Speaking with Iggy Pop prior to the 2009 death of Ron Asheton, Jack White described how he might go about producing a new Stooges album. One idea? Having the legendary Detroit proto-punks rent a house and live together, Monkees-style. “There was silence on the phone call for about 10 seconds,” according to White, before Iggy Pop replied, “I’m gonna have to think about that.”
The Stooges story was one tidbit White revealed Friday afternoon in an hour-long conversation at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, where the former White Stripes frontman touched down this weekend for two shows at the Shrine Auditorium in support of his first solo album, Blunderbuss. Following the Grammy talk he also played a surprise 20-minute set at Mariachi Plaza in L.A.’s Boyle Heights neighborhood; White pulled a similar stunt last Wednesday at an auto-body shop in Denver.
Dressed in checkered slacks, a dark button-down shirt and a gray fedora, White told the Grammy Museum’s executive director, Robert Santelli, about learning to play drums at the age of 5 in the attic of his family’s home and how he only picked up the guitar when none of his pals would: “I said, ‘All right, well, I’ll play guitar so we can play.'” He also described his earliest live act, in which he performed the songs from Bob Dylan’s self-titled 1962 debut – in their original order – at coffee shops around Detroit. (Asked by Santelli what it’s been like to get to know Dylan in recent years, White laughed and said, “He’s very good at making sure you don’t know him.”)
Of Blunderbuss, White said he’d begun work on the album one day when RZA called at the last minute to cancel a recording date they’d set at White’s Third Man Records complex in Nashville. “I had all these musicians in the studio and needed something to do,” he explained. “So I just wrote a couple of songs.”
White earned the biggest reaction from the audience – which numbered approximately 200 fans and various music-biz types – with a demonstration of where he’d hidden a secret track on the vinyl edition of the Dead Weather’s Sea of Cowards album. (It’s etched into the record’s center label.) Yet despite his well-documented love of old music and old technology, White was quick to denounce what he called the “all those words that start with R-E: retro, recreate, reinterpret.”
“It’s kind of ridiculous to try to emulate a certain time period or person or what they did,” he said. “You could go onstage and be like, ‘I love Robert Johnson so much, I’ll try to sing and play like Robert Johnson.’ That doesn’t do anybody any good, and you can’t do it anyway. You need to be yourself.”