After nearly twenty years of being Please Kill Me’s bad guy, James Williamson finally wants to clear the air. I talked to him on the eve of the release of his first solo album Re/Licked.
Born in Castroville, Texas and raised in Detroit, he played in the early garage bands the Chosen Few [w/Scott Richardson] and the Coba Seas; joined the Stooges after Funhouse; co-wrote all the songs on Raw Power [and most of their post-Raw Power material] and was never asked to be interviewed by Legs and Gillian for Please Kill Me.
I spoke with James in September 2014
JW: James Williamson JM: James Marshall
JW- Hey dude, how’ya doin’?
JM- This is great.
JW- You have the thing that records this?
JM- I have two things, a piece of software I downloaded and if that doesn’t work I’ve got an old cassette deck here going too…
JW- OK cool. Yeah. I’ve been skimming this book because I haven’t seen it in so long and I have to say this is the trashiest crap book I’ve seen in a long time.
JM- It’s almost like being the bad guy in that book is such an awesome achievement that you might wanna let it ride…
JW (laughs) Yeah… I have mixed feelings as to if this is worthy of our time. (laughs)
JM- There are things to be said for being the bad guy but I’ve read interviews where you said you felt bad about what some people said. Nobody makes any specific accusations like “He kicked my dog” or something, it’s more like “He was a black cloud hanging over the Stooges.” Weird stuff like that.
JW- Yeah, yeah, there’s stuff, I guess what I can provide and I don’t even know if this is of interest to you or not is some insights as to why these people would make such a comment. For example, I don’t think people understand what my relationship was to Cyrinda Foxe or my relationship to Leee Childers. Those types of things might be insightful; I don’t know if it really matters.
“I used to hang out at the earlier Stooges house for years, so [Kathy Asheton] knew exactly who I was. I was not a stranger as she portrayed it. Many of these stories are a bit, you know, revisionist history maybe.”
JM- I think it’s great to just get it down and put it out there.
JW- Oh, well, why not? (laughs) Do you go by Jim or James?
JM- I call myself James but people just take it upon themselves to call me Jim…
JW- I get that a lot. I even answer to lots of things… where would you like to start?
JM- I guess let’s start with you joining the Stooges. Some photos surfaced on Facebook recently that look like your first gig with the Stooges–– Zeke [Zetner] is still on bass–– his last show, your first maybe? Farmingdale High School or something like that…
JW- Yes. Farmingdale or Farmington. I remember that gig because it was colder than shit and that gym was not well-heated. Well, Zeke and Bill Cheatham and I shared a house together so we were good buddies. That was probably Zeke’s last one, or one of his last ones. If you look at the pictures carefully you’ll see a guy in the audience with a Jew-fro and that’s Don Was. That was his high school (laughs).
JM- I think Wayne Kramer was on the first couple of Was/Not Was records.
JW- I don’t even know Don Was. I corresponded with him because we briefly entertained the idea of going with Blue Note and having Don produce us for the last record [Ready To Die]. It didn’t happen, but Ig knows him pretty well.
Anyway, that was the first gig and I don’t remember anything about it other than I look like hell (laughs).
JM- You looked great! Anyway, how did you come into the band? Ronnie [Asheton] said he remembers you showing up in New York when they were doing the first album. You must have known these guys…
JW- Yeah, I did. There’s quite a few things that could use clarification. My knowing Ron being one of them. I was in a band called the Chosen Few with Scott Richardson. He and I started that band. I was about fifteen. I started having some problems with being truant and stuff and I ended up in juvie, so that was the end of the band for me. After I got out of juvie I went to this boarding school in upstate New York and one time, coming home from there, I was hanging out with the guys in the band and they had just added Ron Asheton [on bass] and he had super-long hair. They were from Detroit and he was from Ann Arbor, and being from Ann Arbor he could get away with doing some things we couldn’t, like the super-long hair. He’d been playing with a blues band that Iggy had been in, The Prime Movers. So they were playing a frat party and I tagged along with the band and it ended up being fateful because I not only met Ronnie but I met Iggy who I’d known about from the Prime Movers when he was their drummer. I met them and I had brought my guitar along and was playing some of my own compositions for Ig which he right away took interest in which was unusual because most bands didn’t play their own music in those days but I always did. From that point on I stayed in contact with those guys, periodically because I was still in high school. Eventually once I was out of high school I ended up moving up to Ann Arbor. In the meantime I’d gone to New York, I’m not sure why, I was there with a buddy and there were a couple of girls there, too. They were mixing their record and Iggy came by our hotel room and took me to Danny Fields’ house. First time I ever met him and I listened to the first Stooges’ album once it was mixed.
JM- To back track for a second, the Coba Seas, that was in boarding school?
JW- Yes. Once I went to boarding school I brought my guitar and amp and there were other guys that could play instruments and we put together a band up there. I don’t know if you’ve heard the record Unreformed [Norton Records, recorded in 1966, issued in 2009]
JM- Yeah, great version of “Gloria”! When you got out of high school you went back to Detroit or Ann Arbor?
JW- Well, I finished high school at night school. That was the deal they made with me. There wasn’t anything happening in Detroit at the time so I knew some people in Ann Arbor and I moved up there and it wasn’t before long that the roadies needed a roommate, so I was around. They had added [roadies] Bill Cheatham on rhythm guitar and Zeke on bass, neither of which could play very well. Zeke a little better than Bill. At a certain point a decision was made we gotta find a guitar player and I was around. Ronnie made it sound like it was a big audition or something which it wasn’t. I would jam a little bit with him in his room and Iggy would be around and Iggy just said, “Let’s add him,” so that’s it
JM- When you first joined the band were you still playing the Funhouse repertoire?
JW- Yeah, some of that, but we had added… this is the very end of that period, so there was a couple of tunes, and of course we always had to play “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and Ig had already written “I Got A Right.” I don’t think we’d written “I’m Sick Of You” yet but if you have those Uganos bootlegs you can hear a lot of our repertoire in that.
JM- By that time the repertoire is completely new.
JW- It’s getting there. As soon as I came into the band I came with music. That was a characteristic of the Stooges, we didn’t just like to play our record and be like real entertainers, we always wanted to do the new stuff. The people who came to see us, they didn’t know the songs, they didn’t know the lyrics, it was really a terrible thing to do for the band, but that’s what we did.
JM- Were you living at Stooge Manor at the end?
JW- We called it the Funhouse. I started out there and it was really, really… you can imagine, it was just a flea bag. At the very beginning there were cots downstairs with sheets between them as the rooms. It was very, very bad conditions. So I moved out of there into this place called the Tower in downtown Ann Arbor Iggy stayed there and Scott Asheton was my roommate so I stayed there for a few months but it was a little on the expensive side and it was also just drug city. We weren’t playing enough shows to be able to afford that so I ended up back at the Funhouse only I took Iggy’s old room at the top and cleaned it all up and was there for a period of time. Eventually the band broke up and I had hepatitis by then so that was it.
“I’ve said it before and I really do believe that Bill Harvey went up to Ronnie’s room with all that Nazi crap up there and looked around and just went “No, no… ”
JM- When you first joined the band had the drug thing already kicked into high gear?
JW- No. When I first started I think they had not found needles yet. They hadn’t started injecting drugs yet, I’d seen all that already in Detroit and so I was trying to tell them, “No guys, don’t do this, it’s not good” but hey, it’s a slope you’re gonna slide down, and they did. Once that started–– which was fairly early on when I’d joined then they started getting habits–– and I fell right in with them, too, but I never had a habit. But Iggy got a bad habit, so that was, ugly, it was his first time around for that kind of stuff and he couldn’t manage it all. The band just kind of… Danny Fields has talked about it several times, he said he couldn’t deal with it, either. I like to refer to it, in this book (PKM) that we’re talking about, I think as a kind of a oversight from a Stooge perspective this book is all about the Danny Fields’ Stooges. Which is what I call ‘em. This is the time of the Stooges when Danny Fields is instrumental, got ‘em the first record deal, got ‘em all the contacts in New York, everybody that’s in this book came from the Danny Fields Stooges. I was really only barely involved in that period of the Stooges, when I came in it was late ’70 and I’m in there until early ’71 and that band is over with. It was a speck of time at the end of the Funhouse era when we should have gotten an Elektra deal and didn’t. I gotta clarify that too, but from the London period on there is some overlap with some characters from back then, but no longer Danny anymore. Leee was around because of Main Man and Cyrinda, I had run into her before but she was not part of that scene. But a lot of people who have stuff in here about me don’t really even know me (laughs) but I seem to be a good kind of, what is it, a rush to fill a vacuum. I’m not there so I’m the easy guy to bad mouth. Let me just say that while I’m thinking about it. Danny Fields tells the story of the Elektra guys, Bill Harvey and Don Gallucci coming to the Funhouse to listen to the third possible album and I just want to clarify, and don’t get me wrong because I like Danny Fields, but everyone has some distortion about their remembrances of things–– but my remembrance of that is very clear because I was hoping for big things, I wanted to make my first record. But I don’t remember Danny being there at all that day. He was there many times but that wasn’t one of them. The other mention he makes is that he heard Search and Destroy and I have to say that, sorry Danny, but that wasn’t written yet. I wrote it in London. But it makes a good story. I would say that our style at the time was super frenetic so that the Elektra guys could not really relate to it. Unlike Raw Power, which nobody could relate to, this stuff was not fully formed yet. It was a blast of high energy stuff and you hear some of that on some of those bootlegs but I think we might have even moved on from there. I’ve said it before and I really do believe that Bill Harvey went up to Ronnie’s room with all that Nazi crap up there and looked around and just went “No, no…”
JM- He [Harvey] also punched out Danny Fields after Danny got fired.
JW- He did?
JM- He was not in the Stooges camp right from the start.
JW- I think their mind was made up when they walked through the door but they had to do due diligence and we didn’t have what they wanted. Anyway, that was that.
JM- So you end up in England with Iggy…
JW- We had already signed to Columbia. That story that Danny tells of Iggy being in his living room and Lisa Robinson calling him up and Bowie wanting to meet him, that’s all true. I was at my sister’s house, living on her couch with hepatitis. I was just getting over it by then. Iggy was in New York trying to get something together. I think Rick Derringer was trying to do something…
JM- Steve Paul–– Rick Derringer and Johnny Winter’s manager–– was trying to put them together.
JW- That’s it, but at the same time this Bowie thing is happening, so you have a choice of Rick Derringer or Tony DeFries and I think DeFries was pretty charming and a big vision kind of guy. He did take Ig over to Clive Davis and he sang “Shadow Of Your Smile,” that’s all true. He got the deal so we had what for those days was a sizable record deal for two records and Ig calls me up and says, “pack up your suitcase.” There was an interim meeting but I was still at my sisters, but I had one days notice to pack up and go. It was a quick thing.
“Iggy’s a very ambitious guy and he needs someone that can be the engine of the music he’s gonna make and he didn’t see Ron as that guy, and I guess he saw me as that guy. ”
JM- One thing people never talk about is there’s a level of musical sophistication on Raw Power, songs in weird keys and stuff. Do you have musical influences? It doesn’t seem like there’s other guitar players you could point back at and say I got a lot from this guy or that guy…
JW- No, I mean I have lots of influences but not of my actual writing. I’m self-taught by and large and I started writing my own music because it was easier for me than to try to imitate other people. That stuff came from me, but I think you may be misinterpreting the keys of the songs to the fact that in those days we didn’t have tuners per se and I didn’t have a piano around. I was in a three-piece band so we just self-tuned. I wouldn’t necessarily be in tune to B 440. People always ask if I de-tuned half a step, they’d say “how did you do that?” but it’s really just my guitar wouldn’t be in tune with a piano or whatever.
JM- If you try to play along with the record, Search and Destroy sounds like it’s in F sharp.
JW- It’s not. That’s not how you play it, it’s just the way the guitar is tuned.
JM- Ron always said he felt like he was demoted to bass, and felt left behind when you first went to England and starting auditioning people. You should tell your side of that because that’s something that just kind of hangs in the air all these years…
JW- Right, I can’t shake it no matter how many times I tell the stories but what happened was that Iggy wanted to start a brand new band, so there was no Stooges. In fact the story that Ronnie tells in the book isn’t exactly true. It might be true that Iggy was at some party for SRC but it would not have been true of me because I was at my sister’s place which was in the Detroit area and I had been sick so I wouldn’t have been hanging around a party. But Iggy could have told him that. The bottom line is the Stooges were over, the band had broken up and we were going to England to start a new band. I think the reason why Iggy had chosen me–– apart from that I could play guitar and had impressed him that way–– was that Ronnie had become very apathetic and lethargic and he smoked a lot of weed. He just liked to sit around and smoke weed. He wasn’t gonna be the guy who was gonna make the next record for Iggy. Iggy’s a very ambitious guy and he needs someone that can be the engine of the music he’s gonna make and he didn’t see Ron as that guy, and I guess he saw me as that guy.
