Warning: The following article does not constitute an endorsement of current phonographic products. –Editor
Back in the day, if you believed what Rolling Stone and certain other corners of the media said, the Stooges were newsworthy but, musically speaking, negligible. By printing the above disclaimer to accompany its April 1, 1970, article on the Stooges, R.S. was clearly signaling its distrust of this scummy Detroit foursome — Iggy Stooge (vocals), Ron Asheton (guitar), Dave Alexander (bass) and Scott Asheton (drums) — who refused to toe the hippie line with its defiant 1969 debut, The Stooges.
That said, the feature itself, an impressive three-page spread liberally decorated with Iggy-in-action photos, seemed unencumbered by editorial spin. The writer faithfully reported the facts (colorful, all) as he saw them, ultimately concluding, with a flourish, "The Seventies lie ahead for the Stooges. They are still a young group and have many many changes to go through. With one album under their belts, a second effort may destroy itself and your whole stereo system. If you ever catch them live, be sure to have an ambulance ready and, just in case, a garbage can."
We all know what changes, indeed, the band weathered, from the highs of second album Fun House to the lows of rampant heroin addiction (that’s where the ambulances and garbage cans come in, for the overdoses and bloody syringes), and from the dissolution of the first incarnation of the Stooges in 1971 and the improbable rise of an altered version of the Stooges a year later in London to 1973’s Raw Power and the fateful final show in February 1974 at Detroit’s Michigan Palace. It’s an oft-told tale and, despite taking on certain mythic trappings over the years, one that’s heartening for having proven, in the long run, Rolling Stone wrong. View it as you will.
Meanwhile, though, we’ve got the recordings. Now, even more of them, courtesy of Rhino’s new two-disc deluxe editions of The Stooges and Fun House. Produced by industry veteran Bill Inglot and respected journalist Ben Edmonds, the two reissues have been remastered from the original Elektra tapes and more than doubled in length with the inclusion of alternate mixes, different takes and a handful of unreleased cuts. Suffice to say that the LPs never sounded better — don’t worry, purists, unlike the 1997 reissue of Raw Power, no one’s been tinkering with the actual mixes — while the bonus discs are at once fun to listen to and intriguing to ponder. Throw in thick booklets with detailed liner notes from Edmonds and writer Paul Trynka and impassioned testimonials offered by Alice Cooper and Jack White, not to mention a wealth of rare and previously unseen photographs, and you’ve not only got "deluxe" versions of the records, but definitive as well.
Co-producer Edmonds is a longtime Motor City area resident who saw the Stooges perform, by his estimation, “so many times I’m not sure I can remember them all!” He started in journalism with Fusion magazine in Boston, was an editor of the original Creem and is presently US editor of Mojo. He’s also a published author (What's Going On? Marvin Gaye & The Last Days Of The Motown Sound) and a Grammy-nominated liner notesman (Farewells & Fantasies: The Phil Ochs Collection). He additionally penned the liners to the 1999 Rhino Handmade Stooges 7-CD box set 1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions. An authority in Stoogedom, Edmonds sat down to discuss the Rhino reissues with Metro Times.
METRO TIMES: First of all, what’s your background?
BEN EDMONDS: The Velvet Underground, the MC5 and the Stooges were the three bands of my wasted youth -- in the case of the Velvets and Stooges I count myself very fortunate, as they played so few times compared to your average rock and roll road dogs. I grew up in New England, where the Velvets were more popular than they were at home in New York. I'd go to see them anywhere within hitch-hiking distance, but most often at the Boston Tea Party ballroom -- where I'd invariably see another VU headcase who lived a couple of towns over from me. His name was Jonathan Richman.
MT: So when and where did you first encounter the Stooges?
