Raw Power: James Williamson of The Stooges this week on ‘The Pharmacy’


 
Gregg Foreman’s radio program, The Pharmacy, is a music / talk show playing heavy soul, raw funk, 60′s psych, girl groups, Krautrock. French yé-yé, Hammond organ rituals, post-punk transmissions and “ghost on the highway” testimonials and interviews with the most interesting artists and music makers of our times.

This week’s guest is James Williamson of The Stooges. Topics include:

—Iggy nearly choosing to a see movie over meeting David Bowie.

—The final Stooges show that saw a rain of bottles, cans, glass—even cameras—hurled by angry bikers at the band.

—How Raw Power got made while management was preoccupied trying to break David Bowie in the USA.

—Elektra records dropping the band due to drug use and Ron Ashton’s Nazi paraphernalia-filled room.

—When James got fired from the band temporarily and found himself working as a projectionist at a porn theater.

—How The Stooges had no idea what effect their sound would have on future bands.


 
Mr. Pharmacy is a musician and DJ who has played for the likes of Pink Mountaintops, The Delta 72, The Black Ryder, The Meek and more. Since 2012 Gregg Foreman has been the musical director of Cat Power’s band. He started dj’ing 60s Soul and Mod 45’s in 1995 and has spun around the world. Gregg currently lives in Los Angeles, CA and divides his time between playing live music, producing records and dj’ing various clubs and parties from LA to Australia.
 
Setlist

Mr.Pharmacist - The Fall
Ramblin Rose - The MC5
Shake Appeal - The Stooges
Intro 1 / Honky Tonk Popcorn - Rx / Bill Doggett
James Williamson Interview Part One 
I Gotta Move - The Kinks
I Just Wanna Make Love to You - The Rolling Stones
Sonic Reducer - The Dead Boys
Sunshine of Your Love - Spanky Wilson
Intro 2 / Do Your Thang - Rx / Dennis Coffey
James Williamson Interview Part Two
Know Your Product - The Saints
I’m Bored - Iggy Pop
Try It ! - The Standells
Intro 3 / Guess I’m Falling in Love (Rx on Organ) - Rx / Velvet Underground
James Williamson Interview Part Three
Let a Woman Be a Woman , Let a Man Be a Man - Dyke and the Blazers
Gone and Passes By - the Chocolate Watchband
Intro 4 / Twin Stars Of Thence Ra - Rx / Sun Ra
James Williamson Interview Part Four
Gimme Danger - The Stooges
Mr.Pharmacist (Outro) - The Fall
 

 
You can download the entire show here.

Written by Tara McGinley | Discussion
Wendy James: Exclusive interview and new tracks with James Williamson & James Sclavunos

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Wendy James has been busy. Since the release of her superb album I Came Here to Blow Minds last year, Wendy has been traveling the world, writing, performing and recording across New York, London, Paris, and Los Angeles. She has also been working on her next album and single with the legendary James Williamson and James Sclavunos.

In an exclusive interview, Wendy James tells Dangerous Minds about working with Williamson and Sclavunos on her latest Double A-side single, which we premiere below.

DM: What are you working on just now?

Wendy James: ‘I’m getting this single out, which really is a Double A side speciality to be released on beautiful Vinyl and Download.

‘It’s a speciality as I don’t usually do cover versions and of course, because of the line up of the players. It’s the first and only time James Williamson from The Stooges has recorded anything other than a Stooges or Iggy record. And I got ‘Big’ Jim Sclavunos from the Bad Seeds and Grinderman on drums. Steve Mackay, the famed Baritone Sax player from the Stooges, does a great part too. Between us we hand in a pretty powerful sound I think!! We started off thinking ‘Why not go into the studio and make a Single?’ Well the Bob Dylan track “It’s Alright Ma” is 7 minutes long so instead of it being a 45” single we have put it onto 10”. Literally there are not enough grooves on a 45” to allow for that length of song!

‘The other song “You’re So Great” is a cover of Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith’s number from his band Sonic’s Rendezvous Band. The more space the better on a 12” or 10” vinyl so you can make great artwork, read the credits etc… It’s all very tactile once you’re on Vinyl. You master differently, you mix differently, you actually strip away a lot of the artifice of an overly-compressed digital sound, you really get bass end, you really get depth of field. It’s very, very exciting in the studio to as you literally the hear the compositions coming together.’

