february 2009

Crossing Over

By Billy Altman

Ron Asheton, Prince of (Raw) Power

July 17, 1948-January 6, 2009

The new year has scarcely started and already we've got a major music loss to report: guitarist Ron Asheton, a founding member of American punk pioneers the Stooges, was found dead on January 6 at his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was 60.

Police were summoned to Asheton's house by his personal assistant, who had been unable to reach him for several days. Responding officers discovered him in his bedroom looking "fairly peaceful," and while an autopsy will be performed, there were no signs of any foul play or drug use; the likely cause is a heart attack.

There was no such term as punk rock when Asheton, his drummer brother Scott, bassist Dave Alexander and vocalist Jim Osterberg—aka Iggy Pop—formed the Stooges in the University of Michigan college town of Ann Arbor in 1967. To say that they quickly stood out against the hippie counterculture backdrop of the day is beyond understatement. While others sang about peace, love and understanding, the Stooges were voicing the cry of confused, frustrated and alienated youth everywhere with in-your-face anthems like "Not Right," "No Fun" and "I Wanna Be Your Dog." Released right around the time of Woodstock in the summer of '69, the band's self-titled debut album, as well as its followups Funhouse (1970) and Raw Power (1973) would become touchstones for virtually all who'd later come down the punk pike—or for that matter the grunge one, too.

True, the early Stooges got most of their notoriety due to frontman Iggy's outrageous onstage antics, which included everything from smearing peanut butter across his bare chest and writhing on the ground through broken glass to diving headfirst into stunned audiences. But it was Asheton's sledge (and sludge) hammer lead guitar (and on Raw Power, bass) that served as the sonic battering ram for the Stooges' music, from the anarchy-r-us wah-wah pedal on "1969" and the hellbent chords of "Dog" to the thunderstruck riffs of "TV Eye" and "Loose."

While the Stooges broke up in 1974, Iggy Pop's long-running solo career, as well as the band's influential legacy, kept their music alive. That ultimately led to a 2003 reformation that, as of the end of 2008 and a just-completed European tour, was finally furnishing the band its long-deserved worldwide props. For Asheton, who'd stayed on the periphery in a variety of punk and hard rock bands over the years between Stooges tours of duty, it was especially sweet: the man, after all, ranked 29 on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.

In tribute to Ron Asheton, then, here are two versions of "TV Eye" to show just how endlessly fiercesome a player he was—one from a nationally televised Cincinnati show way back in 1970, and the other from a 2004 performance in, of all places, Serbia.

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