To learn that John Mellencamp was not only in a glam rock band in the early 1970s, but also covered David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World,” as well as the Iggy and the Stooges’ number, “I Need Somebody”—and did so long before those songs were revered—is one of those, “Wait, what?!?” moments. It goes against everything we think we know about a conventional performer with an established image.
At the tail end of 1972, Mellencamp formed the Bowie-inspired glam group, Trash. Around this time, he wrote his first two songs: “Loser,” purportedly a tribute to Lou Reed (despite its title), and “One Way Driver,” which Mellencamp says was influenced by the Stooges. Trash never went anywhere, and a year later Mellencamp recorded a solo demo. He subsequently took the tape to New York, where he shopped it around to various record companies. Rejected by them all, he figured he’d next try Bowie’s management, so he could get turned down by his hero’s handler. Instead, Tony Defries, the man behind MainMan—an organization that had also represented Iggy and the Stooges—signed him.
Mellencamp’s first record, Chestnut Street Incident, came out in 1976 on MCA Records. He didn’t realize his name had been changed to “Johnny Cougar” until he saw a mock-up of the album cover. When Mellencamp objected, Defries told him the LP would be released that way or not at all.
His 1977 follow-up , The Kid Inside, was rejected by MCA, and Mellencamp was dropped. He would soon part ways with MainMan, but after he became successful in the early 1980s, Defries released The Kid Inside.
It’s unclear when “I Need Somebody” and “The Man Who Sold the World” were recorded, exactly. Neither were on the original LPs. The Stooges cover is often included as a bonus track on CD reissues of Chestnut Street Incident, while the Bowie song is usually paired with The Kid Inside (though this edition of the first album has the two). It’s very possible Mick Ronson is the guitarist on one or both of the tracks, as Bowie’s former right-hand man played on Chestnut.
When I first heard these covers, I was surprised to find that Mellencamp’s versions ain’t half bad. I was so tickled by them that I checked out his first two LPs, hoping to find other unusual, pre-fame gems, though I soon realized that I was probably wasting my time (and indeed I was).
Anyway, it’s fascinating to hear a guy we think of as a heartland rocker seriously take on Bowie and the Stooges. It’s like finding out Robert Palmer covered Hüsker Dü.
A few days prior to their run of shows at Max’s Kansas City in July/August 1973, the Stooges arrived in Manhattan to rehearse. The band’s label provided a practice space in midtown, and tapes were made so Iggy and the boys could hear themselves. Years later, recordings were released, and they were a revelation—Iggy was absolutely on fire during these rehearsals. There are moments when his vocals are even more violent and unhinged than anything heard on the band’s studio LPs or their infamous live album, Metallic KO. Though the practice tapes lack the fidelity of those seminal releases, the intensity comes through all the same.
After a long delay, the Stooges third album, Raw Power was finally released in May 1973. The previous March, after clashes with management came to head, James Williamson was forced out of the group, but after the company dropped Iggy and the Stooges, he was welcomed back into the fold. The band also added a new member, Scott Thurston, to play piano and harmonica.
A number of friends attended the Max’s rehearsals, which were held at a studio owned by CBS Records. Natalie Schlossman, former head of the Stooges fan club, was there, as was original bassist, Dave Alexander, amongst others. With the impending high-profile dates, and as so many were watching, the Stooges gave it their all. At one point, Iggy got on top of the studio’s grand piano to cut a rug.
Recordings of the Max’s rehearsals appear on a number of archival releases, beginning with Rubber Legs (1987), the first in a string of quasi-legal albums comprised of previously unreleased Stooges tapes that flooded the market in the late ‘80s. In 2005, Easy Action Records put out the Stooges-approved boxed set of outtakes and such, Heavy Liquid (an abridged version was produced for Record Store Day last April). One of the six discs contains a Max’s show, as well as seven recordings from the Max’s rehearsals. All of the songs pulled from the practice tape were, at the time, newly worked-up tunes that, in the end, wouldn’t be formally recorded by the Stooges.
“Johanna” (later documented for the Kill City project) is particularly powerful. Said to be about a former girlfriend that got her kicks by playing mind games on the Stooges singer, the tape captures Iggy totally tortured, screaming his head off over a love he knows is toxic, but can’t quit.
In 1979, Matt Gimmick, a punk rock band out of Detroit that sprang from the ashes of one of the earliest Stooges-inspired groups, put out an EP that included a couple of unusual cover tunes. That they were Stooges compositions wasn’t the extraordinary part, though covering the unit fronted by Iggy Pop was far from common then; recording Stooges songs that virtually no one had ever heard before was most certainly noteworthy.
The period following the second Stooges album, Fun House (1970), when Ron Asheton and James Williamson both played guitar, is an interesting era of the band, one that, alas, wasn’t well documented. It was a particularly dark time for the Stooges, as Elektra Records had dropped them, and three of the members—including Iggy—were addicted to heroin. This version of the group didn’t venture into the studio, and only very rough audience recordings are in circulation.
A CD boxed set consisting of four concerts from the Stooges’ spring 1971 outing was released in 2009 by Easy Action as You Don’t Want My Name, You Want My Action. The label did their best to clean up the tapes, but only so much could be done. At the time of the ‘71 tour, the band played the same six-song set of new numbers—all written by Iggy and Williamson—on a nightly basis.
One of the most striking and iconic pieces of rock and roll clothing has to be the leopard head jacket worn by Iggy Pop on the back cover of 1973’s Raw Power, in the classic shot taken by photographer Mick Rock (above). The jacket was made by John Dove and Molly White in 1971 and appeared in L’Uomo Vogue. They only ever made five of them. Iggy bought one. Zoot Money bought another. One was a gift to their agent in Paris, Dove kept one and an unknown guy bought the other.
The saga of IGGY POP’S JACKET returns 18 years later when Iggy’s Jacket turns up on the back of Stan Lee, lead guitarist of the Dickies in the pages of Rolling Stone. Ruby Ray’s picture shows Stan half-heartedly assuming the Raw Power stance. The interview starts with Vale’s recognition, “The jacket looks like the one Iggy wore on Raw Power!”
“It IS Iggy’s jacket - I got it in a dope deal a few years ago. He didn’t have the bucks so I took that for collateral. For a while, he couldn’t afford it back, and now he’s a rich bitchin’ Iggy, he tried to buy it back and I said NO!...”
Andy Seven: “I remember seeing Iggy at Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco after the Stooges broke up when he still had the platinum rinse, with Michael Des Barres, the singer for Silverhead. Stan Lee, who later started the Dickies, used to go there. He was this short, pushy little puffed-out guy with a Marc Bolan poodle shag, and he claimed he had the leopard jacket that Iggy wore on the back cover of Raw Power, he told me he got it from Iggy for dope collateral.”
Ron Asheton: “Oh, yeah, Iggy would trade his possessions all the time for drugs. That’s how he lost some of those great clothes, like that plastic jacket on the back of Raw Power with the Leopard’s head ... that got traded to somebody for drugs or whatever.”
Stan Lee: “When I was sixteen I used to hang out with Iggy. I got his Raw Power jacket in a drug deal that went down in The Whisky parking lot. It was used as collateral, and thankfully I
A few years later, art, record and toy collector extraordinaire, Long Gone John, boss of the mighty Sympathy for the Record Industry label (where the White Stripes, Hole and many others got their start) bought the jacket from Stan Lee. He picks up the story now in an email sent to John Dove and Molly White:
John and Molly
I wrote this for you while flying home from no. California… let me know if you need anything else ... want an updated photo of the jacket ?? all the best as ever…like that, john xx
“I remember Stan Lee from the Dickies wearing the Iggy jacket every time I saw him and remember thinking he’s gonna wear it till it falls apart…he was obviously really really proud of owning it…when you see photos of him wearing it you can see it was still in very good condition at the time…about 5 years before I bought it from Stan, a friend of mine, Tim Warren who ran the label Crypt Records who was living in Germany came to LA. and apart from whatever else he had to do he had intentions of buying the jacket from Stan for his cute french girlfriend ...Tim offered Stan $5000.00 which seemed an enormous amount of money…seems Stan was pretty flush at the time or at least he didn’t currently have a severe drug habit which he often did have throughout the years…anyway, Tim’s offer was turned down and his girlfriend was considerably heartbroken, but still very cute…
I didn’t think about the jacket for a long time until one day a friend called and said Stan wanted to sell the jacket and asked if I was interested…he said he thought Stan wanted $3000.00…I thought that the jacket was so important and would one day belong in a museum and figured it was well worth the money…I drove out to the Valley to meet him at the converted garage he lived in…the jacket was pretty worn, but it was also obvious it was made out of really cheap fake leather material to begin with…the cheetah head on the back was a bit rubbed off, but to me that was inevitable with age and gave it an air of authenticity considering it was at least 25 years old at the time…best as I can remember this was about 1998…being the bargaining fool that I am I offered Stan $2000.00 and after considerable haggling he finally agreed to accept it…the jacket was tiny Iggy is 5’ 1” as documented in the song with the same name Stan was also short, but not that short…i’m 5’ 11” so of course it didn’t fit me, but my interest in it wasn’t to wear it anyway…to me that jacket was so iconic I thought of it as The Shroud of Turin of Rock ‘n’ Roll…