DM: How did you decide to cover Dylan’s ‘I’m Alright Ma’?

Wendy James: ‘I have a whole new album of original numbers, plus my choice of one cover: “You’re So Great” by Sonic’s Rendezvous Band. I was talking through the whole thing with James and he looked at his Stooges touring diary at that time (June) and he figured he could carve out a number of days for us to work, not enough time to make a whole album then, but enough to make a single. It seemed obvious to me that James should play “You’re So Great” which is tailor made Detroit attitude from Fred Smith and even to the point that Scott Asheton from The Stooges played in that line-up, so, we agreed to do that song and then just through conversation, James asked me what my favorite Bob Dylan number was, and I said “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding”. You know the clarity and purpose of those lyrics have never been bettered and never will be. They are finite. They are IT. So… just like that, we decided to do both these covers and make it a special, and of course put the numbers onto my album later, and to deal with recording the whole album a few weeks later.

‘So that is how it came together, in a series of babbling enthusiastic sentences propelled by both of us that resulted in us then blocking time in a recording studio and saying ‘Ok, see you in 3 weeks.’ Believe me we took on more than seemed apparent at first! To tongue twist your voice around all Dylans’ words and then at the speed at which James plays guitar, and for 7 minutes, and make it flow naturally and mean it! In the end, I understood every breath, every intention of Dylans’ phrasing and choice of words, but for a good week or so, I was the crazy lady in Washington Square Park walking around the periphery of the park muttering lyrics to myself, learning them!! (But… it’s not unusual in Washington Square Park to see muttering bums! So I generally went un-noticed!)’

And Fred ‘Sonic’ Smiths You’re So Great’ - why’d you choose that?

Wendy James: “You’re So Great” is just perfect pop. Three minutes of power and attitude. I love it, it’s always been a favorite of mine. I love Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, largely un-championed, except for us musicians and fans that revel in all things Detroit and Ann Arbor! They never recorded this in a studio so I had to rely on myriad live recordings and it was impossible to understand all the lyrics, so… James asked Scott Asheton and Patti Smith if Fred ever wrote them down, but he didn’t, and Patti said ‘Go ahead and fill in the blanks’. I think we got pretty damn close! And James just plays it so good! It’s his kind of thing, and mine too… So, it worked out very well, you know jumping around the studio saying ‘This is it, This is it’.

‘My friend in NYC has DJ’d it out in New York now to 1000 + people and he said the dance floor was slamming… I got texts through the night saying ‘Your Track Rules’! Very encouraging!’
 
williamson_sclavunos_wendy_james
 
DM: How did you become involved with Williamson and Sclavunous?

Wendy James: ‘James Sclavunos and I know each other socially from NYC and West London. James Williamson and I met around December last year. My friendships with both men just naturally evolved based on music and the tentative early discussions of doing something together. I share with both of them, and especially with James W, a very similar kind of look at things and taste in music, even humor, literature, you know, those typical conversations about ‘What’s your favorite movie?’ What book are you reading?’ etc etc… so. There was plenty of friendship there between all three of us when we finally walked into Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California.’

DM: Tell me about working with them on ‘It’s Alright Ma’ and ‘You’re So Great’?

Wendy James: Well, we’re all pretty fluid musicians, so… it’s literally what it sounds like. Jim played Drums and Percussion, James played Guitar and Bass, I sang and played keyboards… and between the three of us, playing live together and Jesse Nichols at the helm behind the mixing desk moving as quickly and as frenetically as we did! Keeping tabs on all the stuff that was going down, we really did just play both songs live until we reached a peak. Then you know, go back in the control room, listen back, identify any improvements and overdubs, and… yeah… musicians working. That’s what you do, That’s how you do it.

DM: What are you working on with them?

Wendy James: ‘Now it’s my whole album. The songs are nearly complete, I definitely have two left to write. Then it comes down to scheduling: Whether we have to grab time in pieces, or block book for a period of weeks, I expect to be underway in a matter of weeks and delivered by beginning 2013. Released Spring 2013. In the meantime this single will come out.’

DM: When will ‘I’m Alright Ma’ / ‘You’re So Great’ be released?

