Former Stooges guitarist James Williamson was in the parking lot of his dentist’s office earlier this year when he heard a familiar voice on his cellphone: Iggy Pop. “He asked me if I wanted to play guitar again,” says Williamson, who hasn’t performed a single gig since the Stooges dissolved in 1974. “I was about to take an early retirement from my job in Silicon Valley, so I figured â€˜What the hell, let’s do it.’ ” Williamson spent time last month in Los Angeles rehearsing with the Stooges (minus Pop) — bassist Mike Watt, drummer Scott Asheton and saxophonist Steve McKay — and they just booked their first gig: on May 2nd and 3rd of next year they’re going to perform Raw Power in its entirety at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in London.
Williamson joined the Stooges for the recording of their 1973 masterpiece Raw Power, while original guitarist Ron Asheton switched to the bass. When the Stooges reformed in 2003 Asheton — who died of a heart attack in January — returned to the guitar and Williamson wasn’t invited back. After the Stooges folded, Williamson and Iggy briefly continued recording together, but during the early stages of production on Pop’s 1980 Soldier LP things fell apart.
“We had a blowout,” Williamson says. “We wound up not talking for 20 years.” Williamson moved to the Bay Area in 1982 and began working in the rapidly growing field of personal computers. For the past 12 years he ran the Technology Standards office at Sony. Until a few years ago he never even touched a guitar, but he recently took up Hawaiian slack-key guitar as a hobby. “That’s a whole different style of music,” he says. “It’s been quite a job to dust off my rock & roll chops.”
To prepare for the Stooges rehearsals Williamson locked himself in a rehearsal hall with an electric guitar and ran through the eight tracks from the Stooges 1973 classic Raw Power. “I wrote a lot of those songs and it’s my style of guitar playing,” he says. “It kind of naturally came back to me.” The local San Jose band Careless Hearts jammed with him in those early periods — and in two days he’s sitting in with them at the Bank Club in their hometown. It will be his first concert in thirty-five years.
On September 20th he’s headed back down to Los Angeles for more Stooges rehearsals — this time with Iggy. “We’re rehearsing songs from Raw Power, The Stooges, Fun House and Kill City.” The Stooges — who toured with original guitarist Ron Asheton until his death in January — hadn’t played most of the later-day material in decades. “We had to really work at the nuances of the songs,” Williamson says. “By the end we were sounding pretty great.”
The only show on the books now is the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in London, but Williamson says many more are coming. He also hopes to write new material with Iggy. “The two of us have a long history of writing new tunes,” he says. “It’s probably a safe bet we will at some point.”