Mojo

Ron Asheton 1948-2009



"Ron wasthe Riffmeister and all that was good in this world," declares Andrew Innes ofPrimal Scream, just one of countless bands who owe an inestimable debt to Ron Asheton's (pictured, in glasses)monolithic stun guitar onslaughts on the first two Stooges albums.

Asheton,found dead on Monday at his Ann Arborhome from a suspected heart attack, was the most influential punk guitarist ofall time, his monosyllabic, pile driver riffs providing blueprints for laterapplecart-upsetters like the New York Dolls and Sex Pistols. Even former CaptainBeefheart and Jeff Buckley guitarist Gary Lucas has paid tribute to "some ofthe best and most iconic riffs in punk history."

In his ownprivate world Asheton, whose unusual pantheon of heroes included Adolf Hitlerand the Three Stooges, was the most dangerousembodiment of the Stooges' dum dum boys aesthetic, infamous for his extensivecollection of Nazi memorabilia and the unsavory swastika armband later adoptedby UK punk-shockers. Ironically, he was the only Stooge who eschewed harddrugs.

Ron wasborn in Washington DCin 1948, brought to Ann Arborby his mother after his Marine Corp pilot father Ronald's death in 1963.Besotted by the Beatles and the Stones, he became obsessed with Pete Townshendafter a Who gig during a mid-'60s pilgrimage to London with high school buddy Dave Alexander.He played bass in local bands including the Prime Movers, Chosen Few and DirtyShames before forming the Psychedelic Stooges with Alexander, Scott and a localkid he'd met called James Osterberg--rechristened Iggy after a stint in a bandcalled the Iguanas.

In early1968, the Asheton family moved to an Ann Arbor farmhouse later dubbed the Fun House in tributeto its inhabitants' nefarious activities. It was here that Ron rehearsed theaggressively simple riffs which would define the Stooges' unique brand of rawpower. He was the driving force behind the Stooges in the early days,street-toughening the innocent Iggy to front the band while the musiciansmercilessly revved the Stooges' primitive engine.

After beingadopted as the MC5's "little brother" band, the Stooges signed to ElektraRecords. Released in 1969, the band's self-titled debut album strove to emulatethe direct simplicity of the blues while knocking out mini-anthems like "No Fun" and "Real Cool Time" derived fromintra-band wisecracks and slogans.

By 1970,the Stooges had roped in sax player Steve Mackay, recording their second album,Fun House, in Los Angeles on acid, then heroin, althoughRon steadfastly stuck to pot and beer. The three-pronged attack of "Down On TheStreet," "Loose" and "TV Eye," led by Asheton onpsychopathic overdrive, still ranks as one of music's most incendiary volleys,while the title track sounds like Wilson Pickett's backing band let loose in anopium den.

But thealbum bombed and the Stooges commenced a slow disintegration, Ron watchingfrustrated as everything went hideously south, and in 1972 he underwent furtherignominy as he was re-hired as bassist in a new Stooges--a desperate Iggyhaving hitched his star to guitarist James Williamson and bewitched producerDavid Bowie--the result being the controversial Raw Power album.

But nothingcould save the Stooges and the line-up played their last show on February 9,1974. Iggy joined Bowie on a mutual reinventionsession in Berlin,leaving Asheton to muddle through with groups including New Order, New Raceand, for seven years from mid-1977, Destroy All Monsters with former MC5bassist Mike Davis. "We f***ed up, man," Ron told MOJO in 1996. "[The Stooges] could have been the American Stones.But we messed up big time. It was freefall. We didn't stop 'til we hit thebottom."

Ashetonmourned the demise of the Stooges for 30 years, reappearing as a B-movie actorin the mid-'90s in such masterworks as Mosquito and Frostbiter:Wrath Of The Wendigo, before playing in the Wylde Rattz with Thurston Moore and MarkArm in late '90s glam-fantasy Velvet Goldmine. But he never lost his dream ofreforming the original Stooges, which began to materialize in 2003 when thesurviving members [Dave Alexander died in 1975, his replacement was US hardcoreveteran Mike Watt] appeared on four tracks on Iggy's Skull Ring album. That year saw the line-up enter the live arena atthe Coachella Festival--so well received that the Stooges were almost instantlyreactivated. Older and wiser but still hugely relevant, they showed newgenerations where their music had come from and made some old men very happy.

Ron Ashetonwas most delighted of all, disbelievingly vindicated as Rolling Stone even placed him at 29 in the "100 Best Guitarists Of All Time." Withhis death, many memories center around the incredible night at HammersmithApollo in 2005 where the group played the whole of Fun House for All Tomorrow's Parties. Standing immobile,bludgeoning his trademark gonzo riffs while Iggy rampaged around him, he hadfinally found happiness again, and there was more in store: an all-new Stoogesalbum in the shape of 2007's TheWeirdness.

Tributesare flying from acolytes including Killing Joke's Youth: "Ron Asheton's geniuswas not only being able to realize vast emotional epics with extreme economyand simplicity of notes but also to slay the simplest and most primitive ofriffs with a sexual groove that is so subtle yet as direct as a brick in theface. Check "No Fun" and "TV Eye": I've jammed them and those grooves equal thesex in any James Brown classic and are equally hard to nail."

Ex-Damnedguitarist Brian James simply said, "He wrote the riff to 'I Wanna Be Your Dog.'That's enough for me."

This writermost recalls being blown away by Ron's stack as he ravaged through said song ina London pub venue with Destroy All Monsters (though ratherunsettled by the Nazi dagger collection he gleefully displayed as part of thecollection of military regalia transforming his hotel room).

Asheton'sold friend Mike Davis has also movingly paid hisrespects. "Ron impressed me as possibly the only down to earth character on theDetroit/Ann Arbor scene at the time. He was the only person I knew who actuallywas not carried away with all the experimentation, yet searched for a way oflife that made common sense with a pioneering approach. While everyone was runningaround blowing out old values with reckless behavior, Ron quietly wasinvestigating real-time approaches to the way he lived. We became friendssimply because we felt comfortable together and independent from thescene-stealers. Ron and I could hang out, drink our beer, and chat up withoutfeeling pressured by anything or anyone.

"Ron wasconservative, modest, and had a gleeful smile. He wasn't trying to be anyoneelse or to be an earth-shaker. He just loved what he was doing, that's all. TheStooges lived in the shadow of the MC5, but as I watched and listened, I sawand heard them beating us! Ron and his boys: humble, independent, unique, doingit as well as they could, and making it on their own terms. I was thinking tomyself, 'Jesus Christ, I like them better than I like us!'

"Evenso, I am grateful that Ron was able to heal and mend those rifts that hadplagued him from his Stooges days. It is fitting and right that he finally realizedhis original dream. Right on! I tell myself that Ron did it all. He was his ownman. He got to the top of the stairway. He will be mourned, missed, and honored.And he left a huge legacy, more than we realize. He left a huge impression onme, and I carry that impression constantly. I even find myself doing little imitationsof Ron's humor all the time. It makes me smile. Farewell, my brother." 

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