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RIP Ron Asheton

The Stooges, "No Fun"

Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton, whose MC5-inspired gutter blues effectively laid the foundation for punk rock guitar, was found dead this morning in his Ann Arbor, Michigan, home, the Ann Arbor News reported. Asheton's personal assistant contacted Ann Arbor police after not hearing from him for several days, and police found him on his couch shortly after midnight. Detective Bill Stanford told the News Asheton had likely been dead for several days; foul play was not suspected, and an autopsy and toxicology report are pending.

Born in Washington, D.C., Asheton formed the Stooges in 1967 with brother Scott on drums, bassist Dave Alexander and wiry frontman James Osterberg, who adopted the stage name Iggy Pop. Although Pop's onstage antics like writhing around in broken glass or playing a vacuum cleaner as a musical instrument drew the lion's share of the attention, Asheton's guitar, which stripped the blues down to its barest elements and then tripled the volume, formed the cornerstone of the Stooges' sound.

Asheton played on the first two Stooges albums, 1969's The Stooges and the following year's Fun House, which contain raw-power classics like "No Fun" - famously covered by the Sex Pistols in 1976 - "Down on the Street," "T.V. Eye," "We Will Fall" and the band's signature song, "I Wanna Be Your Dog." Asheton switched to bass for 1973's Raw Power (with Fred Williamson stepping in on guitar), and remained with the Stooges until Pop's worsening heroin addiction caused the band to break up in 1974.  

"I Wanna Be Your Dog," 2007

After the breakup, the Ashetons formed a short-lived group called the New Order, and Ron later joined the heavy psychedelic group Destroy All Monsters. In 1998, he was part of the one-off group Wylde Ratttz with Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore (a massive Stooges and DAM fan, needless to say) and Steve Shelley, Mudhoney's Mark Arm and former Minutemen and fIREHOSE bassist Mike Watt; the group's cover of "T.V. Eye" appears on the soundtrack to glam-rock fantasia Velvet Goldmine.

The Stooges reunited after the Ashetons toured as part of the Fog, the band J Mascis formed while on hiatus from Dinosaur Jr., in 2002. The Fog played several Stooges songs in its set; after seeing them live, Iggy Pop invited the Ashetons to play on his 2003 album Skull Ring, effectively reforming the Stooges with Watt on bass. (Dave Alexander died in 1975.) The reconstituted group began touring shortly thereafter, debuting at Coachella 2003 and including a memorable stop at SXSW '07 behind its first new album in three decades, The Weirdness.

Other artists who have covered the Stooges include the Birthday Party (Nick Cave's first band), the Dictators, Guns 'N' Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mission of Burma, Joe Strummer, Sisters of Mercy, R.E.M., Rage Against the Machine, the Black Keys, Alejandro Escovedo - who nearly always encores with "I Wanna Be Your Dog" - and just about every band to ever cross the threshold at Rudyard's. Asheton was 60; information on survivors was unavailable. - Chris Gray

[SXSW photo by Daniel Kramer. An interview Ron Asheton did with the Ann Arbor News in 2007 is here.]

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray