When I talked to Iggy Pop in 2005, he said, “Ron Asheton has beautiful, long, lyrical hands that look like painter’s hands, and you can hear that in his playing. He can get rough, but there’s a certain, refined edge to his playing. It’s not exactly bar music. There’s more lyricism there.”
That Muhammad Ali-esque trait of “floating like a butterfly, stinging like a bee” was a wonderful signature of Asheton. Take “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” for example. Asheton kicks off the track with a buzzy cacophony of feedback, and then launches into the swooping riff that punches out the groove like a jackhammer while simultaneously leaving room for the piano and Iggy’s snarling vocal. It’s also a riff that could be easily translated to a string quartet without losing any of its menace or propulsive drive. Few punks could have devised such a brutal, yet inherently musical motif.
Asheton obviously understood the power of tone and melody, and he held his ground onstage with the Stooges by hardly moving a muscle. I mean, how do you compete with the gyrating fury that is Iggy Pop? Well, Asheton did it purely musically. During Stooges performances, he’d stand as an almost disinterested participant — a small, seemingly meek presence hovering close to his amp stacks. But when he fired off a classic Stooges riff without warning or sterotypical “guitar god” pretense, the audience would lose its collective mind as fanatically as any instance when Iggy slipped out of his impossibly tight jeans or threw himself into the outstretched hands of the mob.
The last time I saw Asheton was at last year’s NAMM show, where he was discussing the design of his Ron Asheton Signature model guitar by Reverend. After all the myth and hardship of his Stooges life, he remained a guitar geek who was truly excited about discovering new sounds and unique riffs. He seemed to love everything about the guitar, and he had nothing but enthusiasm for younger rock bands and modern guitar culture. I found him to be a truly nice and interesting guy, and a fabulous hang. And, at 59, he had the quiet cool of a ‘40s-era Hollywood screen idol. It’s devastating that his presence has now been lost to us. But, at least, I can listen to his recordings, try to absorb some of his beautiful aggro hipness, and honor his memory by incorporating that “refined edge” in my own playing. Asheton deserves to be remembered not just in our hearts and minds, but in our fingers, as well. —By Michael Molenda, Editor in Chief, GUITAR PLAYER