Edmonds: It was at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, in May of 1969. This was a very important show in Stooges lore, one that Iggy recounts in [1982 autobiography] I Need More. Without ever having seen the band, and going on nothing more than the day-glo'ing recommendation of John Sinclair, I booked the Psychedelic Stooges for a gig during the school's homecoming weekend. The student social committee had contracted for a Blood, Sweat & Tears -- David Clayton-Thomas edition -- concert, which I thought showed unforgivably poor taste. Not letting the fact that I'd recently dropped out of the university stand in the way, I scammed the school into letting me present an MC5 show the following evening, and then Sinclair scammed me into a Stooges concert the night after that. Now, there was no earthly reason the Psychedelic Stooges should have been booked into a large college auditorium. Their album was months away, and nobody had even heard of them; the ad in the student paper called them "The Stoops," later corrected to "The Scrooges.” But John Sinclair was a very persuasive individual, and he promised a performance that would destroy the minds of all who witnessed it.
I don't remember if we sold six tickets or eight, but we definitely didn't break into double-digits. Even with the doors thrown open to anybody passing by, attendance in this big hall was probably well below twenty. It was obvious there would be no money to pay them, but being seasoned pros [the band] decided the show must go on. All these years later I'm not sure I possess words to describe what I saw. I was totally mesmerized by Iggy. I had never seen anybody move like that before; just like the music, his movements seemed to have no precedent. Made Jim Morrison's Native American soft-shoe look like silly affectation, for starters. There were these explosions of movement, but it was more fluid, and dare I say more graceful, than the spasms of herky-jerk motion you see today. Now it's all about playing off a pre-existing relationship with the audience; back then Iggy seemed safe and complete in his cocoon of sound, lost in his own world when he danced. I sometimes wondered if his habit of hurling himself into the audience -- not on display at this gig because there was no audience -- was his way of re-entering ours.
I must admit that I was so stunned by Iggy that I barely noticed the band. Unlike the MC5, who'd easily filled the large stage with their stars and stripes and skull and crossbones-draped Marshall stacks, flamboyant costumes and nonstop five-man assault, the three instrumental Stooges seemed dwarfed in the expanse, almost anonymous in their jeans and tee-shirts. They barely moved a muscle. I could tell right away that they weren't "good" musicians like the MC5, but it didn't seem to matter. I now know that they'd just finished recording the album, so the set probably consisted of four or five snappy numbers from that plus their customary set-closing freakout. At the time I couldn't distinguish one song from another, except for one that went "no fun my babe no fun." The music was loud and crude, but possessed of a rhythm so elemental that its source might not have been musical history but something further back, some suppressed genetic memory. The singer was completely captivated by it, and that was good enough for me.
At one point he picked up a drumstick shard and began absent-mindedly running it across his bare chest. He apparently increased the pressure with each stroke, because red welt lines soon became visible, which then discharged trickles of blood running down his torso. I was dumbstruck. Well, I was already dumbstruck; now I was somewhere beyond. I mean, what's gonna prepare you for that?!? But the singer didn't seem to notice. He finished the show without acknowledging what he'd done. Afterward he put on a white tee-shirt and traces of red began to soak through. I don't know why, but the sight of that made me more queasy than actually watching him commit the act. It was mild compared to the damage he'd later inflict on himself, but this, it turned out, was the first time he'd ever done such a thing. Quite a first experience to have with them. Mind-destroying, just like the man said.
MT: And you said you saw them perform many times afterwards too.
Edmonds: I saw the Stooges every time I could. The next time was during one of my first visits to Creem – it was actually Danny Fields [Elektra A&R rep who signed the Stooges] who’d suggested I check out this new magazine in Detroit, which led me to become the first non-Detroiter to join the Creem staff. The Stooges played a place called Sherwood Forest with the Rationals opening, who were also extraordinary. The first album had turned them into local headliners, but that was also accompanied by the rising rumble of negative expectation, tilting the balance from amazement to confrontation and danger. Iggy went after some macho guy in the crowd who'd been catcalling and made him back down, in fact making the whole audience back up a few steps. It was impressive but left me feeling uneasy. [The MC5’s] Rob Tyner articulated it years later when he told me, "No matter how great you're doing up there, you can't ever forget that ultimately the audience has the power. Always. The audience is like a great beast that has no idea of its own strength. It can turn on you. It's a fine line, and you don't want to get yourself on the wrong side of it."
