Dave Alexander was one of the founding members of the Stooges. He was full of contradictions: shy and mysterious, with a fast car and an unquenchable thirst for cheap beer and liquor. Ron Asheton described him as “way ahead of his time.” But Dave was fired from the Stooges, and died from alcoholism at age 27. Todd McGovern pulls together the threads of Dave’s story through the recollections of those who knew him well.
“Being in a band was like being in a gang. The way [the Stooges] all related to each other was a secret society and you had to be on the inside of it,” musician Scott Richardson stated.
Bassist Dave Alexander was a crucial member of this gang…until he wasn’t.
Dave Alexander was one of the four founding members of the Stooges. The basic outline of what constitutes a life, Dave’s life, was easy to find: where he was born, who his friends were, how he died. But every other aspect of his short life seemed shrouded in mystery. I put on the first Stooges album and stared at the cover. All the way in the back of the line-up is Dave, long hair parted in the middle, bad complexion, and the dazed look of teenage stoner.
My quest for answers about Dave Alexander took me to Hell. Hell, Michigan, that is. I drove the back roads to the home of Niagara (Ron Asheton’s ex as well as his Destroy All Monsters and Dark Carnival bandmate). She lives in an enchanted forest with the Colonel (Ron’s best friend). Hiawatha was visiting – he was a part of the early scene in Ann Arbor, as a member of the White Panther Party and lead singer of The Cult Heroes. After some beer and tequila, I came away with a couple anecdotes, but no strong feel as to who Dave was. “It’s like chasing a ghost,” I remarked to Niagara.
Then, piece by piece, Dave’s story was told to me by Scott Richardson (singer of 1960s Detroit-based garage band SRC and The Chosen Few), Dave’s old girlfriend Esther Korinsky, Detroit music promoter Garry “The Colonel” Henderson, and legendary Ann Arbor musician Scott Morgan. Other details from Ron and Scott Asheton, as well as Stooges’ roadie Bill Cheatham are included with permission by author Paul Trynka and are sourced from his blog about Dave Alexander.
Who Was Dave Alexander?
Dave Alexander was born in 1947 in Whitmore Lake, Michigan. An only child, he moved with his parents to the west side of Ann Arbor as a teenager, just down the street from the Ashetons.
Dave’s physical appearance struck a chord with all who remembered him. Iggy Pop noted in his 1982 book, I Need More, “He had this orange hair, real long hair. He was about 5’7” and he would wear these stretch Levi’s. They would cling real tight, right, but they were too big around the waist and they would always be coming down over the hips, you know, which did look funny sometimes. Plus his pockets were loaded…combs and knives, bottles of gin or whatever he was drinking, and wallets and things.” Scott Asheton noted*, “He was all up on the clothes thing, having the right wardrobe, the happening thing for your image.”
When reached by phone, former girlfriend Esther Korinsky recalled first meeting Dave on a flight from Detroit to Seattle in late 1967 or early 1968. “The Stooges came on the plane. That was the first time I ever laid eyes on them and you know, they were scruffy and all that, you know and it was just very cool. It was like the Rolling Stones walked on that plane. I had no idea who they were, but as soon as I saw them, the leather jackets and long hair, I was going to find out who they were!”
“I was 17 or 18,” Esther remembered. “I made many trips up and down the aisle, as they were in the back of the plane. And then I just kind of leaned over and started talking to them and finally asked them what band they were in. They all gave me their phone numbers, but I ended up calling Dave.”
Not long after, Dave starting picking her up in his yellow Corvair. “He was the guy with the car. He had a little bit of money, money from his parents. He always looked good, Dave did.”
A Man of Contradictions
A number of people who knew Dave, both before and during his time in the Stooges, say he was a person full of contradictions: a budding musician with a fast car, and an unquenchable thirst for cheap beer and liquor. Many also described him as “quiet,” “shy,” and mysterious and withdrawn. Esther remembers him as “being really present, really friendly. He was kind of outgoing, but if he didn’t want to connect with you, he could be very withdrawn.”
“Dave was way deep, way ahead of his time,” Ron Asheton told Paul Trynka.*
Raised Catholic, he lost interest in Christianity as a teenager, but instead became deeply spiritual with a “healthy respect” for the occult, reading Aleister Crowley and Madame Blavatsky. He had a huge library at his parents’ house and spent much of his time reading, mostly history, philosophy, and metaphysics. He also had a great record collection. He was into the Rolling Stones, John Lee Hooker, Arthur Lee, the British invasion bands, and unlike the other Stooges, Dave loved the Beatles – especially George Harrison.
Another person who knew Dave Alexander well is Scott Richardson. Now a screenwriter living in Los Angeles, Richardson was an influential figure in the fertile garage band scene in mid-Sixties Michigan. While still in high school, he formed The Chosen Few with classmate James Williamson (later added as a second guitarist for the Stooges). A few years later and before the Stooges, Ron Asheton would join The Chosen Few, as well. Richardson met Dave in 1966. At various points in the late 60s, Richardson lived with Dave and Iggy. I asked him about Dave’s personality.
“Dave Alexander, on his own, would have been completely unknowable to anybody who was not inside the secret magic circle of these particular personalities. In other words, he was not an outgoing guy. He was not somebody who would be your friend unless there was a reason and unless you passed the test. Dave and Ron and Scott…and Jim Osterberg had their own little thing happening.”
“The whole thing had like a date stamp on it: This is too heavy; it can’t last that long cuz it’s just too heavy. There was that vibe.” – Scott Richardson
The Asheton brothers and Dave grew up in homes where they, as teenagers, were given a lot of leeway to do as they pleased.
“It goes like this: Ron and Scottie had the greatest mom in the world who indulged them. Their father had passed away,” said Scott Richardson. “So they were able to do pretty much what they wanted, in their high school, teenage years. They were treated like adults. They were able to come and go, stay up late, do odd things, play music. There wasn’t a lot of pressure to have a job. And Dave Alexander, who lived down the street from them, was the nuclear version of that. He was a way over-indulged only child. I don’t mean that in a negative way at all. He had beautiful parents who basically just lived to make his dreams come true.”
“Dave was only knowable to a very small circle of people. He would never share his personality, which was very sophisticated—wry and sophisticated with a savage sense of humor. He had a real grasp on things. He was a very intelligent fellow.”
Richardson described the collective energy of the Stooges. “They were one way when you were with them and then when they were in public, they just shut it all down. They wouldn’t let other people in. Dave, to me, was always an outstanding, wonderful guy, but he seemed like, the whole thing had like a date stamp on it: This is too heavy; it can’t last that long cuz it’s just too heavy. There was that vibe.”
Dave was the only child of working parents. His mom worked retail at a thrift store, and his father was a butcher. Esther remembered Dave’s dad as a hard worker, but also a bit withdrawn.
As startling as it seems, Dave started drinking at the early age of 10 and was possibly an alcoholic by 16. His parents took a lenient approach to parenting with his mom in the enabler role. Esther remembered hanging out on their porch all day as Dave’s mom brought them snacks and beer. “It was like Mad Men of that era. Things were always served with a tray.” Scott Richardson added that Dave’s mom bought him a “fifth of liquor every night and a carton of cigarettes every other day.”
Stooges roadie and sometime guitarist Bill Cheatham described Dave this way in an interview with Paul Trynka: “Dave was crazy. He was a juvenile delinquent, a great guy, one of those guys you thought you could size up by looking at him then realize later there were so many facets to him. But he was nuts, deep down, just a crazy kid. He was first to experiment with anything that came along, he was the guy that could get booze before reefer.”*
“He loved beer, really. Cheap beer at that. Pabst Blue Ribbon!” Esther noted. “Dave also did his share of acid, Seconals and other pills.” Esther’s father owned a pharmacy. “I always had different pills for everybody. Dave liked those red ones. They were sleeping pills, but if you took 4 of them at once, they got you high right off the bat. You didn’t go to sleep; you got like a rush.” She added, “We also all loved imported cigarettes – Gauloises. They came in a real thin pack, heavily packed, not like American cigarettes at all. We thought we were so fucking cool! A touch of stardom!”
By the time Dave was 20, “he was already gone,” Esther reported. This was the same year the Stooges formed.