Wendy James:  ‘October/November. The company people are debating the best time for them now, it’s got little to do with me, but it’s coming up quick! So, in preparation, I’m doing a couple of photo sessions, finishing up my song writing, and finalizing artwork choices. You know six weeks go by very quickly when you’re planning an album or a single release, and so, with something like this, there hasn’t been any let-up since James Williamson and I decided to do it!’

We look forward to hearing more from the always welcome Wendy James.

Thanks to Ricardo Gomes for the fab photograph of Wendy James.
 

 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

Wendy James wants to blow your mind


 

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Beyond the Law: Brilliant reissue of 1977 Iggy Pop & James Williamson album ‘Kill City’


 
For me to properly communicate why I feel that the restored, remixed, remastered version of Iggy Pop and James Williamson’s ill-fated 1977 album Kill City is such a major event for rock snobs, my initial reaction to hearing it—yikes—34-years ago, is probably the best place for me to start, because I thought it sucked back then.

I was an 11-year-old budding rock snob at the time. My introduction to the Stooges had come a year or two earlier, via Lester Bangs rhapsodizing about them in the pages of CREEM magazine and due to the fact that David Bowie had produced Raw Power. To me this was the ultimate double seal of approval and after reading about the music and hearing it described so vividly by Bangs—who’d clearly had his life changed by the album—I just had to hear it for myself. I wanted to have that same sonic baptism Lester Bangs had. I wanted Raw Power to change my life, too. If I could only hear Raw Power, I’d get to enter some sort of druidic inner temple of rock and roll gnosticism. I wanted to hear this album so fuckin’ bad that I simply had no choice in the matter.

There was one problem, though. In 1976, I was a little kid in Wheeling, WV, which was not exactly a place with tons of great record stores (or anything else for that matter) even if I would have had any money. I was SOL when it came to being able to walk into a store and be able to purchase an Iggy Pop album. The nearest place where I could have done so was about an hour and a half away, in Pittsburgh, and that wasn’t ever gonna happen.

This will no doubt seem quaint, today, in the age of consumer enlightenment and instantaneous digital gratification, but back then I had to do at least two day’s worth of unpleasant chores and yard work and then resort to mail order, yes mail order, to be able to get my mitts on a copy of Raw Power. This meant getting my mother to write a check to Moby Disc Records in Los Angeles—one of the sole mail order outlets for prog, punk and imports back then—mailing it to them, waiting for the check to clear and then having them ship it to me. (It you got a defective LP, it was easier just to keep it and grin and bear it when it skipped).

The entire transaction took a little less than six weeks and with each passing day that it didn’t show up in the post, my desire for Raw Power to be completely incredible and totally life transforming—the most amazing thing I’d ever hear—grew and grew. Whenever younger folk look at guys my age with huge record collections with befuddlement, it was this sort of anticipation of a truly holy experience that started us on that road. These sorts of obsessions didn’t always pay off, but often times they did in spades. How could anyone ever feel the same today about something they acquired with a few clicks of a mouse?

When my copy of Raw Power finally arrived—it was a glossy import with a plastic lined inner sleeve, the first I’d seen—I slapped it on the stereo and cranked it to the max my speakers could handle and had every bit the experience that I wanted to—expected to—have. Truly, the speaker-shredding violence of the record did not disappoint! I listened to that ear-bleeding monster a gazillion times that summer and for years afterwards.

The next Iggy Pop album I bought via mail order was Metallic K.O. (Imagine how my mother would have felt if she’d have known what she was helping put into her preteen son’s hands!). I had the one on blue vinyl. I think what it was (and that it was a live album) overshadowed how awful it sounded, because this, too, I played endlessly. After that I bought The Idiot, which I was slightly put off by at first—because it was so different from the primitive insanity of the Stooges’ albums—but I quickly grew to love it.
 

 
Then came Kill City. This was on green vinyl, and although it was a studio album, it sounded as bad as Metallic KO did, which is to say, pretty bad. This I found perplexing, thinking it was a creative choice that it sounded so murky and dank. I never really listened to that album. I tried, it just sounded like total dogshit to my young—but reasonably sophisticated—ears. I concluded that the album sucked, didn’t play it for years and eventually I traded it in. Wanting to give it a chance years later, I owned a CD reissue briefly, but it was obviously mastered from the same source—the master tapes were long lost—and probably was played no more than one time before I traded it in, too. It was impossible to listen to that much tape hiss and muck. It sounded like there might be something great lurking underneath it all, but it was still difficult listening.