Anyway, I saw them on a fantastic bill with the MC5 at the Ludlow Garage in Cincinnati, where the ascendant Stooges pushed the 5 into giving one of their better Back In The USA performances. I saw them at the Vanity Ballroom when they headlined over their "big brothers" the MC5 for the first time in Detroit, a stunning reversal of the bands' original roles. I was fortunate enough to see a couple of gigs with the two-guitar Stooges when James Williamson first joined: at the Chicago Opera House opening for Alice Cooper, and at the Electric Circus in New York when Iggy anointed the faithful down front with a shower of vomit. I saw the one-date Raw Power tour at Ford Auditorium [Detroit] with Prime Mover pianist Bob Scheff, who added an amazing barrelhouse dynamic to the sound during his brief stay. I saw a show at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago after MainMan made them fire James Williamson, with somebody mis-named Tornado Turner on guitar, which was the only Stooges show I've ever seen that you could call dull. And I saw the beginning of the end at the Rock And Roll Farm when the mighty Pop was punched out by a biker -- the beast finally bites back! -- and the end that came shortly thereafter at the Michigan Palace.
MT: So how was the band regarded in the Detroit area compared to other groups operating at the time? I know that to some the Stooges were seen as a joke, an aberration.
Edmonds: I think it’s fair to say that most, muso and audience alike, regarded them as a joke, at least until the first album came out. But even as they acquired a public following with the album, resentment from other musicians grew apace. Where they could’ve been tolerated before as a performance art giggle, now they were headlining shows over more "qualified" musicians, who began grumbling about a band that couldn’t play and hadn’t paid its dues. I think they also viewed it as something of a print media conspiracy — people who couldn’t play writing about people who couldn’t play. We now know that these wannabe Eric Claptons simply weren’t equipped to understand a music with all blues removed. The MC5 faced similar criticism from the Longines Symphonette Society crowd, but at least they’d come up through the teen club circuit playing R&B covers, so their credentials were unassailable. Nobody dared criticize the 5 when they were at the peak of their notoriety. Everybody on the scene was content to bask in the reflected attention the band brought to Detroit. But when the backlash began, set in motion by all the silly White Panther shenanigans, and the first few drops of blood hit the water, the civility was abandoned. Suddenly the MC5 were a hype, overamped bozos who couldn’t really play. I don’t think there was a band in this town, except maybe the Frut or the Up, who didn’t feel that they were vastly superior to the two noisy outfits who were getting all the attention. They were wrong. And if these people thought the presence of the MC5 and the Stooges somehow impeded their own progress, they were fools. If SRC and the Frost and Savage Grace never achieved commensurate success, it wasn’t because they didn’t get a shot. Thanks to [Elektra A&R rep] Danny Fields, everybody in Michigan who owned a guitar got a shot.
MT: How would you rate the first two albums both in terms of how they’ve held up over the years and in how they compare to each other?
Edmonds: Conventional wisdom says that Fun House was the zenith of the original band, and it’s hard to argue with that. It’s a perfect record, insofar as it accomplished everything it set out to do. Well almost everything; "L.A. Blues" is way weak as Stooges freakouts go. That said, I have enormous and possibly overriding affection for the first album. It has an innocence and mystery and yes, even a tenderness, that are already ancient history by the time of Fun House, when the danger overwhelmed all else. It was perfect in its severity but slightly monochromatic too. So [Steve MacKay’s sax for Fun House] not only made stylistic sense, it added essential sonic dimension. Nico told Iggy he didn’t have the poison when she first met him. Fun House is proud and defiant and alive, but also pretty poisonous, don’t you think? Or is that poisoned?
MT: But of course Raw Power tends to get cited more often a punk-starter — "Search And Destroy," et cetera.
Edmonds: Raw Power certainly had punkish themes, but for the root of that movement you have to go back to the original band, who were the ultimate example of the D.I.Y. ethic that made punk possible. Raw Power had more flash and nihilism, which punk also found useful. I can’t agree with the assessment of my esteemed colleague Clinton Heylin that the Williamson lineup marked the Stooges’ transition into a "traditional" rock band. If that did happen, it happened during the recording of the first album, when the Psychedelic Stooges became the Stooges. Sorry, but Raw Power is simply not the sort of album a traditional band makes, nuh uh, no way. James may have been a marginally more skilled guitarist than Ron, but the essential quality of Stoogeness — a fucked-up head full of fevered ideas that the fingers can’t quite wrap themselves around — was still front and center.
MT: Tell me about how you and Rhino’s Bill Inglot got the reissues project off the ground. It started with the Fun House box set?
Edmonds: Well, this thing has been percolating for almost a decade. I think it was 1996 when Bill and I pulled all the Stooges material [from the vaults] and spent a day going through it tape by tape to see exactly what was there. At the time we may have been talking about a Stooges anthology that would also encompass Raw Power and the various bootlegs. What we found of course was a wealth of material from the Fun House sessions — and almost nothing from the first album! Faced with this embarrassment of Fun House riches, my first idea was to do a kind of shadow version of Fun House based around the best alternate takes and all the studio chatter. I provisionally called it Having A Swingin’ Session With The Stooges!, and it was not terribly dissimilar to the second disc of this new deluxe edition. Then Inglot had the staggering idea for the Fun House Sessions box, something I would never have dared let myself dream might be doable. But Rhino, bless their horny hearts, agreed, and we were off.
Because the box sold out so quickly and people were clamoring for this material, we started thinking about a deluxe edition almost immediately. Then Warner Bros. got sold, all the labels were shaken up, and many projects got put on the famous back burner. Eventually the enthusiasm of Rick Conrad at Warners in London helped get Rhino re-focused and the project back on track. Rick is even doing vinyl double-album versions and singles in the UK — how cool is that? We were originally working toward expanded editions of the three MC5 albums to be released alongside these two Stooges titles but due to the infighting and lawsuits flying around the MC5 camp at present, that part of the program sorta fell by the wayside. No matter. These two Stooges packages are the shit, and probably would have overshadowed the projected single-disc MC5 "expanded" — as opposed to double-disc "deluxe" — editions.
MT: Were there any problems, such as sonic issues, you encountered while assembling the reissues?
Edmonds: Not really. The early John Cale mixes [for The Stooges] surfaced on a tape that was slightly worse for wear, but that’s about it. And we would have welcomed those mixes in even worse shape, I can tell you that!
That’s a very interesting tape. It was supplied by collector Jeff Gold. It contained the Stooges debut as we know it, followed by another version of the album — different mixes in a different sequence. As this tape was believed to have come from the collection of Danny Fields, it became obvious that this was the long-speculated-upon John Cale version of the album that the band rejected and remixed [with Elektra president Jac Holzman]. It was like the tape was an A-B exercise with the two versions of the album, perhaps just to check that the remixes were in fact superior.
Now, we could easily have just presented the Cale version of the album as our deluxe disc and left it at that. I’m sure nobody would have complained. But Bill and I wanted to make this edition as special as it could possibly be, especially considering how strong the Fun House counterpart was gonna be. We decided that we’d use the versions with alternate vocals, some of the extended versions, and then four of the original Cale mixes. There’s another of his mixes on the B-side of one of the two vinyl 45s the English are releasing, and another still on the B-side of the American single, so six of the eight Cale tracks will be out there. [NOTE: The 45s are as follow – in the UK, "I Wanna Be Your Dog" (alt version) b/w "Real Cool Time" (Cale mix) and "Down On The Street" (45 version) b/w "TV Eye" (box take 9); in the US, "1970" (mono 45 mix) b/w "Not Right" (Cale mix).]
We figure this makes for a good blend of treats and surprises, and in the process we answer the two principal questions Stooges fans have always wondered about the first album: One, what did the original album with longer versions of fewer songs — rejected by Jac Holzman, who asked for more material — sound like? And two, what did John Cale’s rejected mixes sound like? Even if the answers reveal that the right decisions were ultimately made in both instances, isn’t this the kind of illumination we look for in historical packages?