Dave Alexander and the Stooges
The story of how the Stooges formed has been told in a number of books and interviews. After Jim Osterberg’s ill-fated attempt at college (he dropped out of the University of Michigan after his first semester) and his return from a move to Chicago to play drums for Walter Horton and other blues musicians, he and the Asheton brothers decided to form a band. Jim had previously been the drummer in The Iguanas and The Prime Movers, while Ron had played guitar in Scott Richardson’s band, The Chosen Few.
“When they started the band, Dave just came in,” Richardson remembered. He was the perfect fit because of all the hanging out that had taken place prior to it. Him and Scotty had formed a fantastic rhythm section. It had like a family vibe, which is so rare, but there it is. It was real primitive, but it was really connected at the same time.”
Dave and the rest of the Stooges had a tight bond. “They had the same sensibilities,” Scott Richardson noted. “If you remember West Side Story, this was kind of what was happening. You had this strange male bonding going on.”
Dave’s strongest bond was with Ron Asheton. “Dave and Ronnie loved to banter. They were pretty funny together, like a comedy team,” Esther remembered. Richardson added, “They had built up this kind of Stoogey humor, that was all about ‘forget the outsiders, they can come and they can hang out and everything else, but they’ll never be us.’”
Ron Asheton shared many stories about Dave with his close friend, Garry Henderson. Garry got to know Ron when he started dating Ron’s ex-girlfriend, Niagara in 1984, a friendship that started a bit rocky, but became a tight bond that lasted the final 20 years of Ron’s life. Garry, aka Colonel Galaxy, or simply “The Colonel,” was a Detroit-based music impresario who created the post-Destroy All Monsters band, Dark Carnival (for whom Ron Asheton played guitar, with Niagara as lead singer and Scott Asheton on drums). He was also the youngest driver, at 22, to win an endurance road rally in the United States. Towards the end of Ron’s life, he insisted that The Colonel remember all his stories, a foreshadowing or prediction of his death in 2009.
The Colonel described Ron’s friendship with Dave. “[Dave] was in the same grade at Ann Arbor Pioneer High, and with his long hair suffered from the same taunts and bullying as the Asheton brothers. He and Ron soon started playing hooky and hanging out at the old drug store. They would go to the record store, come back and play the 45s on Dave’s expensive stereo. Ron and Dave bought Triumph motorcycles to go with the British Invasion music they craved. In 1965 and in the 11th grade, they both dropped out of school.”
The two teenage friends dreamed of the future – both wanted to be “rock & rollers.” They started out by getting instruments, a cheap toy drum kit and a couple imitation Roy Rogers guitars. And like any number of teenagers at the time, they played along with the 45s they bought: The Kinks, Yardbirds, the Stones. They were obsessed with the rock scene in London and decided to make a pilgrimage to England. They thought that if they saw their favorite bands live, maybe some of that “magic would rub off on them.” To help pay for the trip, they sold their motorcycles and Dave’s mom supported their cause by giving both boys envelopes of cash.
After arriving in London in mid-1965, the future Stooges were at once struck how small the scene was. As Ron told The Colonel, “You could see the bands just milling about on the street, in daylight, in plain sight!” The Colonel relates a story told to him by Ron. “Within the first few days they caught the Yardbirds, then The Who. After The Who played, the band and the entire crowd, packed into the closest pub. The Americans stood out: Ron in his white Levis and white shoes, Dave with his torn jeans and pimply complexion.”
The Colonel continues,
“Wow there’s The Who!” whispered Dave.
Ron: “Look…there’s the Stones in the corner!”
They sidled up. Dave asked if they could sit down with them. Keith Richards said, “Sure, where are you guys from?”
“The States,” they answered in unison to everyone’s amusement.
Pete Townsend spoke up, “What will our friends from the States have to drink?”
Ron and Dave had rehearsed this part in advance. “Red Stripe…ICE COLD RED STRIPE.” Everyone laughed. All the others were drinking warm Guinness. Red Stripe, a Jamaican beer, was regarded as “piss water.”
“Roger Daltry, meanwhile, was telling a story about their night’s set and lousy sound and everybody was leaning in to hear the anecdote,” The Colonel continues with the story. “Mick Jagger, sitting next to Ron, feigning interest in Roger’s story, maneuvered his chair right on top of Ron’s foot. Ron quickly moved away. After this same thing happened three times, Ron realized that this was no accident. Ron thought, ‘Wow, they have assholes here too, just like in the States.’”
