By Andy Greene
March 19, 2014 10:00 AM ET
Stooges drummer Scott Asheton died of a heart attack on March 15th, and Iggy Pop still has trouble talking about his friend and bandmate of five decades without breaking down into tears. He called us from his Florida home to pay tribute to the man known as Rock Action.
I first met Scott Asheton when I was working at Discount Records in Ann Arbor to augment my drumming. He used to stand with [future Stooges bassist] Dave Alexander at the corner of State Street and Liberty, which is grand central for the University of Michigan campus. Scott impressed me immediately by his obvious physical gift. He remembered this better than I do, but he would bug me to teach him how to play drums.
Things didn’t get very far until I realized it would better for me to work with a good drummer rather than continuing as a drummer myself in blues bands. Also, you could just look at this guy and tell that he had it. He was just a likable and attractive person, and he picked the drums right up. I gave him my kit and showed him a couple of things. I’d be like, “Here’s how you do a Stax Volt beat. Here’s a Bo Diddley beat. This is a Middle Eastern one.” He got it very quickly. I didn’t have to show him much.
Scott played drums with a boxer’s authority. When he wanted to, he had a heavy hand on the drums. He hit the drum very hard, but there were never a lot of elbows flying. He wasn’t showy. He didn’t have to make a physical demonstration to get the job done. When he played with you, it was always swinging. He brought a swinging truth to the music he played and extreme musical honesty.
The thing that Flea and Chad Smith always understood is that Scott always played a little behind the beat, always a little back. He would hold the band back, just very slightly, from where it might have gone if it was going to rush ahead. It gave authority and a kind of trance to the music. He always, always, always played the song. He never got up there and started playing the kit to show everyone what he could play.
When we reformed for Coachella in 2003, we hadn’t played together in years. He used to ride [bassist] Mike Watt and say, “Watt, that note isn’t on the song.” He wouldn’t say, “It’s not on the record.” He’d say, “It’s not on the song.” He just always understood that he was playing a part in a song. We were a group that worked with a real simple vocabulary, and you need a lot of help if you haven’t got a Burt Bacharach or Paul Simon. How do you bring in songcraft and hold it together? He helped with that a lot.
Scott dealt with some addiction issues between [1970’s] Fun House and [1973’s] Raw Power. But it never affected his playing anywhere near as much as it affected the ability of the group as a whole to communicate with each other and write clearly. That’s down to everybody in the group, including myself. But drugs did not take him down. A strong, young person, if you have a little time off and you’re fortunate enough to have some limit to the money you can spend on that crap, then you can make a comeback or two, physically.
We weren’t communicating well when I went to England with James Williamson to make Raw Power in 1973. I would have tried other musicians on drums and bass, but James Williamson wasn’t comfortable with that and he suggested we got Scott and Ron. There might have been some bitterness on Scott’s part about that whole situation, but he never brought it up to me. I only read about it later in various interviews.
I brought him on my solo tour in 1978 along with Sonic’s Rendezvous Group, with Fred “Sonic” Smith of the MC5 on guitar. We were in Europe for a month, and I don’t recall Scott taking his hat off once. We’d tease him about it constantly. We were macrobiotic marijuana fiends and we just ate a ton of Middle Eastern food together. Scott would always say, “Come on, let’s get some baba ghanoush. Let’s go to the falafel house!” He made that tour a lot more fun than it would have been.
Near the end of the 1980s, I was getting ready for a solo tour and he came up and wanted to jam and talk about the group. I knew that, by nature, he wasn’t anyone’s employee. That would have been crappy, anyway. He said, “If the group can’t be together, can I come out and play with you?”
I said to him, “Let’s wait.” It really wasn’t time for the Stooges. If we had shoved it back together, there wouldn’t have been the kind of support that enabled it to thrive. But he did come and we jammed together. It was really good to see him. A while later, when Ron was jamming with J Mascis, and someone said that he wanted to get together. I thought, “Well, if the two of them are comfortable, I’m comfortable.”