IT WASN'T ALWAYS THIS WAY.
Years ago, TV commercials and film soundtracks didn't feature the guitar sound Ron Asheton pioneered with the Stooges. Even in Michigan, I vividly remember people saying about the Stooges back in the day: "Those guys can't play!" In fact, when soliciting photos for this piece, we discovered there really aren't that many photos available of Ron from the early days. Photographers didn't take the band seriously enough to shoot them back then, even when the lensmen were there to shoot the MC5 on the same stage. Hell, I saw lots of people booing Iggy Pop himself when he opened for the Stones at the Pontiac Silverdome in 1981 — that being the Stones tour, after all, that first attracted the yuppies and investment bankers who've been part of their audience ever since.
So it's been rewarding for longtime fans to see the music and sound that Ron created become a staple and part of the very fabric of American popular culture — while at the same time seeing the members finally receive the recognition and monetary gain that had bypassed them for so long. But imagine how rewarding and fulfilling it must have been for Ron himself. That's one solace his friends can take from his death — that, unlike New York Doll Arthur Kane, who died just as his band was reuniting, Asheton got to actually taste and reap the rewards from the musical courage he and his bandmates had demonstrated so many years before.
People bitch about the constant snubs the Stooges have received from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as well they should. But then, Iggy had the number for the crew that runs that place as far back as 1996 (think about that, they've been eligible for induction since at least 1996) when he joked to this writer: "Well, my manager [the late Art Collins], he's in tight with some of those people and I guess they've said, 'The Stooges, never! Never! Iggy? Well, maybe — if he's a good little boy. And if he doesn't keep titling albums Naughty Little Doggie!'" He laughed. "Maybe if I'd have called it something like Fucking Heroic Young Record Executive instead!"
Everyone believes the band is going into the Hall of Fame this year — inductees will be announced this week — so it's sad they waited until Ron Asheton was cold before they let the Stooges in, especially since the honor would've meant so much to him. But what's even sadder to me is that Ron died less than two weeks before he was to go to the NAMM tradeshow for professional musicians in Los Angeles, where Reverend Guitars will debut a new Ron Asheton signature model guitar on Jan. 19. Who'd've ever thunk? Not at all bad for a guy who "can't play ..."
When we heard that Ron Asheton had died, we scrapped our previously planned cover story. After all, it was Ron Asheton and this is Detroit. You can read the obituaries and the factual details of his life all over the Internet this week. And you don't need someone like me to cleverly describe his signature sound when all you really have to do is go listen to Fun House. Truthfully, I didn't know Ron personally, apart from those wonderful riffs. Better, then, for us to hear from his friends, bandmates and those who were inspired enough by his art to go out and help change the world themselves. —Bill Holdship
JOHN HOLMSTROM, CARTOONIST AND CO-FOUNDER OF PUNK MAGAZINE
Ron Asheton was the most important guitar player in the history of punk rock. Period.
But the Stooges were more than just some "proto-punk" influence, which is how too many current rock writers miscategorize them and the rest of early '70s punk. The Stooges also influenced metal, since the '80s "New Wave of British Metal" was basically punk rock with a new marketing gimmick. They were as fine a basic rock 'n' roll group as the Stones or anyone else you have. I'm happy to add that Ron Asheton was also a nice person — a shy guy who was content to play guitar and stay in the background of whatever band he was in, even though he was often writing the music and providing their basic sound.
Those first three Stooges records were more amazing, important and great than any three single albums in the history of rock 'n' roll. When I launched PUNK magazine in late 1975, we still hoped they would re-form. They'd only broken up the year before. The Stooges were numero uno to everyone in the early punk scene, and Ron's simple guitar riffing defined that sound. Without the Stooges, there'd be no Dictators, no Damned, no Dead Boys, no Saints, no Ramones, no Sex Pistols. No punk.
STEVE JONES, SEX PISTOLS GUITARIST AND ROCK RADIO HOST
When I first started learning to play guitar, the way I learned was taking black beauties — speed — every day and playing along to Raw Power, "1969" and Fun House. Those were the three main things I was playing along to because I didn't really know how to play guitar. I know he played bass on Raw Power, but Ron was the perfect guy to play along with when you're just learning to play. There was a ritual to it. It wasn't just riffs and melodic stuff; there were chords mixed in. So I was very inspired by that. And as underrated as he is — you mention his name around the world and people still have no idea who Ron Asheton is, even if they've heard the Stooges and that kind of music — he was great. He really was.
Technically, he wasn't great but he invented a style due to his lack of technical ability. A new player can pick up the Stooges' albums and think, "Well, maybe I can do that." And I think that's kinda what I carried on with the Pistols. People could hear me and think, "Well, that's very easy." And between us and the Ramones, it led to all these other kids starting to play. So he was at the top of that bunch — he started it all. It was a group decision to cover "No Fun." We all liked the title and the idea of no fun — and I probably just started playing that riff at a rehearsal and the band started playing along because, again, it was easy. I finally met him when he came on my radio show at South by Southwest — but all the Stooges came in that day. It's very sad, but tell Iggy if you talk to him that if he wants to carry on the Stooges, I'm available to play guitar. [Laughs]
TOMMY RAMONE, ORIGINAL RAMONES DRUMMER AND PRODUCER
We were huge Stooges fans and they were one of the Ramones' main influences. We met Ron several times on our tours and it was always a pleasure to get together with him. He'd show us memorabilia and talk about the Stooges and we would just eat it up. We also played with him and his brother Scott in Ann Arbor. It was a three-way spectacular that included Fred Smith's Sonics Rendezvous Band and Ron's Destroy All Monsters, which included Michael Davis from the MC5. That was a historic show.
I ran into Ron a few years ago in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, when he was playing at a club called Warsaw. It was the first time I had a chance to talk to him in a long time and it was great to be able to reminisce and catch up. I'm happy I let him know that night what a great inspiration he was to Johnny Ramone and how much his music meant to all of us.
ALICE COOPER, ROCK 'N' ROLL SUPERSTAR AND LEGEND
Ron was certainly the core of the "sound" of the Stooges. The way he played was beautifully simple, which, of course, is what made the Stooges so powerful. If there had been any more flair to it, their music would have been a totally different animal. Just try to get the tone that he had on Fun House — my favorite Stooges album, by the way — and you'll find that it's almost impossible to re-create. Somehow, even back in the Detroit days, Ron would never miss a note onstage, regardless of what insanity Iggy was coming up with during a show. And that's not easy!
JAMES WILLIAMSON, LEAD GUITARIST ON RAW POWER, LEGEND
I was the co-leader of a Detroit area garage band called the Chosen Few when I was still in high school and that's how I first met Ron. We had some local notoriety, but I left the group when I went to school in New York. They were still my buddies, though, and during this time, Ron Asheton joined them as the bass player. The first time we met was when the Chosen Few were playing a frat party in Ann Arbor. It was an important gig because Iggy was also there and that was the first time I met him. You could say that was sort of the beginning of all that.
Ron was always an interesting guy. [Laughs] He's always been a character. The thing about him in those days was that he always played his bass with his back to the audience. He played to the amplifier. Ron was always a very cool guy in a very unusual way. He was a great bass player, by the way, as well as a great guitar player in his own right.
As far as animosity between us after Raw Power, let's set the record straight. First, it wasn't Mainman [management] that made that decision. The decision came from me and Iggy. And I never felt any animosity toward Ron and I have a clear conscience on this. Because when Jim [Iggy] and I went to London, the purpose was to form a new band to make Raw Power. The Stooges were over at that point. But as we looked at musicians in England, we became more frustrated. It was not a good fit. We were holed up in the Royal Gardens Hotel, and I distinctly remember sitting around with Iggy one night and saying, "These guys over here suck! Why don't we bring the Asheton brothers over and make them the rhythm section? Put Ron back on bass, where he started, because he's fantastic at it." So that's what we did and it was terrific. They wouldn't have been part of that band if I hadn't said anything. So I have a clear conscience about that, although I do know that Ron had some hard feelings. I don't know if he ever resolved that; it's impossible for me to say. But it's not like I wasn't in contact with Ron. I saw him many times over the years after that. And it was always perfectly congenial. If he had resentment about that, it was definitely low-key.
Those were crazy times. I remember we were in L.A., practicing like crazy for our first U.S. gig in Detroit. So we went out and had a bunch of fancy stuff made for us. And I had those [thigh-high] silver boots made by this really famous boot guy in Hollywood. The guy took so long to make them, I didn't really get a chance to try them on and spend time in them. What I didn't realize is that boots that can't bend at the knee mean you can't sit down. And so there I am, the night of the show — and I don't know how I'm going to get there! Because I can't bend my legs to ride in a car. So they finally picked me up and managed to lay me down on my back in a van — and that's how I got to the show. But I was flat. I couldn't even get up when we got there. Scotty and somebody, I think it might have been Ron, had to lift me up so I could walk.