“Meanwhile [Dave] was striking up a conversation with Stone’s bassist Bill Wyman. After this meeting, Dave, always the ‘lead guitar type,’ suddenly thought playing bass could be cool. This was key when they returned to the States and got serious about who would play what.”
The story didn’t end there. The Rolling Stones came to Ann Arbor a year later and, by chance, ran into Dave and Ron on the street. Mick, who didn’t recognize the pair, was impressed with their menacing look, asked if they were in a band. While a band in name only, Ron and David answered yes (again, in unison). Mick, without hesitation, invited them to be the opening act for the Stones. Thrilled about this being their first gig (ever), Ron and Dave “went straight home put on some Stones record and played along. Every time they tried to play it without the record…CHAOS. Realizing their predicament, the fledgling ‘band’ hid from their normal haunts and hangouts for the next week until the Stones left town.”
Scott Morgan, lead singer of The Rationals, remembered that around this time, Ron, Scott, and Dave “were in the process of starting a band. They called themselves The Dirty Shames, but they were just kind of woodshedding at that point.” A year later, the Stooges officially formed and started gigging.
When the Stooges formed, the backbone of their sound was the solid rhythm combination of Scott on drums and Dave on bass, which can be clearly heard on their first two albums, The Stooges and Fun House.
I asked The Colonel what made Dave such a revered bassist and he said that Ron Asheton told him, “It was Dave Alexander’s stinging bass staccato and how he played in the pocket, leaving holes for the leads to fill.” The Colonel continued, “That is pretty much unheard of in the [internal] rivalry of most bands. Case in point, in Destroy All Monsters, [bassist] Michael Davis was so concerned about his bass runs that Ronnie had to fight to get in his own lead.” The Colonel pointed out how aware Ron was about this, “Ron didn’t talk about these intricacies with just ANYBODY. And he stressed this on several occasions about Dave’s ‘generosity.’ Unheard of.”
One of the songs that most typifies Dave’s bass playing style is “Down On The Street” from the Fun House album. Ron told The Colonel that Iggy originally named the song “Down On The Beach,” to which he and Dave responded, “You know Jim, we’ve never been to the beach. We’re more down on the street.”
“No one talks about Dave. And Dave’s also part of the makeup of Iggy. Iggy takes something from everybody. A lot of what Iggy is and Iggy did in the past comes from my brother, Dave, and myself.” – Ron Asheton
What is most telling is The Colonel’s recollection from Ron about recording the Stooges’ first album. The Colonel said, ”Ronnie ‘taught’ Dave how to ‘play the Marshalls.’ He remembered Ron saying, “Dave and I both kept them on 11. The result was stunning. It was like Dave had added a keyboard to the mix with all the reverb coming out of his SVT. And later Elektra ‘ponied up’ for Marshall Stacks for everyone…much to the chagrin of our producer John Cale. John told us after a raucous distorted warm-up, ‘OK, you’ve had your fun. Now place your amps on 1. We’re going for a take.’’ Ron told The Colonel that they “flat out refused…a sit down strike ensued. This impromptu standoff went on for three hours!’’ John Cale caved, saying, “Ok, assholes, we’ll record on 11. You’ll see what happens. The Colonel noted, ”Well what ‘happened’ was the Stooges seminal first album…with all those lovely sonic overloads.’’
Goose Lake Festival
Billed as a better-equipped version of Woodstock, which was held exactly one year earlier, the Goose Lake Festival was held in August, 1970, about 40 miles west of Ann Arbor. The line-up for the 3-day event included Jethro Tull, The Faces, Bob Seger, MC5, Scott Richardson’s band, SRC, and the Stooges.
This show is famous in Stooges lore, as it would be Dave Alexander’s last as a member of the group. There are many accounts of what happened that day at Goose Lake, many that begin with the phrase, “my memory is a little hazy, but….” “There’s a lot of stories – and everyone will tell you something different,” Scott Morgan told me. However, we do know Dave froze onstage and was unable to play his bass. The band soldiered on and played a decent set, all told, but afterward Iggy was justifiably furious.
In a recent phone conversation, Scott Richardson reflected, “We were all there together and there was a lot of weird stuff being passed around backstage. My theory is – from what I gather – was that Dave got dosed. I think he actually ended up getting PCP or something that he hadn’t experienced before, or to that amount. When he was on stage, he kind of freaked out and forgot the chord changes in the songs…and I guess Iggy got really pissed off.”
Ron Asheton remembered to Paul Trynka, “Dave fucked up because before Goose Lake, Dave stopped getting high, and when he knew it was such a big crowd, he smoked a bunch of dope, drank some whiskey and when he got on stage he forgot all the songs, but we powered through enough that it was still good. When we got off stage Jim said, `He is fired, he is gone!’ And he was so adamant about it…. They had their own weird relationship.”*
Iggy Pop also weighed in with Paul Trynka, “I have a wonderful ability to forget things, which has been really good for me. But I’ve been reminded since working with the group again from time to time, that at one point I said, No I won’t work with Dave any more on bass, and that… the whole thing began to slide apart. However, there I was out on a stage at Goose Lake and there was no bass. He just had a complete mental lapse, too stoned, and he couldn’t play a note, he couldn’t play the songs, he didn’t know what he was doing and that’s traumatic, for somebody that… I was serious about this shit. The group never had a focus after that.”*
By all accounts, Dave’s firing from the Stooges was the beginning of his end. After Goose Lake, Esther didn’t have much contact with Dave. “He was a different person. All he had left was drinking. It was sad.”
“Dave practically drank his whole life,” Scott Asheton reflected to Paul Trynka. “He started when he was like 10 years old, died when he was 27. Those are like growing years, you don’t need alcohol in your body when you’re 10 years old.”*
Esther looked back on the blame she received about Dave’s downfall. “Jim wrote something very shitty about me in this new coffee table book that’s out about the Stooges. He blamed me for Dave’s demise at Goose Lake. He said something like, ‘It was the alcohol and Esther, his girlfriend at the time, that brought him to where he was.’ Which is fucking bullshit, but he had to put it in there. Guess what? Jimmy learned to be real harsh. He learned how to not have a heart.”
Scott Richardson noted how hard Dave took his firing. “He took it incredibly hard. He would never let people see, but he was deeply wounded and bitter about it. I think as much of that had to do with his connection to Scotty and Ron…like I said, they had this kind of unusual…they kind of acted out in their lives the way the 3 Stooges acted on screen. That’s how tight the element of … these guys were all completely connected. Dave knew he was never gonna be able to experience that kind of camaraderie again.”
Ron Asheton looked at how Dave and Iggy related to each other and the impact that had. “No one talks about Dave. And Dave’s also part of the makeup of Iggy,” Ron is quoted as saying on Paul Trynka’s blog. “Iggy takes something from everybody, he learns it, and took a lot of personality from Dave and my brother, cause he was fascinated that my brother was a hoodlum. A lot of what Iggy is and Iggy did in the past comes from my brother, Dave, and myself.”
After Goose Lake, Dave spent time drinking and playing the stock market. Scott Morgan said that he and Dave and Scott Asheton, “toyed around with putting something together. That’s around the time he went into the hospital. He came over to my house and he played my acoustic guitar and cut his finger and bled inside the guitar. That was right around the time he got sick. We didn’t know there was anything wrong with him, but he went into the hospital and they diagnosed him with pancreatitis.”
After a week, Scott Morgan, called Dave at the hospital to see if “I could visit him. They told me he died. I took it pretty hard. I never saw it coming at all.”
Scott Richardson said he had irregular contact with Dave during this period. “You have to put this in the context of the heavy price that people pay to do what that job requires. It’s just an unbelievable pressure on anybody who’s ever done it. And some people handle it and some people don’t. I mean, just go down the list: Morrison, Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones…And it was just mind-boggling. And that’s what happened with Dave.”
Dave Alexander died on February 10, 1975 at the age of 27 of pulmonary edema with fibrous pneumonitis, caused by alcoholism. He was cremated the following day.
“It was a pitiful life,” Esther reminisced. “He had a minute of fame, you know, then that just fucking crashed.”