Ron Asheton, influential guitarist for The Stooges

By Randy Lewis
Los Angeles Times / January 7, 2009
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LOS ANGELES - Ron Asheton, whose scorching and energetic guitar work behind singer Iggy Pop in the band The Stooges established a model of raw emotion for a succeeding generation of punk, grunge, and alternative rockers, has died. He was 60.

His body was discovered yesterday at his home in Ann Arbor, Mich., after his personal assistant had been unable to reach him. Police said it appeared he had been dead for several days and died of natural causes.

"That first Stooges album and the second one had a big influence on me," Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones said yesterday. "The Stooges' and the New York Dolls' albums were my blueprint for how to play guitar."

Iggy Pop called Mr. Asheton "my best friend" in a statement yesterday, and the band expressed shock at his death.

"For all that knew him behind the façade of Mr. Cool & Quirky, he was a kind-hearted, genuine, warm person who always believed that people meant well even if they did not," the band said in a written statement. "As a musician Ron was The Guitar God, idol to follow."

"In many ways Ron was the heart of The Stooges, and The Stooges were the creators of punk rock," Paul Trynka, author of the 2007 biography "Iggy Pop: Open Up and Bleed," said yesterday. "If you don't understand Ron, you don't understand The Stooges, and if you don't understand The Stooges, you don't understand punk rock."

The Stooges charted a short but influential career from its formation in 1967 until it disbanded seven years later. Like New York's Velvet Underground, The Stooges had minimal commercial success, but their recordings and explosive live performances, during which Pop was known to cut himself and vomit on stage, put primal emotion front and center.

"We really did open up the gate," Pop said last year, "and through that gate came rats, scorpions, and all sorts of things."

Ron Asheton was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Ann Arbor. He and his younger brother, Scott, a drummer, befriended Jim Osterberg, who adopted the stage name Iggy Pop. Bassist Dave Alexander rounded out the original lineup.

The Stooges shocked late-'60s audiences with the intensity of performances that were a decade ahead of the explosion of punk rock that broke open the floodgates on music as a weapon of confrontation.

Despite often being reviled by club-goers and music critics, they landed a record contract with Elektra Records, also home of The Doors. Velvet Underground keyboardist and songwriter John Cale signed on to produce their debut, "The Stooges," which spent 11 weeks on the Billboard album chart in 1969.

Songs from that album, however, notably the one that became The Stooges' signature number, "I Wanna Be Your Dog," inspired countless aspiring musicians.

"It's a song that gave birth not to 1,000 bands, but probably 50,000 bands," Trynka said.

Mr. Asheton's distinctive guitar style was evident from the beginning, employing massive distortion in blistering riffs.

The group disbanded after the commercial failure of "Raw Power" in 1973.

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