It's really hard to sum somebody up and Ron was such a colorful guy. You could say a lot of things about him but I think he was a very gentle soul. He was always kinda low-key. He had his own interests and his own ways. But he also always had this very unique kind of alternative style and cool to him. And I think that's what people saw and heard in his music. It's a sad day. He's really going to be missed. The other thing I could say about Ron is that he always sort of fostered the rock dream. He was focused on it. And it didn't matter if he was successful. What mattered is he was doing what he liked to do. He chose that early, early on. And those guys were not repressible. From the very beginning, when they were putting together the Psychedelic Stooges ... I mean, those guys could barely play their instruments at that point. Ron was probably the most accomplished, and then Scott. And Iggy had already done a lot of things but being a vocalist was still fairly new to him. But those guys were playing the Grande Ballroom from the very beginning, with oil drums and vacuum cleaners! And they made it work!
So the attitude always was "We're going to make it." And that's what they did. And that's the one thing to take solace in right now is that he ended up going out and being able to do what he loved to do the most. How many people can actually say that? He pursued that rock 'n' roll dream. I don't play rock 'n' roll anymore. But I told Iggy that if they get into the Hall of Fame this year, I would like to play that show with them as a tribute to Ron.
ANGIE BOWIE, WRITER, RAW POWER ASSOCIATE
Ron Asheton and I became friends in London in the early 1970s. Mainman asked me to find Iggy, Ron, Scott and James a house, and a macrobiotic cook during the recording of Raw Power. Ron was gentle and, like that other great guitar player, Mick Ronson, he always behaved like a patient, older brother where the other guys were concerned. That persona changed onstage when he entered the zone that gave purpose to Iggy's spins and dives.
I have always counted him among my dear friends and a joy to know. His humor kept us laughing through the night. He had a brilliant deadpan delivery and a serious gaze as he tripped and riffed about all the political misadventures that fueled the music of the Stooges and the MC5, the Detroit musical activists.
But happy days and a peaceful departure are almost enough to reward a life of creative struggle and endeavor and triumph. Dear Ron, see you in the great beyond, big daddy!
KIM FOWLEY, PRODUCER, WRITER, HUSTLER, LEGEND
Kim Fowley's Top 5 Memories of Ron Asheton:
1) Ron Asheton and some of the Stooges told me they'd heard "Outrageous" by Kim Fowley before they cut their first album.
2) Ron's singer, Iggy Pop, told me personally that he loved "Secret Police" by the Belfast Gypsies, produced and co-written by Kim Fowley.
3) Ron Asheton called me in Santa Monica, Calif., one morning in the early '70s and asked me if I wanted to be the new singer of the Stooges. I replied "No."
4) Ron Asheton asked me to come to a jam when he and Dennis "Machine Gun" Thompson were forming the New Order. I showed up and ate fast food but didn't sing.
5) Ron Asheton called me on the phone in the late '70s and declared Niagara to be GOD.
NIAGARA, PARTNER AND DESTROY ALL MONSTERS/DARK CARNIVAL BANDMATE
Before Ronnie and I met, I was a horrid fanatic for the Stooges. The ritual was to play their songs over and over again all night, trying desperately to physically disappear into the music. Ron's solos are complete stories ... with a beginning, middle and end. Unlike other proficient players, his style was not mechanical-minded but an emotional journey. They were musical fables, beautiful, sexy, haunting. But I didn't have designs to meet the Stooges. It was something that just happened.
You don't live with someone in a box for eight years, do everything with him, play in bands with him without being as close as skin. Ron had the amazing ability to see humor in every situation. There was so much laughter. That's what was most important. When we were on the road with the band, the things that went wrong just became continuous hilarity. The wrongs would often be the highlights of the tour. In recent years, he still always called as soon as he returned from tour to tell me of the things that went wrong in his own way, just to make me laugh.
He was witty and had a Jeopardy-type, encyclopedic knowledge, but with an overriding magic to it that made life seem wonderful. And he had a soldier's code of honor for work, for people, for commitments, for animals. I'm grateful for the years we had in Destroy All Monsters and Dark Carnival. And that people remember our performances and songs we wrote together. Ron, we love you.
