The Stooges, also known as Iggy and the Stooges, were an American rock band formed in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1967 by singer Iggy Pop, guitarist Ron Asheton, drummer Scott Asheton, and bassist Dave Alexander. Playing a raw, primitive style of rock and roll, the band sold few records in their original incarnation and gained a reputation for their confrontational performances, which often involved acts of self-mutilation by frontman Iggy Pop. After releasing two albums—The Stooges (1969) and Fun House (1970)—the group disbanded briefly, and reformed with a different lineup to release Raw Power (1973) before breaking up again in 1974. The band reunited in 2003 and was active until 2016 following the deaths of several original members.
The Stooges are widely regarded as a seminal proto-punk act and as instrumental in the development of punk rock, alternative rock, heavy metal music and rock music at large. The Stooges were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked them 78th on their list of the 100 greatest artists of all time.
Iggy Pop (born James Newell Osterberg, 1947 in Muskegon, Michigan) played drums in several Ann Arbor-area bands as a teenager, including the Iguanas and, later, the Prime Movers. The Prime Movers nicknamed Osterberg "Iggy" in reference to his earlier band.
Osterberg was first inspired to form the Stooges after meeting blues drummer Sam Lay during a visit to Chicago. Upon returning to Detroit, Osterberg sought to create a new form of blues music that was not derivative of historical precedents. Ron Asheton (guitar) and Scott Asheton (drums) and Dave Alexander (bass guitar) composed the rest of the band, with Osterberg as main singer. Osterberg became interested in Ron Asheton after seeing him perform in the Chosen Few (a covers band), believing "I’ve never met a convincing musician that didn’t look kind of ill and kind of dirty, and Ron had those two things covered!" The three nicknamed Osterberg "Pop" after a local character whom Osterberg resembled. Shortly after witnessing an MC5 concert in Ann Arbor, Osterberg began using the stage name Iggy Pop, a name that he has used ever since.
Though the Stooges had formed, Iggy Pop attributes two key motivating influences to move the band forward. The first was seeing the Doors perform at a homecoming dance for the University of Michigan. The second was seeing an all-girls rock band from Princeton, New Jersey called the Untouchable perform. In a 1995 interview with Bust Magazine, he relates:
I had the Stooges. And we did not have the balls to get out and do it. There were two things that made us do it; one was seeing that show (the Doors), we saw that show and I just thought, well, this is so brazen, there is no excuse for us not to do it anymore. And the other thing was we went to New York. We had gone to New York a couple of months before that just to check out the scene, and we had never been to a place like New York… we went down around Eighth Street there where all the young tourists hang out, and we met these girls from New Jersey, from Princeton, they had a band called the Untouchable, and we’re like, "Oh, you’ve got a band, sure, ha ha ha," and they said "Well, come to our house and see us play." And we didn’t have anywhere to crash, and they played for us, and they completely rocked, and we were really ashamed."
The band's 1967 debut was at their communal State Street house on Halloween night, followed by their next live gig, January 1968. During this early period, the Stooges were originally billed as the "Psychedelic Stooges" at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit, Michigan, and other venues, where they played with the band MC5 and others. At one of their early Grande Ballroom performances, Asheton's guitar neck separated from the body forcing the band to stop playing during the opening song, "I Wanna Be Your Dog".
The group's early sound differed from their later music; critic Edwin Pouncey writes:
The Stooges' early musical experiments were more avant garde than punk rock, with Pop incorporating such household objects as a vacuum cleaner and a blender into an intense wall of feedback that one observer described as sounding like "an airplane was landing in the room." Homemade instruments were also incorporated to flesh out the overall sound. The 'Jim-a-phone' involved pushing feedback through a funnel device which was raised and lowered to achieve the best effect. There was also a cheap Hawaiian guitar which Pop and guitarist Ron Asheton would take turns in plucking to produce a simulated sitar drone, while drummer Scott Asheton pounded away at a set of oil drums with a ball hammer.
The Stooges soon gained a reputation for their wild, primitive live performances. Pop, especially, became known for his outrageous onstage behaviour—smearing his bare chest with hamburger meat and peanut butter, cutting himself with shards of glass, and flashing his genitalia to the audience. Pop is sometimes credited with the invention or popularization of stage diving.
In 1968 Elektra Records sent DJ/publicist Danny Fields to scout the MC5, resulting in contracts for both that band and the Stooges. The contracts were at different pay rates: MC5 $20,000, the Stooges $5,000, as revealed in the 2016 Jim Jarmusch film, Gimme Danger. In 1969, the band released their self-titled debut album; sales were low and it was not well-received by critics at the time.
In 1970, their second album, Fun House, was released, featuring the addition of saxophonist Steve Mackay. On June 13 of that year, television recorded the band at the Cincinnati Pop Festival. While performing the songs "T.V. Eye" and "1970", Pop leapt into the crowd, where he was hoisted up on people's hands, and proceeded to smear peanut butter all over his chest. In a broadcast interview at WNUR Northwestern University radio station in Evanston, Illinois in 1984, Stiv Bators of the Lords of the New Church and the Dead Boys confirmed the long-standing rumor that it was he who had provided the peanut butter, having carried a large tub from his home in Youngstown, OH and handing it up to Iggy from the audience.
Fun House was also poorly received by critics and the general public. Alexander was dismissed in August 1970 after arriving at the Goose Lake International Music Festival too drunk to play. He was replaced by a succession of new bass players, including former roadie Zeke Zettner and James Recca. Around this time, the band expanded their line-up by adding a second guitar player, roadie Bill Cheatham, who was eventually replaced by James Williamson, a childhood friend of the Ashetons and Alexander.
By this time, the Stooges, with the notable exception of Ron Asheton, had all become serious heroin users. The drug was introduced to the band by new manager John Adams. Their performances became even more unpredictable, and Pop often had trouble standing up on stage due to his extreme drug abuse. Elektra soon eliminated the Stooges from its roster, and the band had a hiatus for several months. The final line-up was Pop, the Asheton brothers, Recca and Williamson.
The breakup of the Stooges was formally announced on 9 July 1971.
With the band in hiatus, Pop met David Bowie on 7 September 1971 at Max's Kansas City, and the pair instantly became good friends. The next day, on the advice of Bowie, Pop signed a recording contract with pop music manager Tony DeFries' company, MainMan. A few months later, Tony DeFries and Pop met Clive Davis from CBS/Columbia Records and got a two-album recording deal. In March 1972, DeFries brought Pop and Williamson to the UK, and the pair attempted to reconstitute the Stooges with British musicians, but finding no suitable additions, brought the Asheton brothers back into the band (this "second choice" decision rankled Ron Asheton, as did his change from guitar to bass). This line-up, billed as Iggy & the Stooges, recorded their third album, the influential Raw Power, which was released in 1973.
At the time, the album (which showcased Williamson's intensely melodic solos and chromatic riffs, in contrast to Asheton's minimalistic, groove-oriented approach) was criticized by diehard fans who said that Bowie had mixed it poorly (in subsequent years, various unofficial fan recordings were assembled and released as the album Rough Power; in 1997, the album was re-mixed by Iggy Pop and re-released). Although the album sold rather poorly and was regarded as a commercial failure at the time of its release, Raw Power would go on to become one of the cornerstones of early punk rock.
With the addition of a piano player (briefly Bob Sheff and then Scott Thurston), the Stooges toured for several months, starting in February 1973. About this time they also made a number of recordings that became known as the Detroit Rehearsal Tapes, including a number of new songs that might have been included on a fourth studio album had the band not been dropped by Columbia soon after the release of Raw Power. In 1973, James Williamson was briefly dismissed due to criticism from the band's management company (likely pertaining to his tempestuous relationship with Cyrinda Foxe, a close friend of road manager Leee Black Childers); guitarist Tornado Turner replaced him for a single gig (on 15 June 1973 at the Aragon Ballroom, Chicago, Illinois), but Williamson soon returned to the group.
The Stooges disbanded in February 1974 as a result of dwindling professional opportunities; this factor was compounded by Pop's ever-present heroin addiction and erratic off-stage behavior. The last half of the band's last performance of this era (on 9 February 1974 in Detroit, Michigan) was captured and was released later (in 1976) as the live album Metallic K.O. (along with the first half of an earlier show on 6 October 1973 at the same venue). A 1988 expanded release of the album with the title Metallic 2X K.O. included the two halves of each show. In 1998, the album was re-released under the original title with a reverse show order, (mostly) expanded track lengths and more complete set-lists.
After his first attempt at drug rehabilitation, Pop began a volatile yet ultimately successful solo career in 1977, commencing with the Bowie-produced albums The Idiot (1977) and Lust for Life (1977). Relocated to Los Angeles, California, Ron Asheton formed the short-lived band the New Order (not to be confused with the UK band New Order) with Stooges alumni Recca and Thurston before performing with the Ann Arbor-based "anti-rock" group Destroy All Monsters from 1977 to 1985. Until the Stooges' reformation, he supported himself as a working musician in various ensembles, including New Race, Dark Carnival and the Empty Set. Williamson worked with Pop as a producer and engineer during his early solo career – the Kill City and New Values albums are a product of this collaboration – but began a long break from the music industry in favor of a career in electronics engineering beginning in 1980. He received his degree from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona in 1982 and retired from Sony as vice president of technical standards in 2009. Scott Asheton performed with Sonic's Rendezvous Band and the Scott Morgan Group while pursuing various day jobs. Dave Alexander died of pulmonary edema related to his alcoholism-induced pancreatitis in 1975.
In 1997, a reissue of Raw Power remixed by Pop was released. In 1999, re-issue label Rhino Handmade released the seven disc box set 1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions, composed of the entire recording sessions associated with the Fun House album. 3,000 copies were pressed, selling out in less than a year.
In 2000, indie rock music veterans J Mascis (of Dinosaur Jr) and Mike Watt (of the Minutemen and Firehose) teamed with Ron Asheton and drummer George Berz to perform Stooges covers (and other material) live. Billed as J. Mascis and the Fog, the band performed sporadically before Pop became aware of them in 2003.
Pop and the Ashetons first reunited that year, sharing four songs on the Skull Ring album with Pop on vocals, Scott Asheton on drums, and Ron Asheton on both guitar and bass. Soon afterward, the Stooges reunited officially, performing a series of live shows in the United States and Europe, with Watt on bass at Ron Asheton's request, and Fun House-era saxophonist Steve Mackay. Their Detroit homecoming show, postponed by the 2003 North America blackout, was released as the DVD Live in Detroit.
On August 16, 2005, Elektra Records and Rhino Records issued newly remastered 2-CD editions of the first two Stooges albums, featuring the original album on disc one and outtakes (including alternate mixes, single versions, etc.) on disc two. Unlike the 1997 Raw Power reissue, which was a total remix from the original multitracks, these remasters are faithful to the original mixes.
In 2007, the band released an album of all-new material, The Weirdness, with Steve Albini recording, and mastering done at Abbey Road Studios in London, England. The album received mixed to negative reviews from the press. The band also contributed a cover of Junior Kimbrough's "You Better Run" to a tribute album for the late blues artist.
The Stooges spent the years between 2003 and 2008 touring extensively, playing shows on five different continents. Highlights included performances at several events involved with the All Tomorrow's Parties concert series, Pop's 60th birthday on the stage of San Francisco's Warfield Theater, touring with the Lollapalooza festival, and a performance of two Madonna covers at the Michigan-born singer's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in protest of the Stooges' failure to receive an induction into said institution despite six nominations. (Two years later, the band was successfully inducted.) A low of this touring era occurred in the August 2008 when the band's equipment was stolen in Montreal, Quebec. Initially, the reunited band's sets consisted solely of material from The Stooges, Fun House, Skull Ring, and The Weirdness. By 2008, they had added "Search and Destroy", "I Got a Right" and "Raw Power" to their set lists. The band's final show with Ron Asheton was on September 29, 2008, in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
On January 6, 2009, Ron Asheton was found dead in his home, having reportedly suffered a heart attack several days earlier. He was 60 years old. In their official statement, the group called Asheton "irreplaceable".
In a May 2009 interview, Pop announced the band's plans to continue performing with James Williamson returning as guitarist. Pop stated that "although 'the Stooges' died with Ron Asheton, there was still 'Iggy and the Stooges'". Their first concert occurred on November 7, 2009 in São Paulo, Brazil. The band added material from Raw Power and several of Pop's early solo albums to its repertoire.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted the band through their Class of 2010. The band had previously been nominated for election seven times, each unsuccessful. Their performance for the event included a guest appearance by former keyboardist Scott Thurston. Performances with Williamson continued, including the 2010 All Tomorrow's Parties festival in Monticello, New York, where they performed Raw Power in its entirety. A re-release of Raw Power was released on April 10, 2010, including the first remastering of the David Bowie mix and a live 1973 performance. The following year, Detroit author Brett Callwood published The Stooges – Head On: A Journey Through The Michigan Underground, a book which focuses heavily on the Asheton brothers' activities after the initial decline of the Stooges.
On February 25, 2013, Iggy Pop reunited with the Stooges to release what would become their last album, Ready to Die. The album was released on April 30 on Fat Possum. Iggy and the Stooges played the final date of their 25-city 2013 world tour with a performance at the C2SV Festival in San Jose on September 28, 2013.
On June 22, 2016, guitarist Williamson made an official statement for the band saying that the Stooges are no more.
"The Stooges is over. Basically, everybody's dead except Iggy and I. So it would be sort-of ludicrous to try and tour as Iggy and the Stooges when there's only one Stooge in the band and then you have side guys. That doesn't make any sense to me."
Williamson also added that touring had become boring, and trying to balance the band's career as well as Pop's was a difficult task.