Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Ann Arbor music community mourns death of Ron Asheton, guitarist for The Stooges

by Roger Lelievre | The Ann Arbor News
Tuesday January 06, 2009, 2:16 PM

Friends and fans of influential rock guitarist Ron Asheton reacted with shock and sadness Tuesday as they learned that he had been found dead at his Ann Arbor home.

Asheton, 60, was a member of The Stooges, a garage-rock band formed here in 1967 and headlined by another former Ann Arborite, Iggy Pop. Asheton's buzz-saw guitar riffs on the band's first two albums helped build the foundation for punk rock.

Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton was found dead early today in his Ann Arbor home.
"I am in shock. He was my best friend," Pop said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon. Ranked No. 29 on Rolling Stone magazine's "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list, Asheton, who kept a low profile locally, was also known for his work with the area bands Destroy All Monsters, Dark Carnival and others.

"It's a real shocker. I was at Ron's house for his annual Christmas Eve party, everything seemed fine, he seemed healthy," said Scott Morgan, leader of the Stooges'-influenced Ann Arbor band Powertrane and a close friend of Asheton's since junior high school.

Morgan said Asheton will be remembered not only for his unique, three-note style of guitar playing, but for his down-to-earth attitude, a sentiment echoed by John Carver, who owned the Ann Arbor rock and roll club Second Chance in the 1970s and early '80s. Carver remembered Asheton as "a kind and gentle, good man ... a legendary figure from a legendary band."

Police were called to Asheton's house on Ann Arbor's west side early Tuesday by Asheton's personal assistant, who had not been able to reach him for several days. There was no sign of foul play or drug use, and Asheton likely had been dead for several days, police said.

MTV Shows: Last MTV video Interview with Ron Asheton

Alan Goldsmith, an Ann Arbor-based music journalist who knew Asheton for nearly 30 years, said his status never went to his head.

"He was always approachable and always helpful to local bands. And he could go on for hours with stories about show business and people he'd run into over the years."

"When the whole Stooge reunion happened (in 2005-07), he started to get attention and people were focusing on his place in history," Goldsmith said. "The last three or four years he was starting to get the notoriety, attention and financial rewards for all the work he had been doing. It's too bad he didn't get to enjoy that more."

Leni Sinclair, a Detroit-based rock music photographer, said she was saddened by the news.

"He was a mesmerizing guitar player. He was not a showman, he didn't show off very much, but if you listened it just got into your blood. I saw him at the Fox (Theater) when they had a reunion after a long absence. I was immediately transported back to the Grande Ballroom (a Detroit venue of the 1960s and '70s). He was one of the greatest guitar players coming out of this area, I believe."

The Stooges have been nominated several times, including this year, for inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but the band has not been inducted. This year's inductees are expected to be announced in late January.

In a 2007 interview with The News, Asheton said he didn't mind that The Stooges had been overlooked by the rock hall. "What, this is our third or fourth time turned down? I think it's really funny," he observed, adding that if the band did eventually get it, "That's cool. ... It would be nice to be there with the names that are there."

The Stooges completed an European tour last month.

Greg Upshur, of Stockbridge, recalled meeting Asheton in the early 1980s when his band, The Seatbelts, opened for Destroy All Monsters. The two hit it off and Asheton wound up producing a 45-rpm single for the Detroit area band.

"He was the sound of The Stooges. I don't think Iggy Pop would be Iggy Pop if it wasn't for Asheton's licks," Upshur observed. "I'm sure a lot of rock and roll people are going to very, very sad today."

An additional statement, attributed to Iggy Pop, Stooges drummer (and Asheton's brother) Scott Asheton, saxophonist Steve Mackay, bassist Mike Watt and The Stooges' management and crew reads:

"For all that knew him behind the facade of Mr. Cool & Quirky, he was a kind-hearted, 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."

Dianna Frank, an Asheton fan and marketing manager for concert booking agency Live Nation in Detroit, remembered Asheton as the calm in the midst of the storm that was a Stooges live show.

"Much like Neil Young or Keith Richards - great sloppy guitarists in their own right - (Asheton) proved that it's not necessary to be technically proficient to become one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time. I don't think there's another player out there who could match that psychotic, primal sound he had. His playing on The Stooges 'Fun House' record is just jaw dropping in its raw, brutalist power. He was unparalleled - nobody can match that sound.

"The sound coming from his guitar was just the most unbelievable thing I had ever heard; bursts of feedback-laced shrapnel. I was awe struck then, and I still am to this day every time I play their records," Frank said.

Asheton's body was taken to the University of Michigan Medical Center, where an autopsy was to be conducted. Cause of death won't be determined until toxicology reports are complete, which could take about a month.

Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

1 comment:

andy said...

Most rock deaths have no effect on me - didn't know 'em aint gonna grieve now" thang. This one, though, really hit me.

I've been a Stooges fan since 1978 when I bough their first album. I liked it well enough, though it didn't pack the punch that Never Mind The Bollocks had, Then I was given Funhouse to listen to. "The heaviest record ever made" was his estimation. By the end of the solo of the third number -T.V.Eye - he had my total agreement. This record was a monster of heavy dread so thick you could choke. Is there a moment on any record as downright meat-chompingly heavy as TV Eye? Who on earth could write sucha' piece of music in 1970? The Man could. Ron Asheton could. He stood right up to your face and dared you to diss his playing as primitive, repetitive, tribal and deranged. He took everything that should by all rights have been drawbacks in guitar styling and made his own inimitable style from them.

I met Ron when he toured Australia with his band Dark Carnival. For me this was like meeting Hendrix - Ron's guitar work, particularly on Funhouse has been the primary influence on my guitar playing and remains a landmark of total take it to the edge and right on over rifferama heaven.

In person he was a soft-spoken and totally lacking in any rock star pretensions. He talked to all and any and was as funny as all shit remembering how Bowie grabbed his arse one day at the studio and how all-American straight guy Ron's reaction of "gotta keep it cool but what the f%$^$%" look of horror!

Getting to see the Stooges perform Funhouse was one of the highlights of a very long gig-going life. It was also great to see the Asheton Bros getting some payback for the huge influence they had on so many players.

It took history to catch up with Ron's playing, not the other way round. He finally got his dues and was able to lap up the applause and the well-earned dollars. God bless him for the endless hours of enjoyment he brought into my life.

Thanks Ron, the world caught up in the end


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