I certainly wanted to make an album, I’d never made one before so I signed up and we were off to make that band. The thing was that neither one of us knew anything about anything. So we get on an airplane, go to London and parachute into the ground zero of glam. Here’s these two Michigan guys and we didn’t even know how to work the friggin’ bathtub, that’s how bad it was. (laughs). We have this record deal and we wanna make this work. We went about doing it, got into the Bowie/Main Man organization which at that time was fairly fledgling. Bowie was not a personality yet, he was just gathering some steam, “Changes” was just breaking, he didn’t even have a decent live act yet. So we’d go to the office every day and hang out with those guys and look at David’s latest ideas for clothing design and so forth. For us it was mostly trying to get connections to English musicians who we could put together a band with. The kinda guys that were around in those days were more from the… I don’t know… the Yes, kind of frilly shirt, long English hair, and platforms era. It just wasn’t us; it didn’t make any sense to us because of the style we played. In fact Bowie made no sense to us at all, but he was a nice guy, and who’s gonna argue with him? He was making pop records and we weren’t. We were extremely impressed with Marc Bolan, it was like “Holy Jeesuz, it’s like the Beatles again.” It really was like that over there. So it was like “let’s get some of this,” but we were really floundering in terms of getting a band together. The honest to God truth is, me and Iggy were staying at the Royal Gardens, a hotel in Kensington, and they put us in the honeymoon suite together. This two room suite. Ig took the outer room and I took the room with the beds in it. We were watching television one night and I said to him, “Hey, we know a rhythm section, why don’t we call the Ashetons up and get ‘em over here?” Ronnie’s a great bass player, which is what he was when I first met him, and he was a great bass player in that line-up. Anyway, Ig agreed and we called them up and brought them over and they were more than happy to do it. I think in hindsight Ronnie probably thought I’ll do this for a little while and I’ll eventually become the guitar player again, or become part of the guitars or whatever. It just wasn’t to work out that way because of my style of guitar, there’s not a lot of air for someone else to be there and fill in. We did it for a little while with the two guitar line-up in the beginning but that was mostly because we were playing those earlier Stooges type tunes which had room for that. Once I started writing the stuff for Raw Power there was no room for anybody else. So that’s why he stayed on bass and he did a great job but he always resented it. There’s many comments in this book that are sour grapes kind of things. There’s a comment by Kathy [Asheton] even–– who not surprisingly is toeing the Asheton party line about me–– but her description of me in the Funhouse coming back from a gig is astonishing to me because she knew me. It’s not like it was the first time I ever met her; I used to hang out at the earlier Stooges house for years, so she knew exactly who I was. I was not a stranger as she portrayed it. Many of these stories are a bit, you know, revisionist history maybe.
“In fact Bowie made no sense to us at all, but he was a nice guy, and who’s gonna argue with him? He was making pop records and we weren’t. ”
JM- The Rashomon effect factor of it. Everybody remembers it differently. All the songs on Raw Power were written in England?
JW- Yes, the two songs we brought over were “I Got A Right” and “I’m Sick Of You.” We wanted to record those songs, we played those songs at the one and only gig we played over there [King’s Cross Cinema] but Main Man turned up their nose at them and said “keep trying boys.” They wanted Bowie-esque pop songs that were working for him. They thought we were another one of those bands. The only reason Raw Power got made the way it did was that David got quite popular and he got busy and they quit paying attention to us and just let us go in and do our own in the studio.
JM- I guess we have to mention the eternal bitching that you can’t hear the bass and drums in the mix. I have to say I think the Bowie mix is the best one we’ve heard. The guitar and the vocals sound perfect. I don’t think the rhythm section is there on the tape…
JW- Yeah, that’s right. I agree with you that the Bowie mix is the best one to date. I never got a crack at it and I’d love to some day but the information I got third hand is that the tape, the signal isn’t there. It doesn’t surprise me, you gotta remember I didn’t know anything, it was my first record, so I was deferring to Ig in the studio and that’s a bad thing to do. He thinks he knows this stuff and he’s a very bossy guy, but he doesn’t know squat. He’s telling the engineer to do all this stuff that they did on Funhouse, live things, and the poor guy is doing his best, but what can he do? He’s gotta do what his customer wants him to do so I think the bass probably sounds like crap. The drums, I don’t know what to tell you, there’s probably leakage all over the drums and they had to be kept back. Maybe the takes that we used the drums for had leakage from other takes and just was crap… I don’t know.
JM- The Ig remix… all he did was make his own vocals louder, and they were the loudest thing on the record anyway, and take the effects off the guitar. I didn’t get what he was going for…
JW- He didn’t either. He just wanted to make it loud. That’s why Bowie mixed the thing in the first place. We didn’t want David Bowie to have anything to do with our record but at the end of the day it was just too much. We’d done this pretty crappy job of recording this thing and we had a lot of extraneous stuff in there and it was a bigger mix than Ig could handle. And I didn’t know how to do it; I didn’t know what I was doing. I wasn’t even trying. We ended up with this mix that was really not useable. So DeFries made this executive decision to bring Bowie in, which Bowie wanted to do anyway. So that worked out fine. For all the grousing I’ve done about this mix, which is a strange, arty kind of thing that certainly has David’s fingerprint on it, you know what? He pulled it out, he pulled out an almost unusable session. And it made me sound great. I don’t know what I’m complaining about. I mean that mix, Jack White made a career out of that. That’s it.
JM- The Stooges come back to the States, move to L.A. and don’t play for, what, a year? Two shows, the Whiskey and Max’s?
JW- That’s not exactly correct, we hadn’t played those shows yet. The only thing we did when we got back was Cobo Hall in Detroit. That was it. Beyond that we were just holed up in that house in Mulholland, going to rehearsals and hoping we were going to play, and getting back into drugs. When we were in England it was pretty clean over there. Near the end Ronnie found some hash and we found out you could buy Codeine at the drug store. But we weren’t druggies over there. It was beer oriented stuff, but once we got back and got the groupies and the drug connections then everything started coming back in. In Hollywood, you got guys who don’t have much to do except rehearse for a couple of hours a day and get stoned. We still don’t know why we didn’t play; why didn’t DeFries play us more over in London? We’ll never know. I think he wanted David to be in the limelight and the Stooges were just for association. I mean, that’s very David Bowie.
JM- They had hits with Mott The Hoople and Lou Reed, you’d think they’d at least want some income…
JW- But those were Bowie’s projects. We didn’t want Bowie to produce us. We were adamant about that, we didn’t want Bowie in the studio. We didn’t want Bowie messing with our songs. So right or wrong, we weren’t the Mott the Hoople they were hoping for, so we had no hits. There was nothing that came close to being a hit for us.
“But DeFries didn’t know what to do with us and we weren’t playing the game he wanted. The band was a real band. It was kind of a democratic thing at that point and DeFries wanted to make Iggy a pop star like Bowie and Bowie’s bands were disposable.”
JM- Iggy told me he knew Raw Power wasn’t going to get played on the radio when he was making it. But bands back then had made it without radio. Grand Funk were huge before they had a radio hit…
JW- Well, the name of the game back then was records and we weren’t making ‘em. The only show we did over there was before we made the record. After that DeFries said he was afraid the police were gonna get called at our show. That could have happened in those days in London. We certainly scared the shit out of those kids for sure. You have no idea the look on these people’s faces. They had never seen anything like this. I mean we were just doing a regular gig.
