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Friends, Colleagues Remember Stooges Guitarist Ron Asheton
The Stooges' Ron Asheton was known for his loud guitar playing, his quiet demeanor, his ability to whip up a good whole grain waffle or salad at the group's late '60s Fun House and a deep love for his cats.
Asheton, one of the stars of the late '60s southeast Michigan rock scene and No. 29 on Rolling Stone magazine's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list, was found dead early Tuesday morning (Jan. 6) at his house in Ann Arbor. He was 60.
Ann Arbor Detective Bill Stanford said police were called to Asheton's house early Tuesday morning by Dara Hytinen, his personal assistant, who had not been able to reach him for several days. Hytinen let officers into the house with her key and Asheton's body was found in his bedroom.
Stanford said he "looked fairly peaceful" and that there was no sign of foul play or drug use. He estimated that Asheton -- who had high blood pressure but no other major medical problems -- had been dead at least five days. Stanford called reports of a heart attack premature.
Asheton's body was taken to the University of Michigan medical center, where an autopsy was to be conducted Tuesday afternoon. Stanford said a cause of death likely won't be determined until toxicology reports are complete, probably in early February.
In a statement Tuesday, the surviving Stooges and their crew said that "For all that knew him behind the facade of Mr. Cool & Quirky, he was a kindhearted, genuine, warm person who always believed that people meant well even if they did not. As a musician, Ron was The Guitar God idol to follow and inspire others. That is how he will be remembered by people who had a great pleasure to work with him, learn from him and share good and bad times with him."
Stooges frontman Iggy Pop also issued his own statement in which he said, "I am in shock. (Asheton) was my best friend."
Asheton co-ounded the Stooges in 1967 with Pop and his brother, drummer Scott "Rock Action" Asheton. The group recorded three albums before splitting up in 1973, reforming in 2003 for Pop's solo album "Skull Ring" and 2007's group album "The Weirdness." The Stooges -- who last performed in the Detroit metro area on Aug. 7, 2007 at the Meadow Brook Music Festival -- are finalists for induction into the cock and Roll Hall of Fame later this year.
During the Stooges split Asheton played in the bands Destroy All Monsters, The New Order, New Race, Dark Carnival, the Empty Set and Powertrane. He played on the soundtrack for the 1998 film "Velvet Goldmine" and acted in the films "Mosquito," "Frostbiter: Wrath of the Wendigo" and "Legion of the Night."
"He was unique amongst rock guitarists," said Wayne Kramer of the MC5, who came up in the same Detroit-Ann Arbor scene as the Stooges. "He had his own take on what the electric guitar was all about...He was one of the guys that understood that you not only play the guitar but you play the amp, too.
"He was into the sound of the guitar -- the sound was almost more important than the notes. He had a real visceral, raw expression."
Detroit-born rocker Marshall Crenshaw, who now resides in New York State, concurred that Asheton's sound was "utterly singular. It was just like World War III. It was this monumental onslaught of sound -- and ideas, too. You just go 'How on Earth does he do what he does? It was a mystery to me."
Ted Nugent, whose Amboy Dukes were part of that same community, noted Tuesday that "I had the pleasure of enjoying quality dialogue with Ron in recent years and found him to be an intelligent, sincere, engaging, good-hearted gentleman." Matthew Smith of the Detroit-based bands Outrageous Cherry and the Volebeats agreed that Asheton was "a really nice guy, very upbeat," and recalled meeting him while both were en route to New York City in 2004 when the Stooges performed at Little Steven's International Underground Garage FEstival on Randalls Island.
"I asked Ron if he'd had a chance to see any of the other acts," Smith said, "and he told me he hadn't. He'd isolated himself in a trailer all day with his guitar, just to be able to concentrate without any distractions so he'd be in the right frame of mind to go onstage with the Stooges. He said he needed to do this for every gig. This is how Ron prepared for 'battle'...which is what it must've literally been, back in the early '70s."
Former Grand Funk Railroad guitarist Mark Farner recalled playing early shows with the Stooges and watching Asheton from the side of the stage. "His rhythm stuff didn't sound like anybody else; it sounded like Ron Asheton," Farner said. "It had a little bit of that Amboy Dukesish taste, but with his very own style. He was a very unique musical guy."
Beyond music, Asheton was remembered Tuesday as "a real stand-up guy," according to Scott Morgan form the Ann Arbor group the Rationals and now the leader of Powertrane. Morgan spent Christmas Eve with Asheton and said the guitarist had called him from London during the Stooges recent tour of Europe.
"He was worried about his cats so much that he called me from London and wanted me to check on them," Morgan, who's known the Asheton family since junior high school, said. "He really loved those cats."
Asheton is survived by his brother and a younger sister, Kathy. Funeral arrangements are pending.
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