When Iggy Pop and the Stooges played their final concert in 1974, Pop was knocked cold by a bottle hurled from a hostile audience.
The band disintegrated amid broken glass, blood, drugs and ill will.
Yet the lasting validity and impact of the Stooges’ studio albums — “The Stooges” (1969), “Funhouse” (1970) and “Raw Power” (1973) — have been recognized, and Pop has become a punk godfather. At 63, he’s one scary godfather, too, the type of performer who still leaves overturned speaker cabinets, shattered microphone stands and blown minds wherever he goes.
In 2003, Pop re-formed the Stooges with founding members Ron and Scott Asheton (abetted by Minutemen bassist Mike Watt) to huge acclaim. When Ron Asheton died last year, Pop hooked up with James Williamson, who played guitar on “Raw Power,” and put together another potent Stooges lineup.
“Raw Power” was reissued and remastered this year as a box set, celebrated as one of the most important albums of its time — albeit not without controversy.
The mix on the original album, by David Bowie, has always been a subject of debate among Stooges aficionados in that it pumped up Pop’s vocals and Williamson’s guitar at the expense of the rhythm section. Pop himself supervised a remix in the mid-‘90s that dispensed with some of Bowie’s nuances for a noisier collision of instruments.
But the box restores the original Bowie mix with better mastering. The always garrulous Pop — one of rock’s great intellects despite his impersonation of a caged animal onstage — had plenty to say about “Raw Power” and the state of the Stooges when I caught up with him recently at his home in Miami:
Q. Even though “Raw Power” was a great album, the Stooges never got to tour behind it properly because your management company quit you and your record company didn’t seem to care either. So it seems as if there’s unfinished business.
A. Absolutely. I’m finishing a job here. It had its re-release. I did my remix too, which I knew at the time in the ‘90s there was a muscle-bound rock metal thing going around, and I knew that people couldn’t hear the record as it was originally mixed and mastered in that environment. So I thought if I make it unbearably loud, it would sell, and it did! (laughs)
Q. What do you think of Bowie’s original mix?
A. It’s a good mix of a particular taste. It was very similar to the way David had his own records mixed around that era.
It’s peculiarly English. What I didn’t know at the time was that it was disastrously mastered (after Bowie mixed it). By that time, we had no communication with management, who had decided to let us go. ... It doesn’t fall into the contemporary standards of records today that explode with a sonic flood all over your car, until you feel like you want to retch. But when you turn it up, the treble is really good. It’s got a good character.
There were certain production touches that come across; the overdubbed guitar treatment to “Gimme Danger” was Bowie’s doing, and it’s beautiful.
Q. Was it a good move for you to associate yourself with Bowie and his Main Man management team for “Raw Power”?
A. They thrust us into a lot of things for better or worse. I think the city, London, raised the bar for us as artists. There we were amid Led Zeppelin, the Stones, Marc Bolan, Bowie — they were all right down the street. You have a rich tradition of a certain kind. It ain’t Muddy Waters, dammit. It ain’t as good as that. But it’s something, and it helped us in a lot of ways. You listen to the music we were making in1971 after “Funhouse” on our own and what we did in late ‘72 with Bowie in London, and you can hear the difference in the level of articulation.
Q. The songwriting and arranging came a long way on “Raw Power.” There are great touches on that album, like the celeste on “Penetration.” Who in the Stooges played a celeste?
A. That was me! I played in the high school orchestra, so I had a little familiarity with these instruments lying around the studio in London.
A lot of things I did on that album, I learned a little bit from the albums we had done before. If you put one little sound where the mud wasn’t, you can create a cool effect. The rest of the band is churning along, an Oldsmobile Delta Royale 459, this huge, angry engine, and then you put one note of a piano three octaves above that, it changes the picture of the sludgy riff, from a close-up to a wider view. The celeste suddenly put the band in a Sergio Leone film, in a wide, desert landscape.
Q. Reassembling the Stooges in 2003 and getting the band some long overdue recognition must’ve felt vindicating.
A. When Ron passed away, he owned homes, he had investments, he was solvent. He was playing well, he had a creative outlet, he was himself.
There was a terrific emotionalism that I would go through with that edition of the band. When I would get out on stage and introduce the band, sometimes I would want to cry. ... With this edition of the band, it’s different: I don’t get those feelings. It’s just a good hard kick in the knee. My foot, someone else’s knee. ... The way the group plays, being on tour with these guys, it’s sometimes like warfare out there. Very physical. One guy reviewed our show and said that he felt like he’d been beaten up by a middle-aged street gang. I can relate to that.
// Notes from the Road
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