Stooges drummer Scott Asheton, whose driving rhythm was the band’s engine over its nearly 50 years of its existence, died Saturday of an unspecified illness, according to multiple media reports. He was 64.
“Scott was a great artist,” Stooges singer Iggy Pop said in a statement. “I have never heard anyone play the drums with more meaning than Scott Asheton. He was like my brother. He and Ron have left a huge legacy to the world. The Ashetons have always been and continue to be a second family to me. My thoughts are with his sister Kathy, his wife Liz and his daughter Leanna, who was the light of his life.”
Asheton began playing music in his teens with guitarist brother Ron and their bassist friend Dave Alexander in the early 1960s, but the band’s did not gain momentum until Iggy Pop joined. Under the tutelage of rising local heroes the MC5 — who dubbed the Stooges their “kid-brother band” — the band were signed to Elektra Records at the same time at the MC5. The group recorded its debut album, produced by John Cale (who’d just left the Velvet Underground), in 1969.
That album and the following masterpiece Fun House were, with the early work of the MC5 and the New York Dolls, the template for punk rock; the latter album’s title track is arguably the tour de force of Asheton’s drumming career. However, the group was unheralded and unsuccessful at the time, and both the Stooges and the MC5 dissipated in a haze of substance abuse and shattered ambitions.
But the Stooges’ work caught David Bowie’s ear, and as his star rose in England in 1972, he brought Iggy under his wing (and under the tutelage of his manager, Tony Defries). The Stooges reformed with guitarist James Williamson, Ron Asheton moved over to bass (with no small amount of resentment), and the band recorded the 1973 classic Raw Power. But again, the album fell largely on deaf ears, and the Stooges collapsed again the following year.
Over the ensuing three decades, Asheton played briefly with Pop, but largely performed in local Detroit bands, including MC5 guitarist Fred Smith’s Sonic Rendezvous Band.
By 2000, the Stooges’ status as rock legends was universally acknowledged, but the Asheton brothers’ second act truly began when Minutemen bassist Mike Watt and Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis brought them out for what was essentially a Stooges tribute tour, performing songs from the first two albums. Eventually Pop joined in, first at Coachella in 2003, and multiple tours ensued (minus Mascis but with Watt on bass). Despite their decades apart, the latter-day Stooges rocked impressively hard, with Scott Asheton playing the band’s physically demanding music — a challenge for a drummer of any age — with power and finesse.
The band recorded a fourth album, The Weirdness, in 2007, although it did little to further the Stooges’ recorded legacy. However, their live shows continued to be incendiary up until Ron Asheton’s death from a heart attack in 2009. James Williamson came back onboard and the Stooges kept rolling.
After a gig in France in 2011, Asheton suffered an injury (reported to be a stroke) that Pop said was nearly fatal, and drummer Toby Dammit filled in. Although Asheton played with the band at the 2012 Austin City Limits festival and on its most recent album, 2013’s Ready to Die, his condition gradually deteriorated.
MC5 drummer Dennis Thompson wrote on his blog: “He was a close brother of mine..we always hung out together at the [Stooges’ ’60s residence] fun house and he showed thousands of young drummers how rock n roll drumming should be played..hard, strong and simple..to me he is a high caliber classic drummer and I mean that. I’m gonna miss you Scottie…Our thoughts and prayers go out to Liz, Leanna, Kathy and the fans.”
Asheton, along with the rest of the Stooges, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.