PHIL "GREASY" CARLISI, DARK CARNIVAL BANDMATE
Ronnie had a style like no one else had. It was totally original. I would just play the same exact rhythm guitar as he did because his rhythms were perfect. But he would encourage me to try different things, unlike a lot of musicians I've worked with over the last 30-some years who just wanted to have total control over every note that was played. He let me play bass on some of the stuff we recorded when he could've easily done it himself. He was a monster bassist who was up there with rock's greatest. Listen to Raw Power and if any bass player out there disagrees with what I'm saying, you're an idiot. And as far as his guitar solos, you couldn't get any more powerful. He was a gift from the heavens above and I will miss him dearly.
GARRY HENDERSON (AKA COLONEL GALAXY), FRIEND AND MUSICIAN, NIAGARA'S HUSBAND
I was Ron's best friend for the last 20 years. Ron Asheton was a stand-up guy. I was his camping buddy, his comic foil, and his co-conspirator against evil. We were both fine judges of pit bulls and whiskey. Together, we would head up north, either to his cottage or go camping, and over the course of a week, sit next to a campfire and solve the world's problems and create some as well. Besides music, Ronnie and I enjoyed absurdity in all forms and shared a taste for the bizarre. Niagara was always trying to get me to help Ronnie to write his memoirs. Because Ron had such great stories and they all sounded like screenplays, with colorful characters like Jim Morrison, Alice Cooper, Jimmy Page, John Lee Hooker, Robert Mitchum, William Shatner. That's just a few. He even had a funny story about meeting John F. Kennedy when he was just a Boy Scout. Ronnie was like the Forrest Gump of the rock 'n' roll crowd. He knew everybody and everybody loved him.
MARK SISTO, AUSTRALIA, FRIEND
I met Ron in the fall of 1979. I hung around with him through that winter until leaving for the Army in July 1980. He didn't own a car and I did, so I often drove him around. This was when he was in Destroy All Monsters. I found in him a kindred spirit — kindred in the sense of discussing the TV culture of early '60s Detroit perhaps a bit too much and a mutual love for guns. Kindred in having that politically incorrect sense of humor that, in truth, stemmed from no ill will toward others. And kindred in that kind of patriotic feeling one had when JFK was president and never forgot.
Of all the people in my life, no one was more proud of me earning my wings than Ron Asheton.
My father hated things military, something to do with being in assaults in Okinawa and elsewhere and seeing a few hundred too many dead, so understandably so. But no one gave me the degree of acknowledgement that Ron did. After flight school and before my departure to Europe, I dropped in on him in uniform with my wings. His attitude was of genuine appreciation that I would serve and I was doing what others couldn't or wouldn't. That was the look in his eye, his tone, his handshake. Appreciation. That really meant something. I've filed it away in my soul.
CAROLYN STRIHO, LOCAL SINGER-SONGWRITER-MUSICIAN
I remember playing in my first band, the Cubes, on a show with Destroy all Monsters. It was the first time I got to see Ron play because I was too young to go to Stooges shows and I'll always remember how well Ron treated me. Here I was, a young skinny teenager, just finishing high school, and this legend acted like a kind, gentle person, making sure to talk to me and treat me like someone who mattered. Imagine that. He gave me inspiration, much like Fred "Sonic" Smith, to attack my music with a vengeance.
WENDY CASE, LOCAL WRITER-MUSICIAN-ARTIST
When I was a kid, I was so in love with the Asheton brothers. As a teenager, I used to lie on the carpeting and just stare at the gatefold of Fun House for hours. To me, they were the absolute epitome of cool. When I returned to Michigan from California in the late '80s, I hooked up with a guy who was a longtime friend of the family. He introduced me to Ron, Scott and their sister, Kathy, and I got to know them on a more personal level. Ron was gentle, good-humored and sweet. He was alternately flirty and protective of me, and I adored the attention. He had a Polaroid of Larry Fine (of the Three Stooges) on the fridge at his mother's house and loved to tell stories about taking care of the old actor during the band's Hollywood era.
What people may not know about Ron is that, along with being a guitar icon of the highest order, he was also a very talented actor. He loved the movies and, when we met, he was pursuing acting pretty aggressively. If you can get your hands on a copy of Mosquito or Frostbiter, check 'em out. He should have had a big career as a character actor — he was really good.
He was a very talented guy — and one of my childhood heroes for sure. But, mostly, he was just a really decent soul.
