A tribute to Scott Asheton

March 17, 2014
Scott Asheton (far left) with the Stooges.

Scott Asheton (far left) with the Stooges.

I’m not going to pretend that I knew Scott Asheton well, let alone that I was his friend. When people die, particularly famous people, the woodwork will overflow with those referring to the fallen one as a “friend,” a “buddy,” or, worse, “a brother-in-arms.” I hardly knew Rock, but I worked with him and I liked him.

I wrote a biography of the Stooges in 2007, while still living in England. I interviewed Ron Asheton extensively but Scott didn’t want to get involved because, I was told, he didn’t like doing interviews. A couple of years later, and I was living in Detroit and planning a second, US edition of the book (The Stooges: Head On) for Wayne State University Press. Ron had passed away and James Williamson had returned to the Stooges ranks. The band was continuing to tour, playing Raw Power-era material, and it had finally been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I had some additions to make to the US edition of the book, and this time Scott agreed to speak with me. I was expecting a guarded, difficult conversation. In fact, Scott opened up; about the loss of his brother and the conflicted feelings he had about the band carrying on, among other things. It was still a difficult conversation but not in the way that I had expected; Scott was very emotional that day and I’m told that he rarely spoke so openly to people that he didn’t know. I’ll be forever grateful that Scott Asheton felt comfortable enough with me, and I wish that I’d had the opportunity to know him better. Both Scott and Ron Asheton, like Michael Davis of the MC5, were very gracious with me during my book research, and I’ll always remember the conversations. Here are some highlights:

What inspired you to first pick up sticks?
“It was at school, for the band. The teachers would look over the class and decide what everyone would play. The overweight guys would play the big horns, and the athletic guys would get the drums. So I was kind of told that would be playing the snare drum. That’s how it started. At some stage, I wanted to switch to guitar but my mom wouldn’t let me. She said ‘you chose, you picked the drums, now stick with it’.”

You’ve played with some great bass players…
“Ron’s my favorite bass player. Dave is really important to the band. It’s important that the drummer and the bass player get along. A lot of times, it’s what I mostly what I listen to. Except when Ron was playing guitar, I listened mostly to his guitar playing. But they’re all good bass players.”

The sound on Fun House differed to that on the first album…
“We recorded it live, everyone in the same room and Iggy singing in the same room. That’s kinda not the way it’s done in the studio. Usually, everyone’s isolated in different rooms. A lot of the feel and a lot of the way it turned out had a lot to do with the fact that we recorded it live in the studio. As a drummer, I always get better. I still get better. I’ll always be working on things. Most musicians are never really totally satisfied with what they can play. We’re always looking for something better, something to make it easier or something to make it harder.”

Was Raw Power an odd experience for you and Ron?
“We were out, and then we were told that they couldn’t find anybody else. Then I think it kind of surfaced that they actually didn’t try anybody else. I got along fine with James back then. The reason the whole thing happened in the first place was that he had a girlfriend whose mother was a lawyer, and he had her draw up a contract saying that himself and Jim were the leaders of the band. We found that kind of hard to believe. This was something that me and my brother had worked at for years. It was more our band than it was James’. We were going to be put in a side-man position in our own band.
We met Bowie. He was afraid of us. He just appeared extremely nervous and he didn’t want to talk to us. He had much interest in Iggy but none of the rest of the band.”

Recording the Skull Ring tracks – did it feel like old times?
“It didn’t feel like old times. Things were different. That’s another story though. We were called in to record a couple of songs for that album. We were in the studio in Miami, and we had a couple of ideas and just drew them down. The plan then was to come back in two weeks and record them. I got a phone call saying that they were just going to take my practice material and release that. So the songs never had a chance to be worked out, never had a chance to be played right, and from that day on, whenever I’m in a studio, I play everything like it’s the final take. Because I was just screwing around and searching for ideas. That’s what turned out to be released. That was weird.”

Are you happy with the way The Weirdness came out?
“It didn’t get a great response. I think it lacked enthusiasm and it didn’t have a feel that you could say ‘that’s the Stooges’. You might have to read the label and try to figure out who the band is. The idea was to make it more raw, more Stooges-sounding, but it didn’t get there.”

When did the Stooges decide to carry on with James Williamson?
“It wasn’t an immediate decision. We kicked around ideas of guitar players that wanted to do it. Iggy and James were not even on speaking terms. They’d both had run ins in the past, one particular big one in the studio. From then on, James and Iggy hadn’t even spoke. Iggy was thinking that the best way it would work would be if James was in the band, but he didn’t know if he would be able to deal with James. As it turned out, they’re getting along fine. Basically, James and Iggy are pretty much running the show.”

What do think Ronnie would think of this band?
“Not much. He would probably not want to have anything to do with it. That bothers me. I try to get over it and not let it beat me up too much. I really miss playing with my brother.”

The Stooges are finally in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame…
“I feel like I’m getting pulled in two directions. I’m glad we’re there, and then I don’t feel right that Ron couldn’t get there before he died. I have mixed feelings about it.”

These are memories that I’ll cherish. Scott Asheton was a great drummer, and he’s left behind an impressive body of work in the shape of those Stooges records, and also some awesome Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, Scott Morgan, Dark Carnival and Sonny Vincent tunes. Want to remember Rock? Just push play.

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