed Iggy and the Stooges.
Ron began musical life playing around his Ann Arbor locale in various high school bands, which included a brief stint with The Iguanas, whose drummer Jimmy Osterberg appropriated an abbreviated nickname from that outfit. Iggy soon abandoned the drums in favour of vocals, joining forces with Ron and his brother Scott and bassist Dave Alexander to form ëThe Psychedelic Stoogesí. Inspired by the bluesí primordial simplicity as well as the no-rules free jazz of Pharoah Sanders, James Brownís cat-on-heat strut and down-and-dirty teenage disenchantment, these neighbourhood greasers were prototype punk both in look and sound. Early gigs were cacophonous exercises in sonic confrontation, the bandís minimalist musical chops meshing into something exciting, raw and new, a rallying call for social outsiders and highly unpalatable to the mainstream. While lunatic front man Iggy contorted his unbelievable physique and goaded audiences to the limit, Ron provided the appropriate sonic backup with his drumfire power chords, open-string drones and withering wah wah excursions. The guitaristís fondness for Nazi uniforms - symptomatic of his interest in history rather than any ideological wonkiness - only added to the bizarre sense of spectacle and did little to broaden the Stoogesí commercial pulling power.
The Stooges - Ron Asheton (second from left)
After the failure of two astonishing albums for Elektra, the original Stooges lineup folded. However, when David Bowieís management courted Iggy as a solo artist, the Asheton brothers were called upon to complete a new Stooges line up, this time with new boy James Williamson on guitar and Ron effectively demoted to bass duties. Although this rankled, Ron was at least glad of a gig and together with his brother formed one of the worldís deadliest rhythm sections for 1973's Raw Power album. However, Asheton became increasingly disenfranchised, a fact that was exacerbated by the rest of the band's descent into heroin use. When it finally fell apart in 1974, Ron accepted the news with something approaching relief.
From then on out, Asheton took his guitar to the clubs and slogged away at it, on a low-key level, for decades. He first hooked up with ex-MC5 personnel for the New Order (pre-dating the other New Order by some years), then teaming up with the vampish vocalist Niagara for Destroy All Monsters, and later touring Australia with various former Radio Birdman members as New Race. By this point, the Stooges influence had flourished into a worldwide punk rock explosion, the Sex Pistols famously covering their ëNo Funí and legions of wannabes borrowing Ronís style and licks. Ron saw little financial kickback for all this however, and branched out into small time movie roles.
The Stooges - Ron Asheton (far right)
Ron's eventual reunion with his fellow Stooges came about through his association with Dinosaur Jnrís J Mascis and former Minutemen bassman Mike Watt. Taking Ron along with them on Jís 2001 tour as The Fog, the group would encore with a brace of Stooges classics. This would develop into a full-length set of Stooges numbers, around which point Iggy broke a long silence in inviting Ron along to play and co-write a couple of tracks on his Skull Ring album. A proper reunion seemed the logical next step and in 2003, the Stooges played their first gig together for nearly 30 years. At long last, Ron could translate cult status and critical acclaim into decent-sized sold out shows.
Ron Asheton will be remembered as a sweet-natured man with no rock star bullshit about him; possibly he was just too much of a nice guy for the music business. Having trawled the small clubs for years after the original Stooges split, for little more money than his high-school groups earned him, and with precious few royalties from Stooges sales in that time, he carried no bitterness about this when asked about it in recent years. Ron was generous with his time with Stooges fans, and never lost touch with the brutal power of that trademark guitar sound.