GARY JONES, ACTOR AND DIRECTOR
When I first met Ron, he said he always wanted to be a character actor and that's exactly what he became. When we started shooting our first film, Frostbiter, Ron was to play a hunter who got killed by the monster in the opening scene. But when [writer-director] Tom Chaney and I realized how cool and fun he was to work with and what he brought to the character, we decided to make Ron one of the film's leads and keep his character alive until the end of the film. And whenever we'd run into a problem, we'd just put Ron in the scene and we'd get something cool.
When I got the chance to direct Mosquito, one of the first things I did was cast Ron as Hendricks, the park ranger, which was written especially for him. And Ron made a meal out of it. Many times I would need another gag or more dialogue — and Ron would pace a little and then come back with an idea. No matter what the situation, you could count on him to find the humor in it and get you laughing. If it was cold on the set, Ron showed up with coffee for the crew. If we didn't have money for lunch, Ron would dig into his wallet. If an actor needed off-camera lines, Ron would jump in to do them. He loved being a filmmaker and being on the set.
After I moved from Michigan to "chase the dream" in L.A., Ron would make it out several times a year and stay at my house. We would stay up all night, smoking cigars, drinking martinis and writing screenplays. I would come up with a scene and Ron would act out all the roles. I'd ask him what would this guy say and Ron would get into character and ramble on some of the funniest shit ever. In the middle of us laughing our asses off, Ron would deadpan, "Write that down," and I would then try desperately to get it all on paper.
In addition to his music. Ron will live on forever in the movies and I feel very fortunate to have made a few with him. I'll miss ya, partner. When we get together to write our next screenplay, remember to have a good cigar and a martini waiting.
GILBY CLARKE, GUNS 'N' ROSES/MC5/ROCSTAR SUPERNOVA GUITARIST
Back in the '70s, when I was learning to play guitar, I didn't have the luxury of taking lessons. Instead, I just picked up riffs from whatever was on my record player at that time. Even though I liked the rock royalty of my youth, like KISS, Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith, there was a kid at my school who had an older brother who turned us on to the Velvet Underground. That music was hypnotizing. The Velvets led me to the other proto-punk bands, including, of course, the Stooges. What guitarists like Ron Asheton were doing with their guitars was something I could actually relate to, especially with my lack of theory and training. I like to call it "manic aggression" and "punk rock blooze." I love that kind of guitar playing. Ron's borderline out-of-control rhythms mixed with tight blues licks remain the very foundation of punk rock.
CHRIS TAYLOR, BASSIST, POWERTRANE
Ron Asheton was my guitar hero. His playing style, his story and Ann Arbor roots influenced me more than any other guitar player. I am very honored to have performed with him on several occasions when he sat in with Powertrane. I hatched a plan in early 2001 to reunite Ron with [Australian punk guitar legend] Deniz Tek, my other guitar hero, and have them play with Scott Morgan, his friend since they were kids, and Powertrane. We did a short tour and sold out three shows at the Blind Pig — the last one included Mitch Ryder on the bill.
One day, out the blue, Ron called me and asked if he could use the Powertrane rehearsal space. He and his brother, Scott, were going to play some big festival in L.A. with J. Mascis and Mike Watt and they needed to get ready for it. I told him, of course, he could. Then he said I could come sit in on bass with them for rehearsal. I was thrilled, to say the least. Shortly after that, the real Stooges got back together. I saw Ron around then and he was super happy and excited. He was never a stuck-up rock star. Not once. I was very happy for him and that the Stooges finally got the respect they deserved. And in 2007, on April 13, Powertrane opened their show in Detroit at the Fox Theatre, all thanks to Ron's help. The last time I talked to Ron was after they played for Madonna at the Hall of Fame induction. He told me that he had a good time but that it was sort of silly and strange. Ron Asheton was my guitar hero and I'll always be thankful for his friendship and the time I got to spend with him.
J. MASCIS, DINOSAUR JR. FOUNDER, MUSICIAN, FRIEND
Ron was my guitar hero. When I started playing guitar at 17, the first Stooges album was the best guitar sound I heard and the playing was not so fast or crazy that it seemed unattainable. I could relate to his style and copied a lot of it as I was learning to play. When I started recording, the first Stooges album was always the benchmark of the ultimate guitar sound I wanted. I first got to meet Ron in a New York studio where he was recording with Mike Watt, Thurston [Moore] and Don Fleming. I was star-struck! A few years later, I was playing with Watt and we had a gig in Ann Arbor. We were doing some Stooges songs so I asked Watt to call Ron and ask him to come jam with us. It was awesome! I was getting to play with my guitar hero. Ron then came along and played a bunch of gigs with us and I felt like the apprentice being shown the very secrets of Stooges' guitar playing — the real way to play those classic riffs. It's something I'll never forget. Ron was a great, fun guy too. It's always scary to meet your idols. They could turn out to be total dicks. But Ron definitely wasn't. It's like a dream being able to say he was my friend. I'll miss you, Ron.