JM- The photos are so amazing. Too bad there’s no tape of that one….
JW- Yeah. (laughs) It was something. If you look at us, here we are, we’re bumpkins. And we see all these people–– Bolan and Bowie and everybody–– and they’re all wearing makeup. So there we are and we got to do a show and we said, “Maybe we should be wearing makeup, too.” We start considering it and we don’t have any idea of what to do. We don’t even have any girls to help us at that point. We literally went out and got a box of clown’s makeup. If you look at us in those pictures we both have this white face on. That’s about it, there’s a little bit of this and that but it’s pretty much white face like a clown.
JM- Iggy’s got black lipstick on.
JW- (laughs) Right and Iggy’s got black lipstick on. But DeFries didn’t know what to do with us and we weren’t playing the game he wanted. The band was a real band. It was kind of a democratic thing at that point and DeFries wanted to make Iggy a pop star like Bowie and Bowie’s bands were disposable.
JM- Ronnie said he found out the Stooges had higher weekly salaries than the Spiders, and the Spiders were at their peak…
JW- And that wasn’t hardly enough to live on. Those guys, they were a good band, Ronson was good, and a good guy, too.
JM- He did a good Jeff Beck impersonation when he had to.
JW- Easy to work with, an easygoing guy. He was really into Beck, which I am too, but I don’t play like him.
JM- I can’t figure out any precursor to the guitar style on Raw Power. The only thing that comes to mind is the Ronnie Hawkins version of “Who Do You Love” that had Robbie Robertson playing lead guitar.
JW- It comes from me playing so much by myself, alone, and playing my own stuff so I make it up. A lot of down picking, a combination of the finger pressure and the pick style. You can always tell that it’s me playing guitar–– as soon as you hear it.
JM- There are horrible emotional screams, like on “Death Trip” I’m sure that’s why people love it today but, that kind of screaming emotion, did you have terrible teenage years or something?
JW- I kind of did, and that’s true I used the guitar as an emotional outlet and that’s where that comes from. You know, I had a stepfather who was an army colonel, I mean it wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great and when you’re a teenager you always have a lot of angst anyway, so I had the combination, and for me, it was my way of dealing with that was to just go play guitar for hour after hour. That’s where that style comes from.
“So we have full access to the limo and we can go anywhere we want so our routine is to cruise by Hollywood High and try to pick up the high school girls. We were pretty successful at it.”
JM- Getting back to the L.A. years. You [and the band] are in this house on Mulholland and Leee Childers is the guy who’s put in charge to keep you guys in line?
JW- So we come back from London. They sent the Asheton brothers back first and me and Ig are still staying in London for awhile. At this point I’m pretty good buddies with Angie Bowie. Ig went directly to L.A., I came back through Ann Arbor. I came back with Angie on the same flight, meanwhile Angie starts shacking up with Ron and apparently has been doing that for quite some time. That’s neither here nor there but we spent a couple of days there and then we come out and stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel where Ig is staying. It’s just totally cool. First time in L.A., I get picked up by a limo with Ig in the back, palm trees everywhere, beautiful summer day, what’s not to like. We’re stylin’ up to the Beverly Hills Hotel and first night, there’s no rooms. So Angie and I have this room together and one thing leads to another and I’m screwing her and apparently everyone has so this not news or anything risqué.
But I don’t remember if it’s this book [PKM] or another book but she says I raped her or something and that’s completely untrue. I just want to go on the record, I got nothing to lose here. That’s a crazy thing to say. So we’re at the Beverly Hills Hotel and our daily routine becomes, we’re waiting for the Ashetons to come out, but we don’t want them to come out until we have a house. So we have full access to the limo and we can go anywhere we want so our routine is to cruise by Hollywood High and try to pick up the high school girls. We were pretty successful at it. A couple of the girls became girlfriends of ours, Evita being one of mine, and Coral being one of Ig’s. That’s where all those girls came from. Sable, they were all part of that crowd. The Shields girls [Coral and Sable] were actually from Palos Verdes but they were all part of the same clique. The other thing we’d do was hang around, I can’t remember who’s it was but Cyrinda Foxe was hanging around crashing at this person’s apartment. Ig reintroduced me to Cyrinda who I had met back in the Danny Fields Stooges one time at Max’s, Cyrinda was in Pork [the play] so I remember having met her back then. I was kind of thinking she was pretty cool, you know, doing the Marilyn thing and it was an any port in the storm kind of thing. I start screwing her and the next thing you know [by this time we’re in the house] she’s moving in with me. So now I’m living with Cyrinda Foxe, I’m trying to remember for you exactly how long, it wasn’t a terribly long time but it was probably a couple of months, or many many weeks, but over the course of that time we just couldn’t get along with each other. It wasn’t working. We decided to part company and off she went back to New York. And I get a phone call four weeks later and she’s pregnant. Now what do we do? Neither one of us want to get married or anything like that so she decides to terminate the pregnancy so I sent her money, which was in very short supply in those days. I felt like we left it on as good of terms as we could, but apparently not. When you hear the tone about what she says about me, and I know that was a big factor with Leee Childers because she was pals with him. So she was feeding the back panel on all the drugs kind of things, especially after the fact.
“It’s ludicrous, Leee’s feeding the back channel to Main Man that James is a big druggie and a bad guy, and he’s their little spy to the Stooges, but meanwhile Iggy’s my drug dealer. .”
JM- She had a sad ending, a brain tumor. I wonder if the brain tumor had already started to affect her when she gave the interview to Legs and Gillian.
JW- I think she kind of hated me, the pregnancy thing, and I wasn’t the easiest guy to be around, for sure. To me she was a very vulnerable person, extremely neurotic, just a real piece of work. So her and Leee were really good buddies and now Leee really doesn’t like me and we’re all in the same house. Leee’s over the garage and we’re in the main house. It’s ludicrous, Leee’s feeding the back channel to Main Man that James is a big druggie and a bad guy, and he’s their little spy to the Stooges, but meanwhile Iggy’s my drug dealer. DeFries buys this story and figures if I get rid of James maybe this thing will work. So one day I get the word directly from Ig who went in and had a long conversation with DeFries and he basically threw me under the bus. DeFries just said it’s either James or all of you can go. This was a pivotal point in that band because from that point on I never really trusted Iggy. Ronnie tells these stories because he experienced it many times in the band’s history, but this was the first time I’d ever experienced it. So I’m gone. Luckily by then I’ve got another girlfriend, Evita, who was kind enough to take me in so I was okay. Actually some good came out of it because I met Scott Thurston and after we put it back together he was our keyboard player. So that’s Leee and Cyrinda, so when I hear these things coming out of their interviews, and I know you like Leee, or liked Leee, but I detested Leee for the rest of his life. I would never under any circumstance have anything to do with Leee after that.
JM- I did like Leee, but it’s funny that he accused you of being a druggie and then goes on to manage the Heartbreakers. (laughs)
JW- (laughs) Exactly! But he was their little spy guy and he could kill two birds with one stone–– he could make Tony happy and make Cyrinda happy–– so they got me. It took about two seconds for them [Main Man] to realize, uh oh, all the rest of them [the Stooges] are worse! (laughs)
JM- And the Stooges have their one day Tornado Turner era…
JW- Right. That’s when they figured out “We better call that James back up…”
JM- Who made the call to ask you back?
JW- Ig. I didn’t see the gig, I only heard about it but apparently it was a complete disaster. It was two things, the gig was a disaster and shortly after that they all got canned [from Main Man], so they were like “Would you come back and play guitar for us again?” Meanwhile I’m working at a porno theater so I said I’ll do it. I didn’t have any job skills, all I knew how to do was play the guitar, and my guitar style wasn’t very commercial so I couldn’t just go out and get a gig. I had to go to unemployment every day, eventually they found me a projectionist job, it didn’t say porno projectionist, I showed up and they showed me how to feed the machine and that was my job.
JM- Non-union projectionist. So the Stooges finally start playing their final shows, after the break with DeFries, who fired who?
JW- He fired them. I was already out. They tried Tornado Turner. I think Kim Fowley set them up with him. DeFries got ahold of Kim Fowley, and you can imagine what that conversation was like. And Kim set them up with Tornado Turner and they go out and play this gig and of course it was a disaster. By then they [Main Man] knew that all of them were big druggies. So DeFries just said “Forget it, it’s over.” All of them were fired.
“I don’t remember him in any tutu– although he did wear that occasionally– but this time we was almost exclusively in that sort of insect gear. I remember it because, and I had the weird Spock outfit…”
JM- Which brings you to Jeff Walls.
JW- Right, that was the next manager. He was Helen Reddy’s husband. When I came back in that was already in place. He had a team of people and he put this guy John Major in. He was the brother or brother-in-law of the wife of Jackson Browne who committed suicide. He was a good guy. He took us under his wing and started to tour us. We needed a road manager so he brought in Chris Erring from the Bay Area, he was part of the Albert Grossman organization. The reason I tell you this is that he introduces me to the woman who would become my wife; who’s been my wife all these years. So I know him quite well and all these women know each other from Albert Grossman days. So they start touring us and I think we did some of our best shows with that management team. We did a lot of shows. Unfortunately you couldn’t book the Stooges on any organized tour–– we couldn’t play everywhere–– there were places where they didn’t want to know about us. Our tours consisted of a transcontinental air flight to New York or some east coast town that might know us, or Detroit. You might get two days but mostly likely you’d be taking a flight and then coming back to L.A. so it was a lot of overhead. We never had a truck. I’ve never been on a road bus in my life.
JM- When I saw you in Atlanta you had a rented back line.
JW- We didn’t have a truck, so every single gig was a brand new experience. I’d bring my guitar and who knows what amp I’d get. We’d try to get things we knew sounded decent like Marshalls and stuff but in a lot towns you couldn’t get that stuff so we’d get Sunns or Peaveys or whatever we could get. I learned to play on everything. We just never knew. Poor Scott Thurston, he had this one little pickup he carried around with him and just sort of chewing gum it onto whatever piano was there. (laughs) We always used rented back line and we always flew everywhere and that’s how we toured. We were in that mode with that management. I guess it was ’73, maybe for a year and a half we toured, it was good. A lot of the songs that I’m about to release on this record came from that period. We believed we were gonna get our record deal picked up with Columbia and they were coming to shows and stuff.
JM- Nite Bob said you guys did a demo at CBS in New York while the Max’s shows were going on.
JW- Yeah, that’s not true. What we did do was use the studio to rehearse in, just to hear what we sounded like. CBS was our recordcompany and they did record some stuff but not as demos. I think some of that stuff is floating around. A lot of the tunes I’m doing right now came from those CBS rehearsals.
JM- Columbia recorded the New Year’s Eve Academy of Music shows in New York too, judging by the bootleg it sounded like a bit of a disaster. Iggy’s falling apart..
JW- Yeah, that gig was weird for a lot of reasons. You couldn’t hear for one thing. God knows what it sounds like.
JM- You’re playing a Firebird in the photographs.
JW- That’s Nite Bob’s. He loaned it to me for the night. It was a cool looking guitar. The action was like two inches high. I was used to playing this Gibson Les Paul Custom and it was like agghhhhh! But I did it because it looked so cool.
JM- The band breaks up in February of ’74, those are the Metallic K.O. shows…
JW- Yeah, I wanna set that straight too. Ig tells a story in Please Kill Me, and Ig is always wants to embellish things from time to time. His version of this tale is quite different than my recollection. By this time we had a new management team out of New York and our crack management did book us into a biker bar before we were gonna play the Michigan Palace because it was a little extra money and they had no idea, it said “Rock and Roll Farm” and they figured it was a rock ’n’ roll place. So we get in there and do our thing and we had a lot of local people came to that place but it was essentially bikers. I don’t remember him in any tutu– although he did wear that occasionally– but this time we was almost exclusively in that sort of insect gear. I remember it because, and I had the weird Spock outfit, I know both of us got that made by the same guy in Hollywood, and those were the only costumes we had so we never wore anything else and they never got dry cleaned or anything, they could stand on their own. They stunk. I know that’s what he wore. I also recall the he wasn’t quite the way he says he was in the book. He was just doing his regular Iggy thing, going out in the audience and he saddled up to a biker leaning up against the rail near the back of the bar who was just looking at him. And you know how he gets right there with his mike and everything, and the guy just hauled off and cold-cocked him. He knocked him flat on the floor, I know he did. We didn’t know right away because we couldn’t see him but a lot of times with our band Iggy goes silent because he’s on the floor or whatever, he can’t get his mike back, it wasn’t unusual for us so we keep on playing. Meanwhile there’s starting to get a vibe in there and pretty soon it went too long and we just stopped and figured out what was going on. And he was hurt, he got hit hard. The thing was, those bikers were real bikers. We were lucky to out of there alive. It was a bad, bad, scene. We didn’t get paid for that or anything. So that was that one, but it is true that Ig then went on to taunt those guys on the radio like the brilliant guy that he is sometimes and they did come back and bring their buddies the next night and they did start throwing stuff and we egged them on. It’s all captured on Metallic KO. There was no other biker gang that were there to protect us or anything like that, like Ronnie points out, there was just us up there. The lucky thing is we were pretty far away from where they were seated and it’s pretty hard to peg a guy from that far. That’s the only reason we didn’t get hit.
JM- It’s amazing no one got really hurt in the four years of the Stooges.
JW- Yeah, it is. There have been some close calls for sure, but that was the worst one, it was nasty. Those were guys that would hurt you. So we got out of there.
JM- So, it’s the end of the Stooges…
JW- Yes, the end of the Stooges but I still got Ig living in my apartment. But we’ve been through this before and we think maybe we can get a record deal. We can always call the Ashetons back up, they’re back in Detroit by now. We start writing tunes, it’s promising, we got some pretty good tunes. Initially we thought Elton John, he liked us, he came to Atlanta, of course he wanted to suck my dick is what he wanted to do. I didn’t realize that at the time. We thought maybe he wanted to make a record with us or something. They didn’t. We went on and went to see John Cale [then working A&R at Warner Brothers–JM] and of course John Cale wasn’t doing anything except drugs, he wasn’t any help. Finally we run into Ben Edmonds from Creem and he had a lot of connections. Ben knew Jimmy Webb and he said look, you guys need demos. Lets go up to Jimmy’s house. Jimmy said, “you guys could use my studio you just got to pay my brother a bag of weed every day to be the engineer and we’ll do it.” We did it, that’s where we recorded Kill City. Meanwhile Ig had kind of fallen apart and now, by the time this all gets put together he’s in the hospital. I get the musicians and start cutting tracks at Jimmy Webb’s house and my singer is in the friggin’ hospital. I just did what I needed to do, get permission to take him out. When he had to do vocal tracks I’d pick him up at the hospital and cut his vocal and take him back to the hospital. That’s how that was made.
JM- Did someone shop the tape?
JW- There was an attorney named Bennett Glasser, pretty famous music attorney. First Ben tried to shop it, then Bennett tried to shop it, then Bennett gave up on us because Iggy was, as he put it, “too frenetic” which was true. One good thing he did do was say, “Where’s the tapes?” Well they’re up at Jimmy Webb’s house and he said, “Go get ‘em.” So I drove up there with Ig and we asked for the tapes and they gave ‘em to us. So now I got the multi-tracks but we don’t have anyone shopping it for us. So they just sat in the closet, then Ig… you know, Bowie starts coming around and Ig is off to Europe with Bowie and I’m working in a recording studio.
JM- I can’t remember if Greg Shaw [Bomp Records] puts out Kill City before you get hired to do New Values or after?
JW- Before. I went to the recording studio and did that for a while but I found out I’m not really cut out for that kind of work. I like to say, there’s only one thing worse than being in a band with guys you don’t like and that’s recording with guys you don’t like every single day of your life. I was like, I can’t do this. It was disco music they were recording over there at Paramount Records; it was disco mania in those days. I got interested in electronics and this peculiar thing happens, I go to this electronics store and I see, there’s this machine that came out very, very, early on called an Imsai 8080–– old, old before PC’s per se–– it had the old front panel switches and you had to boot the thing up by hand. To me it was very exciting that you could do this. I decided that I’m gonna learn how to do this, and eventually it led me to go to school. In the midst of that Greg Shaw gets ahold of me and he offers me money–– and money for the studio to finish the record up to put it out on Bomp. I decided to do it. The tapes were not quite finished, they needed overdubs, there was quite a bit of stuff they needed, it wasn’t long enough, we had to add some stuff. There was some peculiarities about it but basically I finished it up and it sounded good. And Ig had heard about it and he had a fit. Now today you don’t hear that from him; he’s all about “that’s one of the first indie records” but he had a fit and he didn’t want me to put it out. He considered it unprofessional and unlike the things he and Bowie had been doing and blah blah blah, and I told him to go pound sand.
“I never thought of myself as a punk, never wanted to be a punk and still didn’t want to be a punk, so this made no sense to me whatsoever. ”
It wasn’t more than three or four months since that had happened that the kids started listening to that album and all of a sudden him and Bowie are using that to shop for the next deal saying, “Look, we’re plugged into the kids, look what we did.” Anyway, that’s Kill City. Then when their relationship parted [Iggy and Bowie] and it’s time to make a new record for Arista, that’s when New Values came in and that’s when
he asked me to produce that.
JM- There’s some funny stories about that in the Paul Trynka book Open Up and Bleed. In retrospect Iggy says he hired you hoping to get some guitar riffs out of you. But at that point you weren’t playing at all?
JW- That’s right. He always wanted me to come back and write him more songs. And I tried a little bit and I had one song I had written, “Don’t Look Down” that’s the one we recorded on the album of mine, the only one. But I’d lost interest in it, I put it down, I wasn’t doing it at all.
JM- Are you playing on “Billy Is A Runaway”?
JW- No, I only played on my own song, and on “Endless Sea,” that little reggae part, I did that I think. So anyway, he didn’t get that out of me, I don’t know if he even liked it at the time but subsequently that’s an album I’m quite proud of and I think a lot of people like that album. By that time Ben Edmonds was the A&R guy for Arista and both Ig and Ben had hoped that by putting me in the equation it would become punk which had become quite popular by then. I never thought of myself as a punk, never wanted to be a punk and still didn’t want to be a punk, so this made no sense to me whatsoever. All I wanted to do was make a good album. So we made that but Arista wasn’t happy. So they right away wanted to make another album which is Soldier. This time they were going to be sure to get punk out of me and so they decided to do the album in the U.K. and hire a bunch of guys who’d been in punk bands like Glen Matlock and Barry Andrews from XTC. And keep me captive over there so maybe I would become that way. Of course it was a total disaster and I didn’t end up finishing the project at all.
“Eventually I started telling my son, “Hey, I invented that style” and he’s like, “Okay, sure Dad.”
JM- Did you really pull a gun on someone?
JW- Yeah, but… Glen likes to tell that story, but the gun was a pellet gun but it happened to look like a real gun. It wasn’t even loaded with pellets. The A&R guy from Arista in England had it and I borrowed it, I just wanted to shoot cans, just something to do out in Wales. I mean they had shotguns out there, too, you could shoot skeet and all that kind of crap. Again, there’s all this embellishment of mean old James and the Phil Spector thing and so on but the bottom line was that I hated the material and I couldn’t get a performance out of the musicians. It was back in the days to get a performance you actually had to get a performance, you couldn’t just stop and cut it in and put it together with Pro Tools. We just became more and more adversarial and it just wasn’t working out so in the end it was just better to part company.
JM- From there you’re out of music for quite a while unless there’s something that went way under the radar…
JW- No, by then I’d had it. I was pretty much out of music when Ig came around asking about doing New Values. I did it because it was money and it was fun to do and Ig had some good material. I knew I could use my buddy Scotty Thurston and we put together a good band and everyone was on board with it and it was a good album. Soldier I did strictly for the money and that’s always a really bad reason to do things. I went into it with big reservations because I didn’t like the material, Ig didn’t have time to work up material, I wasn’t writing material, I occupied myself over there with technical related issues. There was a new thing called Sinthie Time Code where you could synch two 24 track machines together which was a huge thing back then. Ig is kind of a Luddite so it used to completely drive him over the top. (laughs)
JM- 48 tracks to fill on an Iggy record does sound like a lot.
