James Newell Osterberg, Jr. was raised on a trailer park in Michigan, Carpenter Rd, just off old U.S. Route 23. His parents were low-wage, lower middle class, but as Iggy Pop later said, the people in the trailer park were “nicer than some of the more accomplished members of our society.”
Osterberg was friends with a family from Tennessee who killed a chicken once a week for Sunday dinner by asphyxiating it on a tail pipe. The family had a son who played Duane Eddy-type rock on a guitar. It was the young James’ first taste of inspirational “working class music”—the grip and thrill of those goosebump chords gave him a sense of ambition and a growing awareness of the chip on his shoulder.
At thirteen Osterberg attended school in Ann Arbor, where he met kids who had guitars, amplifiers and albums by Ray Charles, Duane Eddy and Elvis—that was when he got “seriously corrupted.”
School was an annoying “buzz” (so Iggy has claimed) that he had to get away from—music was a passion which he saw as a way out. He became drummer with a high school band The Iguanas—hence his nickname Iggy. Like a lot of drummers, Iggy wanted to get out from round back and up front under the spotlight. He honed his skills playing drums with black R&B bands across the state, as Iggy said in Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain’s Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk:
So I hooked up with Sam Lay. He was playing with Jimmy Cotton and I’d go see them play and learned what I could. And very occasionally, I would get to sit in, I’d get a cheap gig for five or ten bucks. I played for Johnny Young once—he was hired to play for a white church group, and I could play cheap, so he let me play.
It was a thrill, you know? It was a thrill to be really close to some of those guys—they all had attitude, like jive motherfuckers, you know? What I noticed about these black guys was that their music was like honey off their fingers. Real childlike and charming in its simplicity. It was just a very natural mode of expression and life-style. They were drunk all the time and it was sexy-sexy and dudey-dudey, and it was just a bunch of guys that didn’t want to work and who played good.
I realized that these guys were way over my head, and that what they were doing was so natural to them that it was ridiculous for me to make a studious copy of it, which is what most white bands did.
One night Iggy went down to the sewage treatment plant by the Loop to smoke a joint, where he thought:
What you got to do is play your own simple blues. I could describe my experience based on the way those guys explained theirs…
So that’s what I did. I appropriated a lot of their vocal forms, and also their turns of phrase—either heard or misheard or twisted from blues songs. So “I Wanna Be Your Dog” is probably my mishearing of “Baby Please Don’t Go.”
Iggy was creating “white suburban delinquent music.”
In 2004, when Iggy and The Stooges were on a European tour, the then leather-fleshed, diamond-eyed 57-year-old singer was interviewed at length about his life and career by Melvyn Bragg for The South Bank Show.