MIKE WATT, STOOGES BASSIST, 2003-2009
I owe him so much. Number one, just for the opportunity to actually be a Stooge. And then just for forming the Stooges, which meant so much to so many. Getting to play with him, looking across and seeing the guitar man from the Stooges playing with me was mind-blowing! It was a dream come true — and he used to tell me that a lot [laughs]. Because I was always foaming and so happy to be playing with him.
I'd gotten very sick — tubes in my arms; the first time I couldn't play bass. When I finally got well, I was freaked out because my fingers had atrophied. So I started playing along to the Stooges' albums to get my fingers and my rhythm and my music back in shape. Because there's not a lot of chord changes involved. So, ironically, I was putting together some Stooges [tribute] bands in L.A. and New York just to play during that time. I could barely stand but I needed to get back on the horse. Right after that, J. [Mascis] released his solo album and asked me to go on tour. After Ron joined us, the first part of the show was J.'s tunes and the second part was all Stooges stuff. [Sonic Youth's] Thurston [Moore] was curator of the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in L.A. and said, "Why don't you get Scott [Asheton] to play drums and do a Stooges tribute?" So that was the first time I got to watch the brothers play together and it was incredible. Ron was a team player. He was a great guitarist but he was concerned with how the band sounded as a whole. He was a great listener and very generous as a musician; he wanted to play along with you. It really takes a giving person to play like that.
We ended up doing some gigs in Europe and I think that's probably when Iggy heard about the brothers playing together again. Not long after that, Ronnie told me that Iggy had called and wanted them to do some songs with him. Then, in 2003, they got the offer to do Coachella. I'd played with Iggy one time before, at the [British] Short List Awards in L.A., so I'd played with all three of them. It sounds conceited to say I had anything to do with them getting back together because I have so much respect for those cats. But I think part of it had to do with guys like me and J. and Thurston and all the punk kids who grew up loving the Stooges finally coming of age and having bands and it was just sort of like it was meant to happen.
I was on another tour but flew in to play Coachella and got sick on the plane on the way there. So there I am, sitting in a room with all three of them. Wow! It was really intense seeing the incredible communication they immediately had with each other. Ig had huge respect for the Asheton brothers, especially their playing. But I was so sick for that gig, with a fever. Playing at rehearsals with what felt like a pool stick up my ass. People were hugging me, trying to get me to stop shaking. [Red Hot Chili Pepper] Flea knew a nurse who gave me a shot of vitamin B right before I went onstage and that stopped me from shaking. But when I was finally onstage with them, I felt every five seconds like I was going to get lost because I was tripping from the fact that I was actually playing with them and trying to stay focused! But that one gig was so intense that it kicked that sickness right out of me. And then being on tour with them for the next five-and-a-half years ... well, talk about being able to go to the well and just taking buckets from it. What an education!
When we were working on the tracks for The Weirdness, I'd stay with him in Ann Arbor. And he always made sure I had my own little pad in his house, all the comforts, my own chair. And he'd sit there and just rap to me for hours. He was a very, very interesting man. Just a beautiful, beautiful guy [voice cracks]. He called once just to thank me for getting him out there again. But I thought it was justice to see him get the recognition and be out there playing. Before the reunion, the Stooges had only done one overseas gig — the Raw Power show in London. So Ronnie got to take that music all over the world.
GRISHIN ALEXANDER AND YAKUPOVA ANASTACIA, RUSSIAN FANS
We've just found out about Ron Asheton's death. Jesus! It was he who put us on the guest list during the Stooges' concert in Moscow. We express our deep condolences. We are really very sorry. We are listening to Destroy All Monsters and the Stooges all day long today. We are with you, in spite of 1,000 miles and the cold Russian winter that separates us. We hope you feel the warmth of our hearts. You should know that even on the other side of the ocean, there are two crazy fellows that really love your music!
He'd say, "Sometimes, I feel like an old blues guy sitting on my porch and now all these kids want to learn my sound and hear my stories." I remember he only had one request for me and that was to not wear flannel [shirts] onstage. [Laughs] "You guys stole that from John Fogerty anyway." I said, "What about Levis and Converse?" He said, "That's strong!" [Laughs] But whenever those guys told me anything, I listened. Because they had perspective. These were the guys who made Stooges music so I don't question anything they have to say.
When we were finally putting the album together and I was staying with Ronnie, the pressure was really on me and I was pretty stressed. It was a pressure cooker because I knew I had to play my very best for these guys. The very last day that we were working on the album, Flaming Lips and Sonic Youth came to Detroit. So I went to the gig and got together with those guys, my friends ... and ended up drinking about a half gallon of whiskey. I got back to Ronnie's, and I puked a little in the driveway — well, actually, I puked a lot! [Laughs] It was all over my jeans and flannel. So I go up to my little pad and Ronnie comes in. He gets me out of my clothes, puts me in the tub and washes me off, then gets me in bed, makes sure I'm all right and won't choke on my own vomit or anything like that. He totally took care of me. Another time, he helped me come up with a bass solo. Because people forget that Ronnie was a righteous bass player himself. He was just a giving cat. Time after time after time, he shared so much with me. I'm going to miss him so much. [Voice cracks] Sorry I'm not more together but this is just really, really hard.
MATTHEW SMITH, OUTRAGEOUS CHERRY
I met Ron for the first time at the Nectarine Ballroom/Second Chance in Ann Arbor at a Replacements show. He was a really nice guy, very upbeat. The next time I saw him was 20 years later. Outrageous Cherry was flying to New York for a gig and Ron was flying there to play at Little Steven's garage rock festival. We talked before the flight and also again in New York while waiting at the airport for the flight back to Detroit. I saw the Stooges' set at the festival, which was totally amazing, so I asked Ron if he'd had a chance to see any of the other acts, like the Electric Prunes or Nancy Sinatra. He told me he hadn't. He said he'd isolated himself in a trailer all day with his guitar, just to be able to concentrate without any distractions so he'd be in the right frame of mind to go onstage with the Stooges. He said he needed to do this for every gig. This is how Ron prepared for "battle" ... which is what it must have literally been for the band, back in the early '70s. Anyway, I never did get the chance to tell Ron how much I'd been mesmerized and influenced by his unusual guitar style. Ron Asheton's riffs and solos still sound futuristic to my ears today.
CHRISTOPHER WUJEK, STOOGES ROADIE
Ron was like a favorite uncle or maybe even my "rock 'n' roll father." Out on tour, he was very generous and always made sure everyone was taken care of. He always made me feel appreciated and never had a huge rock star ego. He always made you feel like his equal. I flew a lot with him because we were both leaving from Detroit, and he'd always try to get me bumped up to business class so we could hang out. And we'd have dinner together and share drinks at the bar.
After driving the equipment truck from Ann Arbor to Montreal — the same truck that was eventually stolen in Montreal — he bought me a $100 glass of McCallan 30-year-old Scotch whisky to thank me. He was very easy to work for and never demanded much, but he was always hilarious when it was time to head to the airport. He was afraid we'd miss the plane and be stranded. He'd pace outside the hotel, shouting "Let's go ... this is crazy!" Even if we were three hours early! I'm so lucky I was a part of the tour. I'm so lucky that I got to play with him and the rest of the Stooges at rehearsals and sound checks. And I'm very, very lucky that I got to call such a great and influential man my friend.
ROBERT MATHEU, PHOTOGRAPHER, BIOGRAPHER, FRIEND
We were in London in August 2005 when the Stooges were slated to play the Leeds and Reading festivals as well as playing Fun House in its entirety at the Don't Look Back festival. The Stooges had a few days off. We were hanging at the Langham Hotel and Ron suggested dinner in the posh hotel restaurant through the lobby. We were seated, ordered dinner and yet more martinis, which we'd already started drinking earlier in the day. We were watching an older Japanese couple who'd come into the restaurant and were waiting to be seated. The man waited politely while the maître d' showed the woman to their table and as the man turned blindly to follow, he was knocked over cold unconscious by a swinging door. He fell flat on his back, just like in a movie that might have featured those other Stooges.
Well, Ronnie jumped to his feet and ran over. People were shouting in different languages but he took control and commanded the waiters: "Get something to prop up his head! Cold compresses. Stand back and give him air!" He had the staff hopping left and right, as he administered care. After everything settled and the man regained consciousness, his wife, in deep gratitude, looked up at Ron and said, "Oh, thank you, sir! Are you a doctor?" Ron composed himself, turned to her, while buttoning his jacket before returning to our table, and almost indignantly replied, "No ma'am. I'm a musician."
AUGIE VISCOCCHI, THE HARD LESSONS
I met Ron backstage at Meadow Brook Music Theatre in the summer of 2007, when we opened for the Stooges. Now, I'm young enough where I can't really remember a time when the Stooges weren't celebrated rock 'n' roll legends or when Ron Asheton wasn't a bona fide guitar hero. At sound check that afternoon, I was surprised when the Stooges abruptly stopped and walked off stage. Had we gotten there late? No, this was just a band still completely raw and rabid after all those years. "Are the amps working? Then turn them up to 10 and we'll have a rock show! No need to waste any more time."
There's a picture of [wife and bandmate] Korin and me with Ron after the show and I look like a kid opening a Christmas present. Or, rather, a music fan standing in awe of someone who changed the face of rock 'n' roll by attacking it at its foundation. He looked like one of my friend's dads, but he had an air about him that was eternally youthful and dangerous. He chatted us up for a good 10 minutes about playing guitar, playing bass on Raw Power and touring the globe while wrecking mayhem every step of the way. Iggy had split in a limo by that time. But Ron stayed on the side stage patio under the stars with a small group of folks including Leni Sinclair, Mike Watt and Chris Wujek. He was home in Michigan.
BEN EDMONDS, ROCK CRITIC AND FRIEND
Back in the day, musicians denigrated Ron's playing because it wasn't somehow "musicianly" enough. But since "musicians" tend to know less about rock 'n' roll than your average 7-Eleven cashier, I always figured Ron could wear their contempt as a badge of honor. Anybody who loved rock 'n' roll loved Ron's guitar. It's as simple as that. His playing will always be with us; what I'll miss most about the man is his kindness. He was a down-to-earth dude with a good heart. Like Rob Tyner in the MC5, Ron was a voice of decency and sanity in his band under what could be some pretty horrific circumstances. With fans, he was approachable, considerate and appreciative — qualities one seldom associates with rockstardom. Whether you were a bandmate or a fan or a friend, you couldn't ask for better than Ron Asheton. So while I'm saddened by the passing of another friend too soon, I'm also glad that the last few years brought him the opportunity to feel some of the tremendous affection and esteem that people had for him — as man and musician — before he left us. Adios, amigo.
MARSHALL CRENSHAW, POP LEGEND AND DETROIT MUSIC HISTORIAN
I have no memory of the conversation I had with Ron Asheton the one time we were in the same room together — backstage after my Ann Arbor gig in 1982. So I can't say that I knew him. But I was, and will remain, a big fan. For my money he was one of the greatest rock musicians ever, bar none. There's a cerebral side to the Stooges' music; they named John Coltrane and Harry Partch as primary influences, and you can always hear that in Ron Asheton's playing. But as great as he is on the Elektra Stooges records — and that's as great as it gets — I think he got better over the years. In particular I'm thinking of "Dead End Street" from the Beyond Cyberpunk CD that was produced by Wayne Kramer. Ron's playing on that track really takes your mind on a trip and it's such an onslaught. It sounds like 10 people playing.
I hate that he died because he was a guy around my age, the sane one in the band (from what I've read), still relatively young and totally vital. It stinks, and what a huge loss for rock 'n' roll.
IGGY POP (OFFICIAL STATEMENT)
I am in shock. He was my best friend.
THE STOOGES (OFFICIAL STATEMENT)
We are shocked and shaken by the news of Ron's death. He was a great friend, brother, musician, trooper. Irreplaceable. He will be missed.
For all that knew him behind the facade of Mr. Cool & Quirky, he was a kindhearted, genuine, warm person who always believed that people meant well even if they did not.
As a musician Ron was the Guitar God idol to follow and inspire others. That is how he will be remembered by people who had a great pleasure to work with him, learn from him and share good and bad times with him.
—Iggy, Scott, Steve, Mike and Crew
Bill Holdship is music editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
Niagara and the Colonel are hosting a tribute show to Asheton, "Ronnie ... Thanks A Million," on Saturday, Jan. 17, at 9 p.m. at the Music Hall in downtown Detroit. Free admission but attendees are encouraged to donate what they can to help cover the night's expenses and Ron's favorite charity, the Michigan Humane Society. Go to myspace.com/niagara or musichall.org for more info. Music Hall, 350 Madison, Detroit, MI 48226; 313-887-8500.