Kill City - One More Time
The Stooges Iggy Pop and James Williamson reunited at the hieght of punk in 1977 to make Kill City. Now Williamson is making it better.
In 1977, “punk” proverbially broke.
As the great Joe Strummer sang in The Clash classic “1977”, it was a year with “No Elvis, Beatles or The Rolling Stones.” Instead, a new wave of bands were getting their due. Angry, snotty and brash, bands like The Damned, The Sex Pistols and The Ramones were making waves on both sides of the Atlantic.
1977 was also the year that an attempt was made to get ex-Stooges frontman, and punk godfather, Iggy Pop a record deal. The resulting record, Kill City, was initially recorded in 1975, a year after the demise of the Ann Arbor, Michigan band. Pop, along with Stooges guitarist and co-song writer, James Williamson got together to secure Iggy a record contract. Something that didn’t quite go as planned.If I think about it very much, it is still kind of unbelievable to me.
“Remember that at the time this was done, we had just come off the road, so we had a year or two of pretty steady playing.” Williamson said. “There were lots and lots of songs that were played in that timeframe, so we were pretty good at it at that point. We set our minds to writing stuff that might be somewhat accessible to a record guy.”
“Not only were we not able to get anybody interested, but we never did write a song that any record guy would ever want!”
Just under 35 years later, Kill City is seeing another pressing. However, this time the records intentions are not so dubious. There is no record contract to secure this time around. Instead, it was an attempt, by Williamson and engineer Ed Cherney, to make the best version of Kill City yet.
“If you had all the do-overs, you would start off fresh, and might have recorded it differently. Spent some more time on stuff, but you can analyze the stuff to death and then never get anything done. We went in and did it for a reason. It was quick and dirty originally but the songs are still there, and the performances are still good. Making it so you can actually hear what we were doing, it finally reached it’s full potential.”
In his explanation of what was so wrong with the initial release of Kill City, Williamson said “there are a lot of factors” which led to his dissatisfaction with the original version.
“One of the things was the time, and my own inexperience, and also my own views about what should come forward and how the soundscape should be. This time around, I stepped back and took more the producer role and had a really, really excellent engineer”Eventually, Williamson would go on to the corporate world, becoming the Vice President Of Technology Standards for Sony.
“His ears are just golden.” Williamson said of Cherney. “He made it come alive. All of the instruments and very well articulated, where as in the other mix, there was a lot of masking of different instruments because of my lack of skills.”
Williamson, who is back with The Stooges again, after original guitarist Ron Asheton’s death in 2008, said the idea to re-release Kill City came “naturally.”
“There was no forethought involved.” He said. “We started rehearsing for The Stooges live gigs, with me back in the lineup, and I happened to have occasion to have dinner with Suzy Shaw and Patrick from Alive (records) and Bomp (records). They wanted to reissue Kill CIty, but they did not have the original mixes.”
“Greg (Shaw of Bomp Records) had lost them a long time ago. All they had was the multi-tracks. I had always wanted to do a re-do on it anyway because I wasn’t particularly satisfied with all of the effort. (Originally) It was pretty quickly done and low budget so it was a good opportunity. We said okay, we are going to go back in and do a do-over.”
Pop, who was not that involved with the reissue, was “in full support” of it, according to Williamson.
“We had talked about it and thought it was a good idea.” He said. “I did what I thought needed to be done and I think everybody is pretty happy with the result.”
Williamson, who left the music world a few years after the initial release of Kill City said he has “no doubt, with the history The Stooges had of breaking up and reforming, it would not surprise me at all, if we got a record deal, that we would have put The Stooges back together and recorded it. It would not surprise me at all.”
But, it just never happened that way. Pop eventually did get that record contract, and went on to become the superstar he is today. Williamson, on the other hand, took a very different path.
“After Kill City I gave up playing music because I got interested in computers, which were just starting and were very primitive back then. Personal computers were just starting to appear on the scene, and I got very excited about that and decided that is what I wanted to do.” He said.
“I put the guitar down and studied engineering. I became a electronics engineer and moved to Silicon valley.”
Eventually, Williamson would go on to the corporate world, becoming the Vice President Of Technology Standards for Sony.
“Well, let me just say, there is quite a bit of time in between.” he joked. ““I ended up taking early retirement last year (2009) and it was coincidental that Ron (Asheton) passed away and they needed a guitar player, and they didn’t have anymore Stooges, so I was it.”
“As fate would have it, I could do it, and I have been having a blast.”
To say The Stooges were under-appreciated in their initial run would be a vast understatement. The band’s influence has been cited by countless modern rock bands and they were a major influence on forming punk in the first place.
“We are playing probably better than ever.” Williamson said. “For me, I never really played for large audiences, or had any kind of validation of what I was doing, so for me this is very gratifying.”
The band, who was inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2010, continues to tour, and continues to draw massive crowds.
““If I think about it very much, it is still kind of unbelievable to me. Here I am, 60 years old, and there is all of these 20-somethings out there that come to see us, and it just blows my mind. Hey, we will take it!” Williamson said.
“The fact is, it just took a really long time for the audiences to come around to what were were doing back in the day.”
Williamson said that being back in a rock band has been an “adjustment” on himself, friends and family, pointing out that “a lot of people I worked with, for 10 or 15 years never knew I was in a band.”
“Once they started seeing what it was about, and getting involved in it, my family loves it now. They are having as much fun with it as I am. They like the band. They like the guys in the band, and the music we are making.”
Above all else, musically speaking, Williamson will likely always be remembered for the guitar work on The Stooges classic album Raw Power. When he joined the band in 1971, he said he was just “just trying to assimilate myself with the band.” but in recording that record his “personal style was very important.”
“You have to remember that for Raw Power, the band was once again broken up.” He said. “It was Iggy and I that went over to London and our intention was to form a new band. That effort started yielding a different brand of songwriting and Raw Power was what came out of that eventually.”
“It very much was that guitar style, that was mine, and of course Iggy’s uncanny ability to actually make any kind of sense out of what I do and make a song out of it.”
The Stooges will be touring New Zealand and Australia in early 2011.