I was about 21 yrs old when Raw Power came out and very impressionable…it was one of my favorite albums and I was completely mesmerized by both the front and back cover photos…that record was amazing and I never got tired of listening to it and never got the image of the jacket out of my mind…I have always felt extremely honored to own the jacket and will protect it’s legacy until the next caretaker happens along…”
If you’ve got room for more 1970 Detroit so soon after yesterday’s John Lee Hooker post, then feast your eyes on these wonderful snapshots of Iggy Pop, shirtless (does he even own any shirts?) and becollared (because you know what he wants to be) for a Stooges performance at suburban Detroit’s Farmington High School (GO FALCONS!) in December of 1970, which was historically noteworthy as James Williamson’s first gig with the band. I found them on the wonderful blog Black Coffee Bonus Cup, but they first made their way to the web via Detroit rock lifer Jim Edwards of the Rockets, who posted them to Facebook. (I can no longer find that album, so I presume it’s either deleted or set to friends-only, now):
I got these slides from a guy at work. He walks up to me and says, ‘You’re a musician, right? I got these old slides from a show at my high school, Wanna see ‘em?’ I held the first one up to the light and nearly shit myself!
Black Coffee Bonus Cup offered this info about the gig:
The gig was late due to Iggy being arrested earlier that evening and The Stooges played only four songs but I bet it was the end of innocence for all the unsuspecting teen students attending this show when the 23-year-old Iggy appeared shirtless, wearing a dog collar and jeans with cut-out crotch, revealing his red briefs, and performed his legendary on-and-off stage stunts…
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” (or so Iggy has claimed) that he had to get away from—music was a passion which he saw as a way out. Though he was clever at school, well-liked and, according to one old school friend in Paul Trynka’s biography, smart enough to become President of the United States. But nice boy James opted out and 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.
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.
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
James Williamson of the Stooges discusses the newly remixed, remastered version of 1977’s Kill City, a little-known album in the Iggy canon, but one that is ripe for rediscovery 34-years after it was first released. James also talks about what it was like to stand on-stage with people throwing beer bottles at the band the night that Metallic K.O. was recorded, his career as a rocker turned SONY executive turned rocker again and the current Stooges tour.
As is (tragically) the case with the Velvet Underground, there is precious little sync-sound footage of Iggy Pop and the Stooges in their heyday, although there was a fair amount of silent Super-8 film that was shot. (A guy I know purchased an old film projector at a flea market that came with silent footage of Iggy onstage circa 1973, believe it or not. He later sold it to Vh1).
This incredible footage of the Stooges comes from the Cincinnati Summer Pop Festival of 1970 (AKA Midsummer Rock Festival). Appearing on a bill with Grand Funk Railroad, Alice Cooper, Mountain and Traffic, the group performs “T.V. Eye” and “1970” as Iggy leaps into the crowd—probably inventing crowd-surfing in the process—smearing peanut butter all over his chest. It’s one of the greatest rock and roll moments of all time and resulted in the iconic photograph above. Thank the gods that this footage exists, too.
Note the square announcer’s reaction: “That’s… peanut butter!” Years later Stiv Bators of the Dead Boys took credit for bringing the tub of peanut butter from his home in Dayton, OH and putting it into the Iggster’s hands.
It’s hard to believe, but the then-controversial, Iggy-tweaked version of Raw Power that set the original David Bowie mix to 11 was released over thirteen years ago. These days, that’s a long time for anything to go un-reissued, so Legacy‘s come out with an expanded edition that pairs a remastered version of the Bowie mix with a ‘73 live set from Atlanta (but not, as Pitchfork notes, the more logical choice: a remastered version of the Iggy mix).
However you slice it—or mix it—Raw Power still packs a wallop. I’ll always prefer the primitive thump of Funhouse, but, as the below short attests (featuring, among others, Henry Rollins, James Williamson and Chrissie Hynde), there’s no denying Raw Power was more the shape of things to come.