JW- Maybe it was a little overkill but it was a lot of fun for me. And I was having trouble having fun at those sessions.
JM- The whole time your out of music you gave very few interviews. I remember a great one on the I-94 Bar website, but in most interviews you seemed really down on your musical past. When did it occur to you that the tide had turned in your favor historically?
JW- That’s when it started [at the time of the I-94 bar interview] or maybe a little earlier than that. I had put the guitar down, I wasn’t following music, I wasn’t even listening to that much music. All of a sudden I started getting these phone calls ever so often, usually some English writer who had come across my number, I wasn’t that hard to find because I was listed. Most people didn’t put that together. But these people would call and say, “Do you realize who you are?” (laughs) But I never really accepted that kind of status and frankly, in a lot of ways, I still don’t. Be that as it may, once the internet started happening I became much easier to find and that goes for people that I work with who had no idea about any of this and also the media people. I started getting more and more of this and I’d usually turn them down but Ken was able to get me through to Ronnie Asheton and I decided I’d do Ronnie a favor and do the interview. For a very long time I didn’t consider the Stooges to be important. We were not important to the music industry at the time I was in it. I always liked what we did and some people agreed with me but the industry never accepted us. I guess it was when my son started bringing home Nirvana albums and things like that that I started hearing the similarities. It even happened with the Sex Pistols, I started hearing, like wow, that sounds like me a little bit. Eventually I started telling my son, “Hey, I invented that style” and he’s like, “Okay, sure Dad.” But eventually I got enough of that to say, “Hey, people know who we were anyway” and I left it at that. Eventually, what was it, 2003 that they reformed the band and that was good, I was really happy to see Ronnie get his day in the sun again on guitar and all and they were getting some pretty good ink from that. Eventually when I rejoined the band I was astonished at the size of the crowds we were playing for and almost immediately we get put in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and a whole progression of things started happening and I have to say, this is incredible.
JM- To back track a bit, I think it was the ’96 Olympics that Nike does the “Search and Destroy” ad…
JM- At that point you had to think you were entering popular culture in a big way.
JW- Yeah, that was incredible. I got this phone call, I was actually in my car on the road in Wyoming with my son going fishing. I get this phone call from my wife from Bug Music, my publisher at the time, now BMG, but they wanted to know if it was okay with me if Nike used one of my songs. I’m goin’ fuck yeah, what’s wrong with that? Then I get this call from this writer who wants to know if it’s okay if a commercial enterprise like this wants to use the anthem of punk rock. I’m okay with it.
JM- It’s not like radio is going to play it.
JW- Exactly, and they handled it in a very cool way. It only lasted a minute because people couldn’t handle it. The Nike thing was played in the basketball finals and people are freaking because the guy is puking on his shoes.
JM- Their previous ad had had William Burroughs in it. I think they were trying to market themselves to junkies. That was their theme that summer.
We never had any recognition back in the day so to be at this age and to be accepted like this and to be able to go out and play for appreciative fans a lot of which weren’t even alive at that time is pretty phenomenal.
JW- Whoever was running those ads was cool that’s all I know. So I’m in Wyoming and I said, “Good with me” but this guy asks, “Are you ever reforming”? and I said, “We’re not exactly the Beach Boys” and left it at that and got back in my car and kept driving.
JM- At some point your kids must have realized that their father had a background in rock ’n’ roll…
JW- Yeah, it was after my son started going to college, that’s when his personal biases started being overcome by his friends biases. My stock went way up.
JM- To jump forward again, your retirement from Sony dovetails into Ronnie Asheton’s death in a sort of a weird synchronicity.
JW- Yeah, it does. The Ig story on that as usual is pretty Ig-ified. The true story is that was a period of time Sony was having trouble–– it’s still having trouble–– but the thing that all corporations do, is one of the first things is offer everybody over a certain age, usually over fifty, an early retirement package, that way they can get rid of higher paid guys and replace ‘em with lower paid guys. After fifty you’re maybe not getting the best years of their career so across the board they offer those things. So this was coming around and Ig called me up an asked me if I wanted to rejoin the band. At first I just told him no. First of all I hadn’t decided to take the retirement package and also I didn’t think I could get up and play guitar live anymore. I mean, am I really gonna go out and do that? So I gave it a lot of thought and this was over a course of weeks and eventually I called him back because I decided I can take this package and I’m free to do whatever I want and I talked to my wife and she was very dubious about it but she said “do whatever you want to do.” I really felt like I kind of owed it to those guys because they really kind of couldn’t do it without me. Think about what it would have been like if they got Tornado Turner? So I said OK, I’m gonna do it. I called ‘em back and said I’m gonna take the package and I’ll try. Luckily I had a long period of time to woodshed. And I had some help from people. I got to play with a local band which is essential to go and play live shows. So it got so I could do it, by the time we did our first live show in San Paolo, Brazil, you know, if wasn’t the best show I ever did, but it wasn’t a bad show.
JM- Big audience at that show, a real turn around from the Rock and Roll Farm.
JW- Exactly, It was unbelievable. It was 40,000 people. I’d never played for more than two thousand people in my life up until then. So it was like, holy shit, but I did it and I got used to it. But meanwhile Sony didn’t want me to leave, so I ended up consulting for them, so for the next two and a half years I had two jobs, I was consulting for Sony still and working for the Stooges. The only way it worked was with the Stooges schedule we knew it six months in advance at least so if there was a period I couldn’t do it I’d just tell the road manager Henry just block out these dates, I can’t do it.
JM- Were there Stooges fans at Sony back in Japan?
JW- It turns out there were. That worked out great. It wasn’t just Japan. I worked with Sony Pictures and Sony Music, who own Raw Power so it was this really weird thing (laughs). It’s a very strange thing for me and it’s very gratifying; we never had any recognition back in the day so to be at this age and to be accepted like this and to be able to go out and play for appreciative fans a lot of which weren’t even alive at that time is pretty phenomenal. I know you’ll appreciate this, we got to Europe a lot and the whole audience is twenty somethings, and my theory is, just like when we were watching Cream and the Rolling Stones and Jeff Beck there came a time where we realized that hey, these guys are not the real guys. These other guys are the real guys. So we started to go see them. I think these kids realize we’re the real guys in this genre of rock and roll.
JM- Yeah, you’re Howlin’ Wolf to these kids.
JW- Yeah, we’re the blues guys of rock and roll.
JM- You got a new record coming out, it’s the post-Raw Power Stooges repertoire re-recorded with other singers?
JW- Yeah. This is the material that was written after we came back from London. We had every reason to believe they were gonna pick up our option to do another album on our CBS contract. In typical fashion we started writing new material like crazy and we were pretty prolific back then and we would play it live because we were pretty ADD and we didn’t want to just play our album we wanted to play the new stuff. So we wrote all this new stuff and played it live and it got bootlegged and later on CBS didn’t pick up our option so all that we were left with was these bootlegs. All these years these bootlegs have been out there and there’s a lot of good tunes in there but they sound like hell, most of them. I’ve had to hear this stuff and I just cringe knowing how good it could be. Iggy and I talked about doing this before we recorded Ready To Die but we rejected it because anything we do now automatically gets compared to Raw Power and that era, and if we were to do those songs from that era with today’s line up it would be “these are the old Stooges and the young Stooges were so much better” so we decided no, let’s do new stuff. I’m proud of that album but this is something I’ve had on my bucket list.
JM- “Cock In My Pocket,” “Wet My Bed,” “Open Up and Bleed”… I love those songs…
JW- “Head On The Curb.” Some of the best songs we ever wrote. It was kind of the pinnacle of the Stooges, in between Raw Power and Kill City. Some of the Kill City songs came from that period. I just decided I’m gonna do it. We finished touring, I had the time, I didn’t have Iggy and I decided alright, I’m gonna line up a bunch of singers and do it. I got very lucky with that record, not only was I fired up about it but I had the other Stooges touring band members fired up about it. A lot of those songs we were playing live, and I’d done some new arrangements on some of them and we went into Dave Grohl’s studio in Northridge and started cutting tracks. It was easy because the drummer was down there and Mike Watt was down there and Grohl’s studio has the Sound City console so it’s a good sound. I did about eight tracks with them all together. I started finding singers, really good ones. Carolyn Wonderland was the first one, she just blew me away. Jello Biafra practically demanded he sing “Head On The Curb.” He was fantastic. Wait until you hear this. Bobby Gillespie [Primal Scream], he was all over it. Midstream I couldn’t get Watt anymore cause he was over in Europe touring so I found this good drummer from here in the Bay Area Michael Nirvano–– amazing drummer–– and then I found Greg Foreman who plays keyboards with Cat Power and he knew Simone Marie Butler who plays bass with Primal Scream, she really wanted to do it. So I got this whole other band who really kicked some serious ass on the remaining tunes, some of which are musically demanding. I’ve got this record ready to come out and I’m really happy with it.
JM- How do we wrap this up?
JW- Well it sounds like you’re more interested in the real story than these Please Don’t Kill Me, or Please Kill Me things, because when I started going through this stuff I kept thinking god, that’s so wrong… My own theory, without knowing, it that Legs is part of that New York clique and if that is what they they said, then that’s the way it was and that was good enough for him [Legs], or them [Legs and Gillian].
JM- It’s always been a bone of contention between me and Gillian. I mean it’s one thing when Ronnie Asheton says he feels bad about being demoted to bass, but Leee Childers slinging mud over drugs and he went on to manage the Heartbreakers…
JW- Yeah, Leee was bitching for all the wrong reasons. OK, I’ve been pretty down on Legs because of this because I felt that he did a really crappy job on research and I don’t know the guy at all, but since you and a good friend of mine, my distributor, John Kastner, is buddies with him, so I know a bunch of people that know him now, and so I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t be so begrudging about the whole thing and just let it go. But now that I look this [Please Kill Me] over I think ‘why do I care’? (laughs)
JM- It’s good for the legend.
It has occurred to me in the last few minutes that although I’ve been reading them most of my life, I kind of hate record reviews. I don’t need someone telling me what I like, and I really hate when writers attempt to analyze rock lyrics (unless they’ve found something in “Surfin’ Bird” that I missed). Few writers know anything about music, or recording, or the business of music (hint: the money is in songwriting and publishing). On that note I will simply attempt to explain what this record–– which I think is pretty damn great–– is and isn’t. What it isn’t is a Stooges record, what it is, is James Williamson’s chance to get the Stooges repertoire 1972-74 recorded in some high quality studio recordings. For this he utilizes two core bands-–one being the final Stooges touring line-up Mike Watt on bass, Toby Dammit on drums and Steve MacKay on sax–– the other being Michael Urbano on drums, Simone Marie Butler [of Primal Scream] on bass, Gregg Foreman [Cat Power] plays keyboards throughout, and there’s a variety of other players scattered about and a line-up of guest singers. Best of all James Williamson is playing guitar on every track and is the featured soloist.
As mentioned, the tunes are all vintage Stooges from the era immediately before and after Raw Power. So far so good, these are some of the greatest rock ’n’ roll songs ever written, and let’s face it, if you’ve got a good song you’re halfway home. James co-wrote fourteen of the sixteen with Iggy Pop [“I Got A Right” is credited solely to Iggy, “She Creatures of the Hollywood Hills” is credited to Iggy and Ron Asheton]. Stooges fans will recognize most if not all of the tunes from a bewildering variety of live and rehearsal bootlegs and an 8-track demo that was issued on several 45’s.
The opening track, with Jello Biafra singing, is “Head On The Curve.” Jello sticks close to Iggy’s Metallic KO rendition (for reasons known only to him and perhaps his shrink, substituting the words Mother Fucker for Butt Fucker…) and Butler’s bass part pays tribute to Ron Asheton’s (for all his bitching over the years about being shifted to bass, I did finally get Ron to admit that he thought he was a great bass player). Second tune is the Stooges’ classic set closer “Open Up & Bleed”, is given a rather dramatic re-interpretation by Carolyn Wonderland who turns it into adult blues. These two tracks give you the point spread. Jello sticks as close to the Stooges as possible [as does Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie on “Scene Of The Crime”]. Carolyn Wonderland takes it as far into the modern world as a such a tune can go. All the other tracks fall in between these two extremes.
Favorites on early listening would have to be Lisa Kekaula of the Bel-Rays [who also did some vocals on the MC5 reunion] belting out “I Got A Right” Clara Ward gospel style, and “Heavy Liquid,” the most R&B oriented tune Williamson ever wrote. “Pinpoint Eyes,” a hard core blues with one of James’ best solos ever, sung by Joe Cardamone [The Icaruas Line]; The Richmond Sluts’ wailing through the flat out rocker “Wet My Bed” and two versions of “Cock In My Pocket,” sung first by Nicke Anderson [The Hellacopters] and then by Gary Floyd. Another real treat here is hearing polished versions of tunes known from bootlegs of such horrid quality it was hard to even tell if they were real tunes or not—“Rubber Legs” [sung by J.G. Thirlwell, who I think is the guy that used to collaborate with Lydia Lunch under the name Foetus] falls into that category as does “Til The End Of The Night” [Alison Mosshart sings] and Wild Love [Mosshart duets with Mark Lanegan]. I have to admit, I pay little attention to modern music and many of these singers and players are new to me, but all and all, this is as killer a rock ’n’ roll album as you’re going to hear in these days of increasingly diminished expectations.