Scott Asheton was the greatest thug-rocker who ever lived. He was the ultimate hoodlum, standing outside of Discount Records in Ann Arbor, Michigan, spitting on cars. He passed away just over a week ago, so I dug up this old conversation, one of the...
Scott Asheton was the greatest thug-rocker who ever lived. As the drummer for Iggy and the Stooges, Scott, who passed away just over a week ago, at age 64, was a third of the best punk band that ever existed (his brother Ron, who passed away in 2009, was its guitarist). As Iggy said of Scotty, “The record company must have thought, ‘These guys are maniacs: The singer attacks the audience. They’re all loaded. They don’t communicate nicely with us. The drummer won’t even talk to us; he won’t talk to the manager.' [Scott would] grunt, say, ‘Uh-huh,' like a juvenile-delinquent kid: ‘Don’t talk to me… grrr… grrr…’”
Scotty was the ultimate hoodlum, who stood outside Discount Records, in Ann Arbor, spitting on cars. When Gillian McCain and I conducted the interviews for Please Kill Me, we knew we had to include Scotty, since he was such an iconic figure in the history of punk. His brother Ron usually did the talking for the Stooges' side of the story, and after we exhausted Ron, we set our sights on Scotty. This is one of the few times he ever sat down for such an extended interview. We were honored that he did.
SUITS AND TIES
Actually, the way the whole thing began was with me and Dave Alexander and my brother Ron, before we even knew Iggy. We had a band, but we weren't players yet. We liked the idea of playing in a band, but we weren't up to being able to play on stage. Mostly, we would sit in the basement and sing along with records. We almost got one song semi-down, and that was “The Bells of Rhymney” by the Byrds. And we called ourselves the Dirty Shames.
We used to go uptown to the record store, Discount Records, and there was a spot right on the corner or Lilly and State Street and we’d hangout there. Everyone would have to come through there, so we’d check everyone out and be checked out by other people.
It's a kid thing—that's why you wear purple hair, and that's why you put a ring in your nose, 'cause you want people to look at you. So we were wearing leather and boots and Levi’s. Pointed shoes were what you wanted—the more pointed and longer, the better. They were mostly used in fights—that’s why guys used to wear big, pointy shoes, and originally the idea of leather was to protect you from knives and stuff. And we were already wearing that stuff; you know, we were the first to do it.
All the bands—the Beatles and even the Stones—used to wear suits and ties. Mitch Ryder wore a suit and tie; the Rationals wore sports jackets. Everything was dressy, dressy, dressy. The MC5 used to have girls to make em clothes—make 'em these big silky outfits, you know? And we used to say, "Well, they're a great band, but man, those clothes!”
We didn't like the way those guys dressed. We thought they were too overdressed. The idea of everyone wearing suits and even ties just didn't seem to fit—it was just so square, you know?
The thing is, when you had a good pair of good-fitting jeans, and they got a hole in the knee, most other people would say, “Well, I can't wear 'em...”
We'd say, “Well that's a good pair of jeans; I don't care if it has a holed knee.” It was mostly me and Iggy who started that. And then the T-shirt thing—we'd be sitting around, and everyone would have their own individual little hash pipe, and after sitting and smoking it for a while, something would get funny, somebody would laugh, and we'd blow out a chunk of hash, and it landed on your T-shirt and burned a hole in it.
And we’d say, “One of my favorite T-shirts, it's got a hole in it now, but I don't care, I’ll wear it anyhow!"
So that's where the whole holey T-shirt fad came from, and we wore kinda ripped-up clothes, with holes in our T-shirts.
Iggy was in this blues band, the Prime Movers, and they were the hottest band in Ann Arbor. They used to do all the frat parties, and there used to be this old blues club, in the Black part of Ann Arbor, on Ann Street, called the Quince Club. And the Prime Movers would go down there, play to an all-Black audience, and later beatniks and early hippies would come down there too.
Iggy was playing drums before that, in the Iguanas, which is where he got the name Iggy—but he kinda fell outta that because they also wore shirts and ties, you know; they had that Young Rascals look. And the guys in the Iguanas were wanting to go to college and stuff. Iggy ended up going for a semester and a half to University of Michigan, but he started hanging around older people, like Michael and Danny Erlewine, who were the Prime Movers. And that broke up the Iguanas.
I became friendly with Iggy when he was in the Prime Movers. I'd walk right up and talk to him because he was a good drummer. Iggy, he had this style of playing where he could, like, get real low and droop his tongue out, and he'd be doing pretty elaborate bell and snare checks—with his tongue hanging out and his hair hanging in his eyes. He’d be wearing short pants and be barefoot, just kind of like this little wild man, and he was great. The girls used to just love him, man. It used to amaze me to watch the girl’s reaction to him. He could walk down the street and have five girls following him—and convince them all to come with him at the same time.
The Prime Movers did mostly Paul Butterfield covers, and they'd do some Otis Rush and some Little Walker. The Prime Movers were what the college crowd was listening to at that time, so many people would be out there dancing. The house would be jam-packed, people hanging out the windows, beer all over the floor, and the place would be shaking, man. You thought they'd fall through the floor.
The Prime Movers had this bass player, but he couldn't make some gigs, so my brother, Ron, was playing bass with them—and that’s how we got to know Iggy more. I’d go over to the Erlewine brothers' practice house and start talking to Iggy. But Dave Alexander and I were kind of mad at Ron, because he'd left our band to join the Prime Movers. My brother had the real gig, and we weren’t doing anything, but then the Prime Movers eventually broke up.
So Iggy moved to Chicago to take drum lessons from Sam Lay and had some experiences there, and then came back to Ann Arbor after a couple of months. Iggy was taking some asthma medication, which he admitted loving, he said it made him feel good—and I think he was starting to get pretty far out, started doing stuff like lying down on the sidewalk and counting the cracks. And it would just blow the minds of the people walking by. Iggy was also listening to this guy called Harry Parch; I think he got it outta the library. It was this music that was totally non-music—like things slamming, and someone banging on gongs or a piano, and then Harry would moan, just moan, a whole album like that—and Iggy thought it was great. He’d go, "Listen to this stuff…"
And we'd go, “What the hell is that?”
He’d say, “It's Harry Parch. I really love it!”
You know, there was nothing to love—it wasn't music; it was just a bunch of wild maniac stuff. Iggy also liked Cab Calloway and Screamin' Jay Hawkins, two Black guys that were great entertainers, and very big influences on him.
THE FIRST STOOGES SHOW
I was kicked out of my house by the time I was 17, which was fine with me. I was living at the SRC (Scot Richard Case) band house, over on Broadway. I had drums set up over there, and I was jamming with those guys when they weren't playing. And one day my brother and Iggy came over, and Ron said, "Wanna start a band? Iggy wants you to play drums. Wanna do it?"
I said, "Yeah, sure."
Even though we loved the Yardbirds and Stones and MC5, we couldn't play that shit, you know? And we just wanted to do something totally different—I think LSD helped shaped our style. I wasn't a big acid fan myself; I’d taken acid about ten times. Iggy took it more, and Dave took it a lot more. But after we first tripped at the Forest Court House, we started liking and feeling good about playing.
Our first gig, at the Grande Ballroom, was when we were living on that farm, and I didn't sleep for three days, I was so nervous about the first gig. The night before, Iggy had shaved off his eyebrows. We had a friend that had a nervous condition and lost his hair and he had no eyebrows, and his name was Jim Pop. So I looked at him and said, "You look like Jim Pop."
So we started calling him Pop, and that's were Iggy Pop came from.
At the Grande Ballroom, Iggy took a woman's bathing cap and stuck all these strips of aluminum foil around it to make a wig out of it. Then he rubbed his face with baby oil and took glitter and just threw it on his face. He had a tutu on with black tights and a metal plate on the floor with a microphone on it, and he’d stomp on that with the one golf show he was wearing. It was real hot in the ballroom that night, and he started sweating—and that’s when realized what you need eyebrows for, 'cause everything on his face just started running into his eyes. We only played for 20 minutes, but at the end, his eyes were swollen up and totally red and puffy—'cause all that oil and glitter went right in his eyes. It was nasty.
Iggy was playing a Hawaiian guitar, my brother was playing a fuzz bass, and Dave was playing an amp at full volume with the reverb so it was making huge explosions. I had two 50-gallon oil drums with DayGlo paint all over 'em, with two wooden bass-drum beaters with contact mikes on the drums, and every time I had to hit that drum—it was the loudest, most outrageous, obnoxious drilling sound you'd ever heard in your life. It was driving people crazy—Iggy stomping on the metal with his golf shoe and Dave crashing the amp and the fuzz-tone Hawaiian guitar—people didn't know what to think.
There was just silence at the end of the show.
Oh, man, people didn't know what to do. John Sinclair, the manager of the MC5, was just standing there with his mouth wide open. A lot of people didn't like it—and those were the people who started showing up at every gig. They'd love to start yelling stuff to get a response, 'cause Iggy would tell 'em to fuck off. And they'd sit out there, going, “Hey, man, this is great. We're having fun; we're being entertained!"
This was not like coming to see a band wearing suits and ties, you know?
PEANUT BUTTER AND HAMBURGER
I liked the way the band was, before the Stooges got “discovered” by Danny Fields and Elektra Records. Nobody knew what was gonna happen; nobody knew how it was gonna end. That's the way we played—until we got this little riff, and then we’d go, “OK, that's it. Let's play it…”
We never tried to make it sound like a song at all. To me, that's the band that was the greatest, before we got so-called "discovered," because after that they told us, "We love you guys, but we can't put out an album of this stuff. There's no way that we can convey to people what you are, on record…"
Basically, what they were saying was that we had to write new songs. And those songs that were written for Elektra Records—it wasn't the band. The band that people found out to be the Stooges had totally changed at that point, and to me, it wasn’t for the better. If we had a chance of being who we really were, I think it would have been much different, man. But like my brother says, "These songs have made you a lot of money."
If we ever have a chance to do a reunion thing, I would like to have the band be more like we originally wanted it to be. To this day, no one has ever come close to sounding like we did when we first started. The songs we’d written for the first album were written at the Chelsea Hotel, in room 100, which was the same room where Sid Vicious supposedly knifed Nancy Spungen. We wrote “Little Doll,” “Not Right,” and “Real Cool Time,” and I had my drum sticks on the bed, and my brother had his little pig-nosed amp with his guitar, and we were just sitting there playing it—until it sounded OK. We wrote the lyrics right there on the spot, and we went in the next day and recorded them, and we never even played them in the band room before that.
After the first Stooges record came out, every time we'd go to New York, we'd play Max's Kansas City. When Iggy cut himself, I think we were doing a week and a half at Max’s, and Iggy picked up some broken glass and cut himself. I'd broken a drumstick, and he found it on the floor and he scraped himself with that too—but that wasn't the first time that he'd done something like that. It started at the Cincinnati Pop Festival, where that famous photo comes from—where he's walking on the people's hands. He had taken two jars of peanut butter and a couple pounds of hamburger on stage with him—and he broke out the peanut butter and started smearing it all over himself. And then he started tossing the hamburger out in the audience.
That's where he got into doing stuff to himself, and I think the first time he actually cut himself, he must have thought, "Oh, shit, I forgot to bring something. I don't have anything to do, I gotta do something now, I gotta do something…"
So he picked up a drumstick and scratched himself. He didn't open it up, but scratched himself deeply, to where you would go, "Oh, no, look at that! Oh, wow!"
After the first album, we didn't get much recognition, and sales weren't going great either. We felt like we were not really getting much push. And the MC5, who signed with Elektra Records at the same time we did, felt the same way. They were saying, “Electra is just lying on their butts; they're not promoting it.”
So they got a buyout deal; they split Electra to get signed with Atlantic Records. We were contracted for three albums, so after the first one, Electra decides we're gonna do the second album in their LA studios, so we head out there. We rehearsed for months, working on material, and then got in the studio and did it. Everyone played live. Iggy sang the same time the band was playing, and I'm not sure if we even did much overdubbing on it at all. The producer was good, Don Gallucci, from Little Donnie and the Sweethearts, or Little Donnie and the Dynamics, or Little Donnie and Something.
It was real nice to be out West. We started playing the Whiskey, and we were starting to get more people come to the shows. So we head up to San Francisco, and we play all the big West Coast concert halls—we did the Fillmore, the Avalon—and we start selling more records. The shows are getting bigger, and we're getting more money.
So we’re contracted for one more album with Electra, but Iggy got it in his mind, 'cause he always used to look up to the MC5 guys, that he didn't want to do any more with Electra. And instead of having someone ready to buy the band's contract out, Iggy decides to break the contract, which really screwed stuff up. All we had to do was one more album to complete the contract, but when we signed the contract, Elektra asked that there be one member of the band that could speak for everybody, and when we signed, we didn't realize we were giving Iggy “power of attorney,” so without consulting me and my brother or Dave, Iggy decides to break the band up. We had nothing to say about it, you know?
We didn't know what was happening.
So after the second album, we went back to Michigan, and that's when the band actually broke contract—and that's when James Williamson came on the scene.
James was the original guitar player for the Chosen Few, Scott Richardson’s first band, and that’s how I first met him. But he had girlfriend problems or problems at home, so he couldn't play in the band, so they got somebody else, and he disappeared for a while. James was a cool guy, but he really got into that DET crap that was around, you know; he used to smoke that chemical shit that was real nasty.
Anyway, when we came back to Michigan from LA, we moved into the Packard House, which was the mansion with all the different apartments in it. We called it “Stooge Manor,” and this was the pad, man! Everyone had their own apartment—a complete apartment in the house. And we had a big rehearsal space and four-car garage—it was really nice. But then James moved from Birmingham to Ann Arbor; he’d gotten an apartment, and we were going over there now and then to see him.
So James was in town, and, sorry to say it, I was the one who suggested that we have him play some guitar in the band, to kinda liven things up. Eventually James was the downfall of the band. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
James ended up taking over as guitar, and because we were no longer under contract and we weren't doing that many gigs, the band sort of staggered for a couple months, and then our manager split, and the business end started coming undone.
I can't remember how it all happened, but there was a new interest from Columbia Records. See, Iggy had gone over to England with David Bowie and then called me and Ron up and asked us if we wanted to play with him, but he said it would be Ron playing the bass and James playing lead guitar.
I just viewed Iggy’s offer as a sign that the the band was back together, you know?
I wasn't thinking, “Hey, I'm not signed. I'm just a side man,” you know?
Anyway, we went to England and had a real nice place on Seymour Walk in South Kensington. I remember the first time we met David Bowie—he came over the house, and he had two chicks with him, a White chick and a Black chick, and he was just so nervous, so freaked out. We were all sitting around smoking hash, drinking some wine and just relaxing. And Bowie, he came in like a wild animal in a cage, just totally flipping out! Really, really nervous—and later we found out that he was afraid of us, ha, ha, ha!
We saw Bowie at the Main Man office; sometimes we’d go up there and just hang out and talk to the secretaries. I actually got one of Bowie's secretaries—she scratched the hell outta my back. And I got a waitress down at the pub, and the cook. That was about it.
And Bowie would come through there now and then. He was touring, pretty big-time with The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars band, and that was a smash hit, man. They played the hell out of that album when it first came out, before he even got to America.
So we left England and went to LA, and we got this place on top of the Hollywood Hills, a cool house with a swimming pool on Torreyson Drive. I'd say, when we got to LA after England, the dope situation was getting out of control. I think I did it twice over there—it was really good—but I didn't really start getting bad until LA. But we were doing a lot of touring to promote Raw Power, and we were getting a lot more money, and that’s when James got into the, "I'm James the Star," thing, you know?
It wasn't like that bothered me; it was that it was really hurting the band. I mean, it felt, to me, like everyone was getting distant from what was going on in reality. Everyone was finding their own escape, and the drugs didn't make it any better—Iggy would get too high and fall off the stage, instead of jumping off the stage, you know? And sometimes he would not be able to sing and stuff, so it started getting really bad. If it wasn't for my brother, probably everything would've fallen apart, ya know?
One of the worst things about drugs is they start to take over your life, and then that's your life, and other things are put aside that should be the important things. And then James started coming up with contracts that he wanted me and my brother to sign, saying that he and Iggy would get the lion's share, and that we would be paid as side musicians. That was actually in print, in the contract—and that's when my brother and I kinda decided there's no sense carrying on.
I also felt that the drugs were just getting too bad and I had to get away. I had to get off 'em; I had to change my life. I couldn't continue, and so the band broke up.
After that, I guess Iggy had had a nervous breakdown; he just finally collapsed from massive amounts of drugs. I mean, you can't take acid and Quaaludes at the same time; it just doesn't work...
BEER BOTTLES AND EGGS
When we got back to Michigan from LA, we did a few more gigs until the infamous night that ended up recorded as Metallic K.O., our last show. The night before the show, at the Michigan Palace, was the show at the Funny Farm, on US 12, which happened to be an unnamed motorcycle gang's neighborhood bar. Iggy was into his "I'm a bad motherfucker" trip, and he started singing, "You motherfuckers think you're bad. Come on and get me; I'll kick your ass." He wasn't meaning for the bikers to be taking him seriously. Iggy was just being mouthy, and the bikers were taking offense.
So as Iggy left stage, I looked out and just saw the crowd split wide open—and out stepped this big, burly dude, with a big glove on, with spikes sticking out of it. The big guy just walked up to Iggy and bop! He just popped him and opened up a real nice cut on Iggy's eyebrow, and blood started to come out. Everybody else was starting to get uptight, and there ended up being a lot of fights, with a lot of people getting hurt.
But I didn’t have to fight my way off stage. I just kinda slipped back in the dressing room and got my stuff and my sticks and found my way out.
So the next night was the one at the Michigan Palace, when they started throwing beer bottles. The throwing-shit-at-us thing had already started—that wasn't the first time that had happened—because Iggy used to egg people on, you know, "COME ON!"
They'd throw something, and he'd go, "Yeah? Think you're bad?"
So it evolved into people going, "We're going to see Iggy and the Stooges tonight—what can we take to throw at him?"
I remember we played at Halloween on Long Island or Staten Island, and the tradition was that everyone brought eggs, and on the opening chord of “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” SPLAT, SPLAT, SPLAT, it just rained eggs.
I used to put a cymbal right out front—I had two on the side—and I’d tell Iggy, "Don't stand in front of me!"
But he would anyway—he'd always come back and stand right in front of me—and I'd see the stuff coming out of the lights. And if it was coming at me, I would just duck. It would hit my cymbals, but it was all aimed at him.
See, that was a good part about the band. I felt like I was in the audience every night, watching Iggy, and I was as entertained as much as everyone else was, because you never knew what he was gonna do. It was always gonna be a surprise, and it was always gonna be something that was either gonna gross you out or be bold or something crazy, or some kind of shock, you know?
It’s like what Malcolm McLaren did with the Sex Pistols—make all the money from people hating the band, hating those disgusting boys.
But we were the originals, or Iggy was, anyhow.
Back in 1975, Legs McNeil co-founded Punk magazine, which is part of the reason you even know what that word means. He also wrote Please Kill Me, which basically makes him the Studs Terkel of punk rock. In addition to his work as a columnist for VICE, he continues to write for his personal blog, PleaseKillMe.com. You should also follow him on Twitter: @Legs__McNeil.