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.
"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.
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.