The only other difficulty we encountered, really, was with the artwork. The original notion was to present outtakes from each album’s photographic session, so the booklet would become a visual counterpart to the expanded album, as Fun House is, with Ed Caraeff’s photos. Unfortunately, first album photographer Joel Brodsky is in a dispute over the use of his work. I believe it centers on his Doors material, but the upshot was that we didn’t have access to any of his Stooges outtakes. I have some in my personal archive, and they’re wonderful. Rhino art director Greg Allen had to scurry around finding photos for the first album at the last minute, which he succeeded in doing admirably, albeit in black and white.
MT: The booklets really do tell the whole story of each album – photos and liners.
Edmonds: Having blown my Fun House wad, so to speak, on the 1999 box notes, I was thrilled to get Paul Trynka to do the honors on that one. He’s a gentleman and a Stooges scholar. [For my notes on The Stooges] this was a first album, so I was obligated to give a certain amount of backstory. I would have needed twice the space to even begin to do the subject justice, to flesh out the recording and dive into each song. Because although this music appears to have few precedents, each song does have roots. "Real Cool Time" owes a small debt to "Looking At You" by the MC5. "Little Doll" was inspired by the bassline of Pharoah Sanders’ "Upper & Lower Egypt" — a song the MC5 performed. And there’s a very specific source for "1969."
MT: Aside from the Cale mixes for The Stooges were there any surprises or "finds" you and Bill uncovered?
Edmonds: Having the Fun House box, you’ll already be familiar with everything on that second disc. I’m glad we had the room to include three stabs at "Loose" that really give you a sense of how the song evolved. While take one of "Down On The Street" grinds to an out-of-tune halt, you can hear the original tempo and words, which makes sense when followed by a take more closely resembling the one we all know and love. "1970" and both versions of "Fun House" are wilder and crazier than their album counterparts. All in all I think we did a pretty fair job of distilling the box’s charms. I should mention the "doctored" single from Fun House that closes the deluxe disc. ["Down On The Street" b/w "1970," featuring keyboards added after the fact without the band’s knowledge, was released as a 45 by Elektra in 1970; it was also included as a CD single in the Fun House Sessions box.] I fought its inclusion, always having found the faux-Manzarek organ overdubs by Don Gallucci cheesy beyond belief, but was outvoted due to its "collectibility."
We discussed presenting an "alternate" Fun House, just as we could’ve presented the Cale mixes as an alternate version of the first album and left it at that. I fought vigorously against both in favor of what [we have], which I believe illuminates the albums better than simple alternates would have. Though I must admit that the opportunity to avoid the 19 minute "Freak" [aka the complete, unedited "L.A. Blues"] might also have played some part in the decision!
The first album proved more problematic. You of course know the story of how they had to come up with material to complete the album literally overnight, and conjured up "Real Cool Time," "Not Right" and "Little Doll." Not only legendary, but true. Unfortunately it also meant that there would be no songs left over. A bootleg [was released] that purported to be early versions of some of the songs, but wound up being what sounded like a scratchy, fucked-up, worn-down acetate of the first album, nothing more.
But Bill and I listened to every note of every song on every Stooges reel and we did find some interesting stuff. There were a few alternate vocals, and some songs were noticeably longer on the multi-track than they were on the album, most notably "Ann" and "No Fun." The nearly eight minutes of "Ann" was the real find, because what had been left on the cutting room floor was "The Dance of Romance," the early jam out of which "Ann" eventually emerged. You’ve got two minutes of "Ann" followed by six minutes of "The Dance of Romance," which is like the perfect snapshot of who the Psychedelic Stooges were at the moment they entered the studio to record their first album. It was a thrill to discover that it had survived intact. An archaeological boner to be sure, and an honor to present restored.
When we added these to the alternate material and extended versions, we had enough for a deluxe disc strong enough to stand proudly next to the Fun House package. Bill Inglot should be mentioned prominently; he’s done a lot of the work down in the trenches — sleuthing, researching, restoring, mixing, mastering — on which Rhino’s reputation was built. Each project like this carries with it an obligation to history, which I think we’ve fulfilled with these two Stooges releases.
The Stooges’ Rhino reissues hit stores Tuesday, Aug. 16.
By Fred Mills
Stooge Ron Asheton on the reissues and the band.