In 1996, an otherwise pedestrian Iggy compilation called Nude and Rude featured a much improved version of Kill City’s title cut—I bought it for that reason alone—but the rest of the album was sadly not forthcoming.

It would take another fourteen years before Iggy fans would get to hear Kill City in all its unhinged glory. In 2010, James Williamson and engineer Ed Cherney remixed Kill City from the original mulitracks and Alive/Bomp Records released it last Fall. I didn’t hear about it until a week ago and I’ve not stopped listening to it, or raving about it to my rock snob pals, since.

It’s as if a ripsnorting hotrod that was stored in a garage for three decades has gotten a major overhaul, a shithot Big Daddy Roth paintjob and is now screaming down the old highway, blowing off toxic exhaust fumes for the rest of the world to choke on. This isn’t a minor face-lift, it marks a tremendous difference with past releases. NOW it sounds like what it IS: the music recorded by Pop and Williamson after Raw Power. More specifically after Raw Power and the dissolution of the Stooges and before Iggy decamped to Berlin with David Bowie to record The Idiot. Not that it sounds like either one of those records. In many respects, Kill City is more accessible than both.

The back story of Kill City is that it was recorded during 1974, when Iggy had checked himself into a mental hospital to dry out and kick junk. The vocals were laid down during weekend leave. It was never intended to be a proper album, but rather a demo that was supposed to snare a record contract and resurrect Pop’s stalled career. Pop and Williamson were hoping John Cale would produce it, but nothing happened. Eventually Bomp Records gave Williamson enough money to finish the album due to the success of The Idiot and Kill City was put out on the substandard green vinyl pressing in 1977.

Heard in this vastly cleaned-up new version, Iggy’s vocals are nothing short of jaw-dropping. As in the best he’s ever done. Pop might have been in a diminished mental and physical state when this record was made, but to my ears, he sounds every bit the same “street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm” that he did on Raw Power. His performances here are outrageously good. Make no mistake about it, this is prime, primal Iggy Pop from his best period. It’s not like I’m blabbing on about an album’s worth of Avenue B outtakes!

Musically, like most reviewers, I hear something midway between Raw Power and Exile on Main Street (there are even touches of country). Johnny Marr of the Smiths had this to say about James Williamson’s guitar work:

“He has the technical ability of Jimmy Page without being as studious, and the swagger of Keith Richards without being sloppy. He’s both demonic and intellectual, almost how you would imagine Darth Vader to sound if he was in a band.”

Too true! On Kill City he does manage to sound like both Page and Richards within the same song. His treble-cranked leads will claw your eyes out. Williamson chords more furiously than any guitarist I can name. He’s quite ferocious on Kill City, although he’s not intending to recreate the incendiary slash and burn of the album that came before it.

Kill City is certainly more musically sophisticated an album than Raw Power—which is not necessarily to say it’s better. Kill City is much less monolithic—if no less nihilistic—than its predecessor. It’s horned-drenched with squealing 70s saxophones—in a very good way—and is one of the sleaziest sounding records this side of Lou Reed’s Sally Can’t Dance. It’s a tremendous musical high to hear rock and roll this primal and dark and just authentically weird in 2010. What can compare to (finally) hearing Iggy Pop and James Williamson’s Kill City with fresh ears over three decades since its ill-fated 1977 debut?

I tells ya, it’s a knockout, everything that it always should have been what never was. Pass this one by at your own peril, it’s not often that a reissue like this come around. For the first time ever, this significant batch of recordings from the partnership that gave the world Raw Power, can be properly evaluated and enjoyed. It’s nothing less than a gift.

Compare the difference between this (original) version of “Kill City” with the 2010 upgraded version below it. You’ll hear immediately why this is such a reason for rock snob rejoicing.
 

 
Below, the 2010 version. I always thought that “Lick It Up” by Kiss sounded like this song.
 

 
An interesting short video piece from Fortune magazine about about James Williamson, who after leaving the music industry, got a degree in technical engineering and became a Vice President at Sony.
 

 
Bonus clip of Iggy performing “Kill City” in an episode of HBO’s Tales From the Crypt in 1990:

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion