“It’s the sound of 4 puppies in a pet store, all competing for your attention to be the one who gets taken home.”
-Iggy Pop 2010 [Raw Power LIVE - In the Hands of the Fans]
On May 15, 1970, I drove up to SF with a friend to see Iggy and The Stooges for the first time. Bill Graham began his rock empire producing shows at the original Fillmore Auditorium 1805 Geary Street before moving into bigger digs downtown at Market Street and South Van Ness Avenue and re-christening his new venue the Fillmore West. The Flamin’ Groovies in 1970 re-opened the old venue on the corner of Fillmore and Geary as the New Old Fillmore, and kicked off the festivities with one helluva weekend marathon concert. The bill consisted of: The Groovies, Purple Earthquake, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, Iggy and the Stooges, plus Alice Cooper. All for the incredible price of $2.50!
A relatively small intimate place, the auditorium rocked that night. The Groovies were then approaching their peak, playing wicked tricked out rock ‘n’ roll. Purple Earthquake (later just Earth Quake) came from Beserkley across the Bay. They were one of my fave power pop bands, headed up by singer John Doukas, and featuring ace guitarist Robbie Dunbar. Commander Cody and his Airmen, also hailed from the East Bay, their live sound in those early days fusing country/ folk into an offbeat form of psychobilly. Alice Cooper was the LA headliner. A unique spectacle in sequined pants, with naked boobs stenciled on his sleeveless t-shirt and thick and dark mascara shrouded eyes. While Alice was the focus, the highlight however was his amazing band dressed in glitzy satin and sequins. They played tracks from the first three albums, filling the hall with powerful guitar crescendos, creating a wall of freak rock sound.
Then there were the Motor City madmen Iggy and his Stooges. Fresh off releasing FUN HOUSE, the band was like molten hot sludge, hard and tight, sonically overwhelming. Iggy himself a roiling mass of human flesh on the prowl, spastic dancing, crawling around the floor, licking people and howling like a dog in heat. All the while, the stoic Rock Action and Dave Alexander rhythm section lay down a bone-crunching backdrop as Ron Ashton shredded notes demonically, his acid fuzzed guitar leads laced with banshee wails of wah wah overload. The concert finale was the sonic horror show, LA Blues, highlighted by Stephen Mackay’s screeching, splattering sax with Iggy wailing and flailing. They played all of FUN HOUSE and THE STOOGES. It’s was primal performance art, jacked up to the max and full of latent menace and a touch of insanity. I had never seen or heard anything remotely like it before or since.
The next times I saw Iggy were early in 1973 at The Whisky A Go Go in LA just before RAW POWER came out, then again in September after the album was released. The first time the band was ragged and raunchy.
The second show in September ’73 was yet another revelation. Iggy’s performance was a full on fire and brimstone spectacle. Dressed in knee-high black patent leather boots, skintight black satin bikini underwear and hair bleached platinum blonde, his voice seethed with emotions reflecting the very embodiment of each song title. Ron had switched to bass while new Stooge James Williamson took over lead guitar, injecting his laser-like guitar lines and high-pitched fuzz solos into a searing performance of the albums new songs. The band was as tight as the Ig’s well endowed bikinis, and the sonic ambiance extraordinary. It was like a high fashion freak show happening”, with The Whisky teetering on the brink of chaos. Iggy, the band, and audience, all caught up in the heat of the moment.
After the show, I met up with “Metal Mike” Saunders who asked if I wanted to visit the bands dressing room upstairs. Ushered into the inner sanctum we spent 15 minutes sitting on a bare floor talking with Ron while Iggy prowled the room in his leather cheetah jacket with two of LA’s finest young rock she creatures from the Hollywood Hills, one on each arm. It was an interesting postscript to a gonzo LA glam rock experience.
In early 1974, I saw the band again at Bimbo’s 365 Club, up in SF. Gone was the platinum hair and make-up. The band was also trying out new material, Head On, Cock in My Pocket, I Gotta A Right, as well as some others later to emerge, officially on KILL CITY, or later boots. Along with those, they also did a few golden oldie Stooge nuggets. The small club was filled with various denizens of the SF scene dressed in space suits with tin foil helmets, several people rowdy and drunk, throwing things at the stage, then someone yelled out, “Iggy honey you want some doo doo” and all bets were off. The band tore through a violent and abusive set then was gone. I remember wondering after just how long this bad trip could go on…
Iggy and The Stooges were resurrected after The Millennium, have recorded again and been inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll hall of Fame. Iggy performed on American Idol. He and the band have also become idols that influenced many a young wanna be punk. One of rocks elder statesmen now, he still throws himself completely with total abandon into each live performance. Life is a long, strange trip indeed.
Their new DVD release, filmed in Live at the All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival, September 3, 2010, establishes Iggy and The Stooges as true survivors of rock ‘n’ roll. Ron Ashton and Dave Alexander are gone, but the core trio of Iggy, Scott, James + Mike Watt on base reincarnates the original spirit of that music with their performance for all to see. Now in the comfort of their living room theater and wide screen plasma TV – did I say strange?
This 17-track set includes the complete RAW POWER album along with highlights from their early albums. The DVD documents that performance beautifully from multi-camera angles proving without doubt that musically they’ve not lost an ounce of their intensity. In addition, as part of the concept, the fans also get their say, asking questions in a Special Interview segment the band offers insightful, candid answers. The give and take as well as mutual appreciation between the band and their fans is truly warming. Topping things off, the old music still sounds unique, like nothing else being made all these years later.
Iggy and The Stooges now are obviously happy as hell to be playing. Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that Iggy came through it all healthy, deeply analytical, animated and hilarious. The quote at the top of this story comes from the interview when asked how he would describe the Stooges, answering with eyes wide, waving his arms; he excitedly proclaims it on the video. The only thing I might add is perhaps the original Stooges of the 1970’s were not so much puppies, but more like pit bulls. That is clearly water under the bridge now however. It is great to see the band still alive and makin’ noise today!
Adding to their legend as well is the new book by Brett Callwood. There have been many books written about Iggy, but none that truly delved deep into the history of the band and all its members. I have read parts of the others, but I saw the band many times up close and to me on some level rock ‘n’ roll really is a living, breathing organism that perhaps best tells its own story. All you have to do is listen.
The Stooges – HEAD ON… however adds human clarity to much of the journalistic muck out there. It any band is legendary in US rock history it’s Iggy and the Stooges. No one went where that band did, on a “death trip”, and for the most part lived to tell it. Their history should be documented. They embodied the essence of rock ‘n’ roll meets urban angst, for a large segment of modern young white males Sociology set to a metallic KO soundtrack.
Callwood’s book does that well, detailing their destructive behavior, yet not falling prey to tabloid journalism. He instead did in depth research, digging out facts, doing interviews with the living original principals and many other notables of the early Michigan rock scene. By reading you learn just who they are/ were, where the members came from, how they all came together to form The Stooges, why and what happened to the band that went on to become the ultimate prototypes of sex, drugs and the punk rock lifestyle.
It is no small miracle they made it. They were self-destructive, loved by no one but the hardcore fans in their day, yet in the end they survived and even prospered. Not everyone got out of the past 60+ years alive. Those of us who did have collectively grown old together and now share stories reflecting how the music we listened to influenced and got us to where we are now. That is the ultimate testimonial to the power music can have, conveying deep emotional connections and visceral messages across generations, to shape and change people lives.
Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll!