The world didn’t always give Ron Asheton his proper dues. But the Stooges guitarist certainly paid his dues to the world, helping transform the sound of rock music.
Fans and fellow musicians are mourning the death of Asheton, who was found dead early Tuesday at his home in Ann Arbor, Mich. The death remains under investigation, though foul play is not suspected, said Ann Arbor Police Sgt. Brad Hill.
Asheton was 60.
“I am in shock,” said Stooges singer Iggy Pop. “He was my best friend.”
Ann Arbor police had taken a call from a friend of Asheton, who said he had not heard from the guitarist in a few days. Police entered Asheton’s home and found his body.
As a musician, Asheton was no technical virtuoso, and his career never brought him a glittery celebrity life. But his electric guitar work, which was the starting point for most of the Stooges’ songwriting, was widely influential within hard rock and punk music.
With his brother Scott Asheton on drums and local wild kid Iggy Pop on vocals, Asheton co-founded the Stooges in his parents’ Ann Arbor basement in 1967. The raucous group went on to become an area sensation, making its name at venues such as Detroit’s Grande Ballroom.
The Stooges, who reunited earlier this decade, are widely recognized as one of the most important rock acts to have emerged from the Detroit scene. The group found little commercial or critical success during its initial run with Elektra Records. But by the time the Stooges disintegrated in the early ‘70s amid infighting and drugs, its primal sound - with Asheton’s droning, guttural riffs at the core - had helped etch the template for punk rock. The band’s body of work later proved hugely influential during the alternative-rock revolution of the 1990s.
Early Stooges classics such as “I Wanna Be Your Dog” were cited by guitarists as varied as Kurt Cobain, Thurston Moore and fellow Michigan rocker Jack White - who once called the Stooges’ 1969 album “Fun House” the greatest rock album ever. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine named Asheton the 29th greatest rock guitarist of all time.
He made the “Stooges’ music reek like a puddle of week-old biker sweat,” the magazine wrote. “He favored black leather and German iron crosses onstage, and he never let not really knowing how to play get in the way of a big, ugly feedback solo.”
Asheton’s post-Stooges career in the 1970s included stints with the bands the New Order and Destroy All Monsters, where he played with members of the MC5. His real comeback came in 2003, when the Stooges reunited for a series of shows and wound up as a regular touring act. In 2007 the group released “The Weirdness,” its first new album in three decades.
In a statement issued Tuesday, the surviving Stooges paid homage to a “great friend, brother, musician, trooper.”
“For all that knew him behind the facade of Mr. Cool & Quirky, he was a kindhearted, genuine, warm person who always believed that people meant well even if they did not,” read the statement.
The Stooges’ future is now unclear, though a single word in the band’s tribute statement - “irreplaceable” - provides a possible hint.
Von Bondies guitarist Jason Stollsteimer, 30, is among a younger generation of rock musicians who soaked up Asheton’s influence.
“To me, he was the epitome of raw punk,” Stollsteimer said. “He wasn’t flashy or over the top. It was raw. The riffs he wrote stood the test of time.”
Stollsteimer’s band opened for the Stooges at a 2003 homecoming show at DTE Energy Music Theatre. It was a triumphant reunion that brought the Stooges a level of attention and respect they hadn’t previously enjoyed.
“He was like a kid in a candy store, just so excited,” Stollsteimer recalled of that night. “He wasn’t afraid to show it. Some people are too cool, but he was obviously very happy and proud.”
The Stooges have been regular nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the past decade, but have yet to triumph in the final round of voting. Amid a growing outcry about the band’s rejection, many music insiders expect this to be the band’s year. The 2009 inductees list will likely be released later this month.
In a 2003 interview with the Detroit Free Press, Asheton said he got great satisfaction from the recognition the Stooges had begun to receive - even if it was a long time coming.
“When I was a young guy coming up, going to the Grande Ballroom every weekend, I got to see my heroes play. Jeff Beck, the Who, everyone. I didn’t want to be a fanboy, but I’d stand there and wait - ‘I just want to say hi, this was great.’ I saw them walk by me with blank stares like they were zombies. I said to myself, you know, if I ever make it, I’ve got at least one minute for everybody who wants to say something. So I talk to people, and that’s what’s exciting now.”
(Detroit Free Press correspondent Lateshia Dowell contributed to this report.)