[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Sunday KCRW broadcast.]
A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a lot of music by Sonic's Rendezvous Band, one of the most under-mentioned American rock groups of the last century. It was a Detroit super group. Fred “Sonic” Smith of the MC5 on guitar, Scott Morgan of the Rationals on guitar and vocals, Gary Rasmussen of The Up on bass and Scott Asheton of the Stooges on drums. They released one single, a song called “City Slang,” on both sides, stereo and mono.
Thankfully, a lot of material has been released over the years and it is surprisingly good quality wise. They easily had an album's worth of great songs. If you are at all familiar with the MC5 and their third album High Time – it would have been rockin' like that, maybe more. If you get a chance, check out “City Slang,” it just cooks. The live recordings are incredible, like some of the best rock music you have ever heard.
So, I was listening to the band and it hit me that Fred Smith, who was married to Patti Smith and passed away in 1994, was one of the most fully-formed, unique guitar monster motherfuckers ever. He was great in the MC5 but he realized his perfection in Sonic's Rendezvous. He had huge, wide open, exhilarating riffs by the truckload. Besides that, talk about tone, Fred Smith's is pure, electrified emotion. The man was deep as a well.
It also occurred to me that Scott “Rock Action” Asheton also found his pocket with Sonic's Rendezvous. The power on tracks like “It's Alright” and “Do It Again” will completely kick your ass. Scott is a man of few words but I wondered if he would talk to me about the band and what those days were like, for an interview. I planned to write his sister and see if she could ask him for me.
Right around that time I got an email from someone who said he was sorry about Scott passing away. What? I went online and found only one thing, which said it was hoax and Scott was alive and well. Relieved, I wrote the guy back and told him the good news. A few hours later, my old pal Ian MacKaye wrote and told me Scott was gone. I wrote back and told him to relax, it wasn't true. He wrote back with a link, complete with a statement from Iggy Pop. I wrote the Stooges manager and asked if this was real and he said it was. Scott Asheton had passed away on March 15, 2014 at 64 years old. I fired up the stereo and put the first Stooges album on loud.
Scott Asheton was a brilliant drummer, a natural musician. He ran on instinct, just like his brother Ron. He played from inside the music, giving any song he played savage, unlimited power. What he had, I don't think you can learn, you just show up with it. I wonder if at one point he just sat down behind some drums and started playing. He had that kind of thing.
On June, 26, 1986, Black Flag had a show in Ann Arbor, Mich. All the bands were down in the dressing room area and this very tough looking guy walks in and looks at all of us. He says, “Which one of you is Henry Rollins?”
[With great relief and emphasis, everyone points at me. I think to myself that it's going to hurt getting my ass kicked by this guy but I might as well get it over with. I told the man it was me. He walks up, sticks out his hand and says, “I'm Scott Asheton.” That's how we met. It was funny to watch how everyone went from excited to see me get beat up to happy to meet Scott Asheton. Mike Davis, bass player from the MC5, was at that show. We all went to Mike's house afterwards and hung out. That was probably the best show of the tour.
In 1990-something, Iggy asked me what I thought of a Stooges reunion. I replied that those are some big shoes to fill but ultimately, it's going to come down to Scott, he is the foundation upon which the whole thing stands. Years later, the band reformed with the Asheton brothers, Steve Mackay on sax and Mike Watt, one of the most talented musicians breathing, on bass. If anyone could lock in with Scott, it would be Watt. Someone gave me a CDR of their first reunion show. I knew what to listen for. Took about ten seconds. There it was – the Scott Asheton freight train. The hair on my arms stood up. The first time I saw them play, I stood on the side of the stage with tears streaming down my face.
That was the start of one of my favorite chapters in rock and roll. The Stooges played all over the world to overwhelming approval. It is righteous that Scott, Ron and Steve got a chance to see firsthand and know, with not a speck of doubt, just how much people love them and their music. I wonder if, previously, they had any idea. The Asheton brothers are on at least three of the greatest rock albums ever recorded: The Stooges, Fun House, and Raw Power hold up perfectly.
It was great to see the band play festivals. A sea of people going nuts, both sides of the stage filled with all the other bands on the bill. School was in.
On April 19, 2011, the band, now with James Williamson on guitar and Deniz Tek also playing on some songs, performed a show in Ann Arbor to memorialize the passing of Ron Asheton in 2009. It was blazing, the band tore it up. The next morning in the hotel lobby, I said goodbye to Scott and headed to the airport.
Scott Asheton is forever. He gets all of that.