STREET WALKING CHEETAHS James Williamson/Iggy & the Stooges

Still
searchin’ to destroy: the
Raw Power era version of the punk godfathers returns with a reissue and a tour –
and new music in the works.

 

BY JOHN B. MOORE

 

The Stooges may have only had three albums to their name
before imploding in 1974, but the band still managed to inspire hundreds of
groups in the decades since. Everyone from The Sex Pistols to Kurt Cobain – and
pretty much any decent band in between with a loud amp – has gone on record citing
the Michigan-based Stooges as musical inspiration. Raw Power, their final record before packing it in, is often cited
as the Holy Grail by garage/punk/hard rock enthusiasts.

 

The claim still manages to surprise the band considering how
much of a flop the record was at the time of its release. Not long after the ’74 split, frontman Iggy Pop headed into rehab and guitarist James Williamson
went back to school and ultimately ended up in Silicon
Valley working in the tech sector for Sony Electronics. His rock
star past was pretty much kept in a closet along with his guitars, untouched
for the next three decades.

 

The 2009 passing of fellow Stooge Ron Asheton, however,
finally got Pop and Williamson talking again, but it was the recession’s effect
on the tech industry that actually gets credit for getting the Raw Power-era version of the band – sans Asheton,
of course – back together.

 

Williamson spoke recently about Raw Power (reissued this week in expanded format); about mending
fences with Iggy; about the band’s long-awaited induction this year into the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (eighth nomination was the charm!); and about transforming
from The Stooge to The Suit and back again.

 

***

 

BLURT: I
wanted to start off by congratulating you on getting the band back together. I
was pleasantly surprised to see the re-release of Raw Power comes with a live set from a club in Atlanta.

WILLIAMSON: Yeah, that was a fun show actually.

 

Let’s
start off with how you and Iggy started talking to each other again. It’s kind
of music lore now that the two of you did not split on the best of terms.

Yeah, well, you know, we had spoken with each other over the
years from time to time, mostly about business-related things like publishing…
but yeah, we weren’t real tight and I had run across him a couple of times and
gone to a few shows over the years but that’s about it. You know, it’s funny: when
somebody dies there’s something about it that makes you brush all that aside
and start talking. He called me up when Ronny died. I had already heard, but he
was going to tell me if I hadn’t heard yet. So we started talking about this,
that and the other thing and it just went from there.

 

When he
started talking again about the idea of getting together to play music as a
band again, were you hesitant at all?

Oh yeah, I had no intention of playing music at that point
because I was still working for Sony, so I had a day job and I wasn’t going to
start playing anymore. I told him if the band got into the Hall of Fame I’d
come play, but other than that I didn’t have time to do it for one thing. The
second thing is I hadn’t played in 35 years virtually, not that kind of music
anyway so we left it at that. A few months pass and Sony, not being immune to
this economy, was handing out early retirement packages and I looked it over and
decided I couldn’t afford not to take it, so I did. So now I’m thinking to
myself, I’m available and these guys really can’t go out without me because
they were fresh out of Stooges. So I said I owe it to these guys, I’ll do it. I
called [Iggy] back and told him I’d do it, and we chatted a little more and
decided it was something everyone wanted to do – so here we are.

 

So what
was that first rehearsal like when you were all standing around looking at each
other and starting to play? Did everything come back instantly or was it rough
at first?

 I started rehearsing
by myself pretty solidly in June of last year and I was fortunate because I
knew some local guys through the music store and they offered to rehearse me as
a band. It’s one thing to practice on your own; it’s a whole other thing to
play with a band. I kind of told then I want to pay you back, so I did a gig
with them in early September. So I did a gig with this local band called The
Careless Hearts and that went over really well. In late August, the Stooges got
together, but not with Iggy, just the band. We did about five days in Los Angeles and some
things were rough, but it was rough on everybody because the new material that
we’re playing, the other guys [drummer Scott Asheton, sax player Steve Mackay,
latterday bassist Mike Watt] weren’t playing. They had just been playing the
stuff from the first and second albums. It was all kind of new to everybody and
we worked real hard for those five days and pulled it together pretty well.
Later in September we got together with Iggy and played. It was pretty magical
at that point, having everybody clicking and playing this material that was
revamped, but fresh. We got a gig in San
Paulo, Brazil
and that kind of solidified everything. We’re in pretty good shape now.

 

Congratulations
on the Hall of Fame induction, by the way. Did you think they were just going
to string you guys along forever?

At this point, none of the band members thought we were
going to get in this year. We thought, we’re going to have to settle for taking
pride in setting a record for never having gotten in. We didn’t have to, and
we’re in, and I think everybody’s really happy about that. It’s just human
nature; you want to be appreciated for what you’ve done. It’s a really
gratifying thing. 

