Scott Asheton: Drummer with Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Detroit wildmen who 'created punk rock before the genre even had a name'
Tuesday 18 March 2014
When Iggy Pop and the Stooges were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010, the statement that the group "created punk-rock well before the genre even had a name" was no exaggeration. Formed by Pop, the original self-destructive frontman, guitarist Ron Asheton, his younger brother Scott on drums and their friend Dave Alexander on bass, the Stooges unleashed the most primal garage rock with their eponymous debut in August 1969.
The Stooges and their 1970 follow-up Fun House went against the hippie grain and failed to find an audience at the time but influenced performers like David Bowie, who championed them and mixed their third album, Raw Power (1973). They also inspired the next wave of back-to-basics American bands, particularly the New York Dolls, the Dictators and the Ramones. The Stooges' repertoire and outré behaviour then provided the blueprint for British punk-rock groups like the Damned, the Sex Pistols –who cut "No Fun'' from The Stooges for the B-side of their third single "Pretty Vacant" in July 1977 – and Penetration, the County Durham band formed by Pauline Murray in 1976, who were named after a Raw Power track.
Born in Washington in 1949, 13 months after his brother Ron (obituary, 8 January 2009), Scott Asheton was raised in Ann Arbor, near Detroit. His father died while he was in his teens. Their mother bought them Beatles and Rolling Stones records and presented Ron with a Honda 305 motorbike which he sold to finance a trip to the UK with Alexander in 1965.
They saw The Who cause mayhem at the Cavern in Liverpool, a pivotal experience for Ron, who joined a cover band, the Chosen Few, and then played in the Prime Movers alongside James Osterberg, soon to acquire the name Iggy Pop, on drums. Like his brother and Alexander, Scott Asheton was thrown out of high school for drinking and fighting, and hung out at Discount Records, where Pop worked.
As the Stooges they rehearsed at the Ashetons' house and debuted at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit in 1968, opening for the MC5. Their short set was more performance art than music: as well as playing feedback guitar, Ron Asheton miked up a blender and a vacuum cleaner, while Scott banged 50-gallon oil drums with hammers. "People didn't know what to think. John Sinclair, the MC5's manager, was just standing there with his mouth wide open," said Scott. "That was the master plan: knock down the walls and blow people's shit away."
In September 1968 they again supported the MC5, and attracted the attention of Danny Fields, a talent scout from Elektra. Ostensibly there to sign the MC5, he also gave a deal to the Stooges, "their baby brother group."
They recorded their self-titled first album in New York with John Cale producing. It contained "1969'' and "I Wanna Be Your Dog'', which became staples of their incendiary stage set, as did "Down On The Street'' and "T.V. Eye'' from Fun House.
The Stooges then were a shambolic, if memorable, live act, as immortalised in Midsummer Rock, filmed at the Cincinnati Pop Festival in June 1970. "Iggy started doing stuff to himself. That's where that famous photo where he's walking on people's hands was taken. He broke out the peanut butter and started smearing it all over himself," said Scott. But the group was heavily into drugs, with Ron the only one not using heroin. Scott was so high that he drove the band's rented truck through the roof of a bridge in Ann Arbor, injuring Pop and two roadies and damaging their equipment. Elektra dropped them and Scott went back to Michigan.
Bowie had introduced Pop and his new songwriting partner, the guitarist James Williamson, to his manager Tony DeFries, who helped get them a new deal with CBS. By autumn 1972 Pop and Williamson were in a London studio and called on the Ashetons to help record Raw Power, with Ron switching to bass and the powerful Scott on drums again. "We were put in a sideman position in our own band," he said.
Nevertheless, the Ashetons enjoyed themselves in the UK, and hung out with Lou Reed, then making Transformer in London. Yet Raw Power only made the lower reaches of the US charts and Iggy & the Stooges were let go by both DeFries and CBS in 1974.
Scott Asheton rejoined Pop in 1978 to help out on a European tour, but mostly concentrated on other projects including Sonic's Rendezvous Band, led by the former MC5 guitarist Fred Smith. In 2000, Scott and Ron Asheton teamed up with the Dinosaur Jr mainman J Mascis and the Minutemen bassist Mike Watt and started performing Stooges material with occasional help from other devotees like Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream. The Ashetons contributed to Skull Ring, Pop's 2003 album, which paved the way for a full-blown Stooges reunion.
In August 2005 they made triumphant appearances at the Reading and Leeds Festivals and gave a riotous performance of Fun House at Hammersmith Apollo. In 2007 came a fourth studio album, The Weirdness. Following Ron's death, Williamson returned and the Stooges continued, though Scott curtailed his touring commitments after a severe stroke in 2011. He recovered enough to make Ready To Die, the last Stooges album, issued last year, but was replaced by Larry Mullins – aka Toby Dammit – on the road.
Scott Asheton, drummer and songwriter: born Washington 16 August 1949; married (one daughter); died 15 March 2014.
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