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John Robb Salutes The Memory Of Stooges Guitarist Ron Asheton
John Robb , January 7th, 2009 07:52

Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton passed away on Monday night. John Robb recalls meeting the unassuming Stooge, and hails him as the pioneer of punk and so much more

Without Ron Asheton there would have been no punk rock, nothing. The Stooges’ genius guitar player, who has been found dead in his Ann Arbour home at 60, created the space that we all exist in with his deceptively simplistic guitar riffing. He invented just about everything I love about rock n’roll.

This is not a contentious statement, this is the truth. When the timeless argument goes on about who invented punk you can go back and back in time - but is it possible to get past The Stooges? Of course there were violent zigzag guitarists before Asheton, but for sheer white noise distortion and bored "fuck you" suburban teenage blues there was never a sound like this. Even without the talismanic Iggy The Stooges sounded amazing, and that was down to Ron.

Here’s the test: name one guitarist who sounded remotely like this BEFORE The Stooges. You can't. You fucking can't. I met the great man once when he was playing in an ad hoc pick-up band with J Mascis and Mike Watt (the best bass player in the west) before the Stooges finally reformed. Me and Ron chatted about all sorts of stuff, the visit he made to the UK in the pre-Stooges days so he could visit Liverpool and breathe same air as the Beatles. He expressed surprise that people had even heard of the Stooges, who he seemed to regard as some sort of local Detroit youth club band. Perhaps when your favourite all time band is the Beatles you’re always going to be disappointed!

He was amiable, gentle even, and despite being slightly overweight looked great, his face was unlined - despite some wild years of chemical abuse. And although there was an early '70s phase of wearing Nazi uniforms on stage in an apolitical sick joke kinda way, he looked more like some avuncular uncle going on a fishing trip. Yet when he played that guitar it sounded like no other - primal, feral, amazing, it shook the floor. It made you feel. Feel! And in a world with too many guitar players who had too much technique and too little feeling, not to mention too much posing and fakery, Ron was the man.

When he hooked up with Iggy again in one of the best postscripts in rock n’roll history, he stood stock still like the uncle on a fishing trip to unleash the most primitive yet sophisticated takes on the punk rock blues, and it sounded amazing. Ron wasn't about technique or loads of notes, he had the funk, the deep dark funk that so few guitar players have, the signature wah wah was the best psychedelic freak out experience you could have. Here was someone who soaked up the amazing drone and melodies of Indian ragas, the blustering primitive blues of Chicago, the sneering riffage of very early Kinks and garage rock, the elastic space funk of George Clinton and the full on sex of James Brown and the freeform outer space imagination of John Coltrane and somehow took them someplace else - you just try cramming all that information into a chugging barre chord assault and you won't come close, and that was the man's genius.

You could get lost in these three chord shuffles because, despite the assumed simplicity of what he was doing, Ron was playing super complex licks. Every garage band in the world might have copied these riffs, but few have managed to get that funkiness, that freakiness. 'No Fun' may sound like wam bam garage bang but it was far more subtle than that. The sound, the feel, the texture, the way it made you move. It was godlike in a way that every super flash guitar player could never possibly understand.

When The Stooges reformed it was genuinely exciting. We all knew Iggy could still turn it on but it was great to see Ron and his little brother Rock Action still shaking their tail feathers like thirty years of pissing about had never happened. Of course, Ron had done some playing with his post Stooges band Destroy All Monsters (fronted by the impossibly glamourous Niagra, whose paintings incidentally are brilliant - she's been on tour with them in the last year). Their comeback album, The Weirdness wasn’t as great as we all hoped it might be, but somewhere in there is a great album - if you could just turn Ron’s guitar up in the mix then it would sound damn fine. But then what's a Stooges record if you don’t have to remix it thirty years later? You can’t record music this wild - it just lives on its own, it’s for live arenas, not rooms full of mics. Even the great Steve Albini couldn’t do it with The Weirdness, so who are we to argue.

What's the Ig gonna do without Ron? Let’s hope he still prowls the stages - even in his sixties he can still destroy a venue like he did last September in London, the last time I will ever see one of the greatest bands of all time. Iggy - give Sonic Youth a ring, you did it before for some long lost encore in London in the '80s and do something powerful weird and wonky - Thurston Moore knows that Ron was more than D.U.M.B. dumb and that you have to be smart and weird to get that guitar sound right. Why not get Rick Rubin in to do the honours, and make it a tribute to Ron, the greatest guitar player of them all.