Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Punkobit: Ron Asheton

Founder member of The Stooges Ron Asheton has been found dead at his Ann Arbor home.

Before he picked up his first guitar at the age of ten, he'd already mastered one instrument - the accordion. It was an unusual choice of instrument for a five year-old, but he was under the spell of his great aunt Ruthie, a vaudevillian star, who had already tried to interest him in the violin. That experiment had ended in failure when Asheton's mum took the hand-me-down instrument off him to turn into a planter.

Inspired by the Beatles and the Stones, the 16 year-old Asheton made a pop pilgrimage to England, visiting London, of course Liverpool and, perhaps more surprisingly, Southport. He was surprised by some of the reactions:

We got more aggravation than we did here in this sheltered college town, by Rockers and Mods. English people still had prejudices against that kind of look in '65 so we got a lot of flack. We were kinda shocked that "where's Ringo? We haven't seen him yet!" We got to Southport which was a little calmer but still got into trouble with some of the Rockers there- they'd kick your ass if you didn't run fast enough.

Back in America, he and brother Scott hooked up with James Newell Osterberg to form The Stooges in 1967. The trio came together at Discount Records, where Osterberg was working. It was the Asheton brothers who started to call Osterberg "Pop", which got amalgamated with his other nickname, Iggy, to create a stage persona and theme for future insurance adverts.

If Ron was instrumental in giving Iggy his name, he was no less significant in crafting the Stooge's sound: it's his guitar which drives the first two albums. For Raw Power, he switched to bass, edged out from both guitaring and songwriting during a period of turbulence that had seen the band dropped by Elektra Records. Pop had tried to completely restaff the band and it's fair to say Asheton wasn't entirely delighted at being brought back when that ploy had failed. Ron had already struggled with being the only sober member of a band awash with heroin, and his attempts to stay straight exacerbated the splits in the band.

The Stooges finally fell apart in February 1974 while Asheton moved on to The New Order (not that one), Destroy All Monsters and New Race.

In the late 90s, when Michael Stipe was pulling together musicians for the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack, Asheton proved to be the obvious choice for guitarist on the Stooges-like Wylde Rattz. It was this job that would lead to The Stooges reforming, as fellow Rattz J Mascis started to play with Asheton after a visit to Ann Arbor; the band were apparently so good as to tempt Iggy Pop over to have a look. From there, the reunion of The Stooges became almost inevitable, a process which moved from live dates to the perhaps-somewhat-ill-advised 2007 The Weirdness album.

Asheton is believed to have died from a heart attack around New Year's Day; his body was only discovered yesterday. He was 60.

[Thanks to Karl T]