martin bandyke: Organizer Kathy Asheton speaks about the Stooges' homecoming tribute to Ron Asheton
A founding member of the Stooges, guitarist Ron Asheton left this world far, far too soon when he passed away at his Ann Arbor home in January of 2009. Only 60 when he died, Asheton will long be remembered for his primal and powerful work on the Stooges’ 1969 self-titled debut album and 1970 follow-up “Fun House,” take-no-prisoners garage rock which set the stage for the punk movement and influenced countless other musicians.
On April 19, Iggy & the Stooges will be bringing it all back home to Ann Arbor, the city where they formed, when they pay tribute to Ron Asheton in a one-off performance at the Michigan Theater. On stage that night will be Iggy Pop (vocals), Ron’s brother Scott Asheton (drums), Steve Mackay (sax), James Williamson (guitar), and Mike Watt (bass); along with special guests including MC Henry Rollins. Hope you scored your tickets already, as the show took all of an hour to sell out. Proceeds will benefit the newly formed Ron Asheton Foundation. Tribute concert organizer Kathy Asheton recently spoke to me about what promises to be an extraordinary and extraordinarily emotional evening devoted to her dear brother Ron.
Q. So how did this concert all come together?
A. The idea came about because of wanting to start a foundation for Ron. I asked Jim (Iggy Pop) if he would perform and said that he was more than happy to help out. Some time went by and then I got the idea to put it into motion, and of course we thought it would have to happen in Ann Arbor. My thinking was that it would also be a tribute to Ron and a celebration of him, and would include friends that hadn’t had a chance to pay respects to him. So it was a combination of having his friends involved and kicking off the foundation.
Q. What is the Ron Asheton Foundation and who will it benefit?
A. The foundation is primarily for animals and musicians, Ronnie’s two biggest passions. It was also to continue his legacy, to keep his life going, to keep things going that he cared about. He did a lot of donation work to the Humane Societies, so that will be primarily our function. But we’re kind of the little guy; we’re obviously not a humane society but we’ll kind of pick up the slack as well as working with some of the societies and shelters. We have a dog adoption plan that we will put in effect, plus we’ll be awarding scholarships to help the music community — scholarships to music programs in schools, supplementing instruments, things like that.
Q. How did Henry Rollins, the spoken-word artist and ex-leader of hardcore punk band Black Flag, get on board the event?
A. Henry Rollins came up because I thought it would be nice to have an MC and also because he was a huge fan and a good friend of Ronnie’s. He had wanted to do the induction (of the Stooges) for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but the people in power there didn’t want him, so I thought this would be a way for him to get involved. He’ll serve as our host for the evening as well as do his own tribute to Ronnie. He’s got a couple little pieces planned for that. He’s the one who’s going to tie our show together.
Q. What can you tell us about some of the other guests who will be participating at the tribute concert?
A. We decided to make the show pretty much all Ronnie’s music, and that’s where Deniz Tek came in. He’s from the band Radio Birdman and a very dear lifelong friend of Ronnie’s and he’s going to, if you will, play the part of Ronnie. He’ll play his parts on some of his songs.
Ron also loved classical music and I thought that it be cool to get an orchestra to play along with some songs — punk rock and classical music together. I had to set about to find a composer and everything just fell into place. I found this guy who is just awesome: Mark Nilan. He’s from the Detroit area, classically trained, and he’s also a jazz guy who’s played with jazz bands forever. I gave him some of the Stooges songs and he mocked up the string parts in his studio. So he will be our conductor the night of the show, and the strings will play with Deniz Tek, Iggy will be singing, and Scotty and the rest of the band will be playing and there will be the songs from Ronnie’s first two albums (“The Stooges” and “Fun House”).
Q. Can you give me a memory of your brother that you’re most fond of? What memory of him makes you smile the most?
A. There’s so many, but one is the Lollapalooza show that the Stooges did back in ‘07 in Chicago. That was the first big festival that I went to. I saw them play at the DTE Energy (reunion concert in 2003), and it was surreal to see them up there playing. But at Lollapalooza I had time to spend with him before and after the show, and it was Ronnie at peace. He was so happy and content with everything and to see him play on this huge giant stage at Lollapalooza was just great. I was so full of pride just watching my big brother. I’m happy they all achieved success in their later years and all of them were just astounded by the reaction they got around the world. I was just so full of pride. Q. I remember meeting Ron many decades ago at a club in Detroit, and he came across as being rather quiet and very polite — not at all like the loud, aggressive music he played. Did I get the right impression?
A. He was a very non-assuming, teddy bear of a guy. He had a place he went to up north and kept a low profile; he never flaunted his fame. In fact he was humbled by it, and to remind himself he would say out loud, as a private joke, “I’m a musician, I’m really doing this!” We moved here in ‘63 and he loved it here; he was a hometown boy. I miss him a lot it and it’ll be very hard not having Ronnie at the Michigan Theater.