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RIP Ron Asheton

January 6, 2009

He spit the first howls of punk from a banged-up electric six-string, and shaped the music that helped change rock forever. Now he’s gone. Ron Asheton, the guitarist and bassist for The Stooges, apparently died sometime over the past few days, of natural causes, officials say.

Asheton, who formed The Stooges with his drumming brother Scott and a wild-eyed shrimp named Jim Osterberg in Michigan in the late 60s, is often credited with pretty much inventing the sound that would later be called punk. I’ve never quite agreed with that. Asheton was too good a musician to fall under that early punk umbrella; his was not music of fast, angry two-chord slams, but detailed and intelligent guitar rock … just a little faster than most, and a lot noisier.

Osterberg, who changed his name to Iggy Pop, was a big part of that, with his outlandish performance-art antics. But the music was what anchored his lunacy, and Ron Asheton was that music. Here they are in Cincinnati in 1970; just listen to Asheton’s guitar lines.

People often forget that Asheton played guitar on just the first two Stooges records, and that a new set of fingers, James Williamson, took over for the breakthrough Raw Power record, which saw David Bowie take Iggy under his velvet-covered wing. Raw Power is a lynchpin of 70s rock, a building block in the rise of alternative rock, and an overall solid recording.

But it was the end of The Stooges. Iggy went on to more than two decades of hit-or-miss solo work, but reformed The Stooges a couple of years ago, again with the Asheton brothers, with Ron back on guitar.

Just reading through some websites here, I’m learning that Ron Asheton’s guitar style grew and changed over those decades, and up until his death, his playing continued to garner respect and win new listeners. For a musician, that’s the best legacy.

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