 

What do
you remember about the recording of Raw
Power
? Working on it at the time, did you think this is going to be a
classic, one of those albums that people cite again and again as an influence?

Not at all. In fact, I personally was not accepting of that
acknowledgement even 15 years ago. Of course, I was out of the music business
by then so I was out touch with that. It just seemed incredulous to me that an
album that seemed such a flop in its day, to be so important in the history of
rock and roll… You asked me about the recording of it. We were all really
young, early twenties. Iggy and the other guys had made other records before,
but Raw Power was my first record
ever. I had been in the studio a few times to cut one-off demos, but making a
record was actually so exciting to me. Everything was new, certainly for me
anyway. I was excited to go in every night and just play my heart out in there
and see what happened. It was just a really special experience.

 

It’s
kind of one of those gateway albums that you discover and then really start to
get into punk and hard rock.

Yeah I’ve heard that before and that’s great. You’ve got to
have records like that. The other thing about recording Raw Power is that we didn’t really have any adult supervision. We
were in there doing it on our own. We didn’t have a producer; all we had was an
engineer from CBS Studios and us. That’s what allowed us to lay those tracks
down, because I don’t think any self-respecting producer would have let us do
those because who could relate to that music? It was completely brand new at
the time and if had had any sense we wouldn’t have laid them down, but we liked
them and that’s how it happened. There’s an authenticity about that music that
is rarely captured on record.

 

Your
post-Stooges career, living and working in Silicon Valley
at Sony, did most of your colleagues know about your garage/punk rock past?

No, almost none of them did. It’s funny because I did an
interview with Fortune magazine and
the take of it was kind of The Suit and The Stooge and they talked to a whole
bunch of people who had worked with me, traveled with me, but never had any
idea about The Stooges until recently. Everybody probably knows now. The
Internet is pretty open, but back in the day they didn’t know at all. It was
quite a shock for some people, but they got over it and they kind of like it
because it’s unusual.

 

You had
mentioned the local band that helped you prep for the reunion. Had you been
playing with local bands since leaving The Stooges?

No, I had pretty much put the guitar down and only a few
years ago I found this marvelous guitar that was built in the 1920s that really
kind of inspired me to play again… So I hadn’t played really rock ‘n’ roll
for 35 years. In fact my son wrote a kind of humorous essay when he was in
college called “Coffins in the Corner,” which were my guitar cases sitting up
against the wall, never being opened.  

 

You’ve
got two kids, right?

Yeah, both out of college now and they’re really loving
this. My stock went up.

 

Now
that they can go on YouTube and pull up old footage, have you had to explain
that those clothes and hairstyles were actually in at the time?

[Laughs] My son is
more into the music scene. He’s a little older and likes some of the bands that
I like. My daughter has a completely different sensibility, so the only good I’m
doing with her is that her friends recognize [the band]

.

 Is there any chance for some new music out of
The Stooges now?

Absolutely. We’re working on about three of them right now.
There’s a couple things we’re kicking around. One of them is trying to redo
some of the old stuff that never got recorded properly and I have mixed
feelings about that. On the one hand, you’re always compared to how you were
then, but on the other hand you do the music justice by doing it properly. There’s
that, then the new stuff. I think for sure you’ll see a single or two out of us
this year. We’re pretty busy with tours, so it’s not so easy to get into the studio,
but we’re working on it. Once we feel pretty good about the music, then we’ll
go in and cut some tracks and get some things out there. There really isn’t a
market for albums anymore, so whatever we can get out there will be fine.

      Also last week I
finished mixing Kill City [the album
Pop and Williamson recorded in 1977] and we’re going to release that this year,
as well. A friend of mine is a really, really good engineer, Ed Cherney. He
went in and mixed the album with my help. This guy has done records for
everybody and he just made this record sound, well, like it should have sounded all along. It has
finally reached its full potential and that’s exciting. We’re now going to
remaster that and do all the artwork and Pop is going to rerelease it, probably
late summer early fall. 

 

The
Stooges’ 2CD
Raw Power: Legacy Edition and 3CD + DVD Raw Power: Deluxe Edition are released April 13 and 27, respectively, via Columbia/Legacy. The
reunited band kicks off a short string of European tour dates this week,
followed by the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in England in May, and then a full
Euro jaunt in July and August. Their only currently scheduled US appearance is Sept. 3 at the Monticello, NY, edition
of ATP. Full list of dates at their official MySpace page.

 

[Photo Credit: Mick Rock/courtesy Sony Entertainment]

 

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