Although the 2009 death in Ann Arbor of guitarist Ron Asheton, from the pioneering punk band The Stooges, has been keenly felt throughout the music community, few have experienced the loss as personally as his brother and bandmate Scott Asheton.
“There are certain things you share close with your brother, and now and then I’ll think of something and I’ll think ‘I’ve got to tell Ronnie this,’ then I go ‘Oh s—,’” Scott Asheton said in a recent phone interview from his Florida home. “You get really close and you can talk about things you can’t talk about with other people. I miss that very much, besides the music.”
Asheton will return to his hometown for a sold-out benefit concert and tribute to his brother at the Michigan Theater Tuesday night, organized by his sister Kathy Asheton. The Stooges will headline, and funds raised will go to the Ron Asheton Foundation to benefit local music and animal charities, including the Humane Society of Huron Valley.
“It’s not going to be a somber event. its going to be an uplifting event,” Asheton promised.
Besides Asheton (drums), the band will include Iggy Pop (vocals), Steve Mackay (sax), James Williamson (guitar) and Mike Watt (bass). Deniz Tek, from Radio Birdman, will play Ron Asheton’s guitar parts on some of the songs. Henry Rollins, spoken-word artist and front man of the 1980s punk band Black Flag, will act as M.C., and other special guests have been promised. Expect songs from “The Stooges,” “Fun House,” and “Raw Power.”
“Deniz learned playing the guitar from Ron. Deniz is probably closest to Ron’s style that you will ever hear from another guitar player,” Asheton said.
Formed in 1967 in Ann Arbor, The Stooges, with their primal, energetic sound, are often considered the first punk rock band. Ron Asheton was lead guitarist on the Stooges’ first two albums; for the third, “Raw Power,” he was replaced by Williamson and shifted to bass. Ron Asheton is ranked at No. 29 on Rolling Stone’s list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
Given Ron Asheton’s fondness for his hometown, as well as the fact that The Stooges were founded in Ann Arbor, it’s fitting the concert be held here, his brother said.
“(Ron) loved Ann Arbor very much – it’s the reason he didn’t leave. Everyone else would go to New York or California or Nashville — he was just happy to be in Ann Arbor. … The band started there, that’s where we grew up, where we all went to school — we kicked it off on Halloween in 1968 at a private party — freaked everybody out.”
Although he wasn’t available for an interview, Iggy Pop said in a prepared statement that Ann Arbor was chosen for the benefit, rather than Detroit or another city with larger performance venues, because that’s where “our group, our attitudes and our ideals were forged. It really was the birth of a movement.”
Rollins also chimed in, via e-mail: “The Stooges are one of rock music’s most essential elements. Without The Stooges’ considerable contribution, the punk and independent music scenes that came after would not have been the same. The music of The Stooges is that crucial,” he wrote.
Last year The Stooges were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a move that was long overdue, Scott Asheton lamented. “I thought they should have done it earlier … it just came one year too late. I have (Ron’s) statuette sitting on my mantle next to mine,” he said.
Asheton, who continues to tour with Iggy and the Stooges, acknowledged it’s still difficult to be on the road without his big brother.
“The first year — last year — was really hard for me. But you’ve got to go on. We’re playing a lot of the ‘Raw Power’ stuff and Ron did play on that. … I always think of him when we play those songs. he was one of my favorite bass players. I thought he did a great job on that album.”
Asheton recalled his brother as a gentle man who loved music, old movies and animals.
“He was really big on taking in stray cats,” Asheton said. “If he had too many and they couldn’t be in the house, he’d build them outdoor shelters, put blankets over the shelters so they could stay warm in the snow. He put food out for them. He once told me liked animals more than he liked people.”
Ron Asheton was into all kinds of entertainment, his brother remembered.:
“When we were first starting out I can remember him getting in his rocking chair and putting on The Beatles or the Stones for hours and hours. When he was done with that, he’d find classic movies on TV and he’d watch them for hours and hours. He knew that was his place, to be with what he loved the most.”
The concert will be “a celebration of his life — film, art and, of course, all the music. … I know there are going to be moments with me that will be hard. That’s just the way it is. I’m sure Ron would appreciate (the show) very much, I’m sure he would think of it as a good thing.”
Asheton had one last comment to make, before bringing the interview to a close.
“I just want people to know I am very proud of my brother’s name. Most of the time, in interviews and print, I was always referred to as Ron Asheton’s brother. I am very proud of that,” he said.
Roger LeLievre is a freelance writer who covers music for AnnArbor.com.
The Stooges perform in 2007, with Ron Asheton on guitar: