If there were only three guitarists to shape the sound of heavy metal before Rolling Stone adopted the term as a way to describe the bands they were trashing, Ron Asheton of the Stooges is right up there with Jimmy Page and Tony Iommi. Sure, Richie Blackmore was more "metal" by some standards, but any thrash, stoner, sludge, grindcore or doom metal band is basically living in a world that Asheton created.
Terrible news this morning as Ron Asheton has passed away in his Ann Arbor home. This will no doubt shock anybody who saw the Stooges on their most recent tour, where they were a raging, raw and demented blast of nihilistic rock n' roll. Without question one of the best shows I've ever been lucky enough to attend, the Stooges embodied the attitude and innovation that even the strongest imitators have been struggling to catch up with ever since. The band's equipment had been stolen days before the show, and Terminal 5's acoustics were typically stifling, but I was still moved to gush that Asheton's guitar playing "exploded through the PA with grimy, distorted riffage...a torrential noise hurricane, filled out by revered Minutemen bassist Mike Watt and original saxophonist Steve MacKay. The guitar was mixed way below the vocals and (Ron's brother Scott's) drums, but it still sounded lethal." From the blues of "1969" to the free jazz of "L.A. Blues" to the pre-punk "TV Eye" to the pre-stoner "We Will Fall," there aren't enough subgenres to fit into a review that will do justice to Asheton's playing.
Asheton had both the luck and misfortune of performing with one of the wildest, most charismatic frontmen in history. Spontaneous, uncontrollable and virile, Iggy Pop has enjoyed more time in the spotlight than ever other Stooge combined, but his yelps, contortions and stage dives were all anchored by Asheton's blistering, feedback-driven hooks and solos. Even Iggy's Berlin sessions with David Bowie can't quite match the Asheton/Pop compositions.
Not many could: Even the Slayer's take on "I Wanna be Your Dog," Guns n' Roses' "Raw Power" and Rage Against the Machine's "Down on the Street." can't match the excitement of the originals. Slash, Hanneman, King and Morello are are among the most brilliant life forms to ever play a chord, but still none of them could sound like Ron Asheton.
It's hard to find footage that will capture the excitement of seeing Ron playing with the Stooges. But there's clearly something amazing going on in all these videos.
"I Wanna be Your Dog"
"1969/Down on the Street"