Getting Iggy with it, again
By October 1973, Iggy Pop was rapidly disappearing beneath a cloud of narcotic excess and general unreliability. So when Elton John decided to don a gorilla suit and play a practical joke on Iggy and his band mates, it wasn't particularly good timing.
''We were all very surprised that anyone in their right mind would take the stage,'' guitarist James Williamson recalls. ''We didn't know he was going to do that and we didn't know it was [Elton] in that suit. He was very close to getting a guitar smashed up against him. I think he sensed that and took the gorilla head off and went 'ha, ha, ha'. But in hindsight it was very funny.''
Williamson had joined The Stooges in 1971, playing in the short-lived two-guitar line-up alongside original guitarist Ron Asheton. In 1972, a year after the band's initial drug-addled implosion, Williamson and the Asheton brothers reconvened in Britain to record the now legendary Raw Power album. But with Iggy spiralling out of control, Iggy and the Stooges hit a brick wall.
While Iggy's solo career followed the same uneven trajectory as his tenure with the Stooges, Williamson went ''straight'', embarking on a career in the computer industry. ''I didn't really decide that I wanted to be in the corporate world, rather that I decided that the whole emerging technology was very, very exciting,'' Williamson says.
Fast forward to 2009 and Williamson, then a senior vice-president at Sony Corporation and a leading figure in the international computer standards industry, learnt of Ron Asheton's death. ''Those things tend to bring people together,'' Williamson says. He took early retirement from Sony and quietly announced his return to music with a couple of low-key shows in Los Angeles with the Careless Hearts.
It's been almost three years since Williamson repaired his estranged relationship with Iggy and returned to the stage with him, drummer Scott Asheton and former Minutemen bass player Mike Watt in a recalibrated Iggy and the Stooges. They play a varied setlist that traverses the breadth of the Stooges catalogue, including tracks from Kill City, the flawed collaboration between Iggy and Williamson recorded in the mid-1970s but, despite the requests from fans, eschewing more obscure songs such as Rich Bitch, Cock in My Pocket and Jesus Loves the Stooges.
In February this year Iggy and the Stooges released Burn, the first single from their first new album in 40 years; the album, Ready to Die, is slated for release in April. (At the time of the interview - which was conducted before the official announcement of the album's impending release - Williamson ducked the subject of the new record, saying he could ''neither confirm nor deny'' that Iggy and the Stooges would record a new album.)
With Iggy in his mid-60s and drummer Scott Asheton unable to make the trip to Australia on doctor's orders, age seems to be catching up with the group.
Williamson accepts that the end may be in sight. ''We ask that question every year and ultimately it's going to have to be Ig's call because he does such a physical thing in the set,'' Williamson says. He laughs off a rumour circulating after the band's 2011 Australian tour that Iggy spends most of his time in a wheelchair, only rising when it's time to perform. ''But it's a great story,'' he says.
Having been an active participant in the band's narcotic-fuelled lifestyle in the 1970s, Williamson is glad to have made it out the other side alive. ''There are so many people who don't survive rock'n'roll and the music business. It's a very dangerous business to be in. And now I'm back in it, but it's quite different for me. I don't have to struggle to do it - it's more just for fun, and I do it because I enjoy it.''
Iggy and the Stooges play Festival Hall on Wednesday, see ticketmaster.com.au