“Open Up and Bleed,” “Head on the Curve,” and “I Got a Right” are some of the greatest songs that Iggy Pop & the Stooges — or anyone else — ever performed. And for forty years, they were only available on bootlegs taken from live shows or rehearsal tapes. Until the songs’ co-writer, Stooges guitarist James Williamson, recruited an all-star collection of vocalists, recorded brand-new versions, and released the results on an album titled Re-Licked late last year.
This Friday, January 16, Williamson will join forces with Alison Mosshart (The Kills and Dead Weather), Lisa Kekaula (The BellRays), Joe Cardamone (The Icarus Line), Texas bluesician Carolyn Wonderland, and Jello Biafra, Ron Young, and Jesse Malin (the respective former frontmen for the Dead Kennedys, Little Caesar, and D Generation) for a special, one-night-only show at the Bootleg Theatre in Los Angeles.
San Francisco-based garage-rockers The Richmond Sluts will open the evening, followed by Cheetah Chrome (of Dead Boys fame) backed by the Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs, who take their name from the opening line of the Stooges’ classic “Search and Destroy.”
“Everyone will do the songs that they performed on the album,” says Williamson, “and we’re going to do the entire record. But since not everyone who’s on the album could make it, because of previous touring commitments, there’ll be some substitutions … and some surprises. But for that, you’ll have to come to the show.”
When I tell Williamson that I saw the Raw Power-era Stooges play nine different nights at the Whisky-a-Go-Go in 1973 — and that my younger brother smuggled in a cassette recorder and taped one of those sets, which became the source of many of the abovementioned bootlegs (from which neither of us made a penny), he says: “I just love that this show is bringing in so many people like you and Nite Bob, who did the sound when the Stooges played Max’s Kansas City, and is flying in just ’cause he wanted to mix this show. He heard all the songs you saw us play at the Whisky, too.”
Yeah, but the version of “Open Up and Bleed” that’s on the new album has a different arrangement than the 1973 rendition. “It’s more developed,” says Williamson. “We started doing that new arrangement at the end of the last Stooges tour in 2013. But when Iggy didn’t want to re-record all these older songs ’cause he didn’t want them to be compared to the original versions, I started thinking of doing the song with a really gritty — like a Janis Joplin-style — female vocal. Which led me to find Carolyn Wonderland. And she did it so great that it inspired me to go ahead in that direction with other singers.”
The arrangement for “She Creatures of the Hollywood Hills” is also very different than the one heard at the Whisky. “That was never really a song per se,” says Williamson. “[The late Stooges then-bassist] Ron [Asheton] came up with the riff and we jammed on it ’cause we liked the feel, so we played it sometimes with Iggy vamping over the top.
“So we did an instrumental version with that feel, and Ariel Pink did an unbelievable impression of what Iggy would’ve done. He was definitely the right man for the job. It’s one of my favorite tracks.”
Some of the songs have undergone some lyrical alterations, as well. “As the co-writer, I’m OK with certain edits or mods to what were just working lyrics like on ‘Rubber Leg.’ There were various versions with Iggy singing different vocals and different lyrics, so we used an amalgamation.
“And with ‘Head on the Curve,’ saying ‘buttfucker’ is not gonna play very well in 2015. Jello’s comment was he didn’t want to sing anything that he couldn’t look Gary Floyd [the openly gay singer of punk band The Dicks, another participant in the project] in the eye while doing, so he changed it to ‘motherfucker,’ which in a way is better. Jello really stepped up on that one.”
Since DINOSAUR is about reinvention, it’s worth noting that after Iggy & the Stooges imploded in 1974, Williamson and Iggy recorded the 1975 album Kill City, which wasn’t released until two years later. By then, Williamson had abandoned his new career as a recording engineer and earned a degree in electrical engineering, and he spent the next twenty-five years working in Silicon Valley, eventually becoming a vice president of technical standards for Sony. After Ron Asheton’s death in 2009, he took a buy-out and rejoined the Stooges. (This story has been retold countless times.)
So what question does Williamson wish he’d get asked? “That’s a great question.” He laughs. “I don’t know the answer. I’ve given so many interviews, I feel like I’ve covered most things, quite a lot. I’m pleasantly surprised we’re not talking about old stuff.”
OK. If you could be any pop star other than yourself, who would you be? “I don’t want to be a pop star,” says Williamson. “I just always wanted to be like a regular person, whatever that is.”
So what three things are always in your refrigerator? He laughs. “Half and half, ’cause I drink a lot of coffee in the morning. And there’s always yogurt for my wife. And breakfast staples, like eggs, ’cause I like to have breakfast when I’m at home.”
Sounds like a regular guy. What do you sing in the shower? “I don’t.”
All right, then, what’s the one piece of pop memorabilia you would like to own? “Hmmmm.” He thinks. “I have the ‘Leopard Lady’ Les Paul that I played on Raw Power and everything else I’ve ever done, so that’s it for me.”
Do you have a favorite Saturday-night record? “It’s always different stuff,” he says. “I have a short attention span. I’m currently listening to an old Rolling Stones anthology, and some old blues. I’ve only made five albums, and normally I get too close and I get sick of listening to it. But that’s not the case with [Re-Licked], because the variety of different singers — and the enthusiasm of the players — hold my interest and keep it entertaining.”
Come Friday night, Williamson and his galaxy of guests — most of whom can be seen in a “making of” Re-Licked documentary — will be backed by drummer Michael Urbano, keyboardist Gregg Foreman, bassist Dan Rothchild, and vocalist Andrea Wasse.
“They’re an awesome rockin’ band,” he says. “I’m really looking forward to it.”