back to profile

The Stooges Biography

Iggy Pop (vocals; born April 21, 1947); Ron Asheton (guitar, bass; July 17, 1948 - January 1, 2009); Scott Asheton (drums; born August 16, 1949); James Williamson (guitar; born October 29, 1949); Dave Alexander (bass; born June 3, 1947, died February 10, 1975)

The Stooges created punk-rock well before the genre even had a name. The leader of the Stooges, the legendary Iggy Pop (born James Newell Osterberg), has been hailed as the “godfather of punk.” Between the work of the Stooges – especially the albums The Stooges, Fun House and Raw Power – and the subsequent solo career of Iggy Pop, the punk-rock sound and sensibility were devised and defined for all time. This high-energy quartet has been reviled and revered, but there’s no denying the contributions they’ve made as prototypical punk-rockers.

A pre-Iggy Jim Osterberg grew up in a trailer park near Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was the drummer in a mid-Sixties high-school band called the Iguanas (from which he derived his famous alter ego, Iggy). He formed the Psychedelic Stooges in 1967 with brothers Ron and Scott Asheton, with Dave Alexander joining on bass. Shortening their name to the Stooges, they played alongside fellow Ann Arbor anarchists the MC5. They were uncompromising and controversial – a blunt contrast to the late-Sixties ideals of peace, love and flower power.

There was brutal power in the Stooges’ basic garage-blues riffs, pounding beat and lyrical references to boredom, nihilism and self-loathing. The Stooges got signed to Elektra Records. Produced by John Cale (late of the Velvet Underground), the Stooges’ self-titled debut, recorded in two days, included such brute-force statements of punk disenchantment as “1969” (“Another year for me and you/Another year with nothing to do”) and “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” The followup, Fun House, derived its name from the farmhouse outside Ann Arbor where the group lived, practiced and partied. If anything, Fun House was even harder-hitting than the debut, including such stripped-down, incendiary rockers as “Down in the Street” and “Loose” and closing with a howling, free-jazz number called “L.A. Blues.”

Guitarist James Williamson joined in 1971, when the Stooges were at a low ebb, sidelined by drugs and disinterest. The timely intervention in 1973 of David Bowie, a professed fan, resulted in the Stooges signing with his management company (MainMan) and recording the classic Raw Power, released on Columbia Records. Bowie himself mixed the record, emphasizing its blistering primitivism. One of the most untamed and powerful releases in rock history, Raw Power – kicked off by the anthemic and often-covered “Search and Destroy,” a punk-rock manifesto – barely cracked Billboard’s Top 200. Yet it received belated recognition from the punk generation. Raw Power was remixed (by Iggy) and reissued in 1997 and was expanded into a deluxe edition in 2010.

Beyond Raw Power, the lineup of the Stooges with James Williamson went largely undocumented on major labels. However, there have been numerous small-label, gray-market and bootleg releases of studio and live Stooges from that time period, attesting to the group’s feral appeal. The most notorious of these was Open Up and Bleed, from a tape of a chaotic Detroit show in which a proud but self-destructive Iggy regaled hecklers with taunts and insults. It is among the most anarchic, impolite and over-the-top live shows ever recorded.

Reflecting on that dissolute era, Iggy told Mojo magazine, “We could have been the American Stones. But we messed up big-time. It was free-fall. We didn’t stop till we hit the bottom.”

In 1977, after the Asheton brothers exited and the Stooges fell by the wayside, Bomp Records released Kill City, credited to Iggy Pop and James Williamson. That same year, Iggy Pop kicked off his solo career with another helping hand from David Bowie. With Bowie producing and cowriting material, the solo albums The Idiot and Lust for Life both appeared in 1977. They came in the midst of the first wave of punk-rock bands from New York and London, all of them heirs to the Stooges’ pioneering work of nearly a decade earlier. The Idiot became the highest-charting album of Iggy’s career, reaching Number 72.

Iggy became a prolific solo artist and something of an exemplar and elder statesman to the punk-rockers who followed in his tracks. He released three potent albums (New Values, Soldier and Party) for the Arista label in the late Seventies and early Eighties. Moving to A&M, he reunited with Bowie for 1986’s Blah-Blah-Blah. While his early life exhibited its share of irresponsibility and reckless risk-taking, the adult Iggy Pop – a fortunate survivor who turned 40 in 1987 – invested thoughtfulness and commitment in his later work. Signing to Virgin Records, he issued a string of solid and artistically fearless solo albums that included Instinct (1988), Brick by Brick (1990), American Caesar (1993), Naughty Little Doggie (1996), Avenue B (1999), and Beat ‘Em Up (2001).

Iggy reconvened the Stooges in 2003, recording four new tracks – all cowritten with the Asheton brothers – for his solo album Skull Ring. The re-formed Stooges headlined the Coachella festival in April 2003 and performed a homecoming show in Detroit in August. The reunion stuck, as the reunited Stooges – with bassist Mike Watt subbing for Dave Alexander, who died in 1975 – recorded a full album, The Weirdness (2007), produced by Chicago noise-meister Steve Albini. The Stooges toured extensively, to the delight of punks and hard-rockers everywhere.

Iggy elaborated on reigniting the fire with the Stooges nearly 30 years later: “Part of the process was figuring out, ‘Gee, well, who are the Stooges? What finally sifted down was [that it’s] the two brothers. They were the original band with me. [It] was the three of us before there was ever a bass player or a gig. Also, they’re the only two musicians that ever threw in their lot with me before I was somebody. That sort of bond is not duplicable or for sale or anything.”

 When Ron Asheton died of a heart attack in January 2009, the Stooges might have died along with him, but another integral former band-mate, guitarist James Williamson, was recruited to keep the legacy alive. (Incidentally, after parting ways with Iggy in the mid-Seventies, Williamson went on to become a computer-industry executive with Sony Electronics.)

The Stooges have not only directly or indirectly influenced every punk-rock band, but they have also had an impact on the edgier groups of the grunge and indie-rock eras. You can hear echoes of the Stooges’ dissonance and attitude in everything from Sonic Youth to Nirvana. In short, they’ve helped insure that a large corner of the rock world remains energized, unkempt and off-limits to sellout. True to the “never say die” spirit of punk, the resurrected Stooges continue to exhibit un-diminished perseverance and tenacity.

The Stooges