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Stooges Guitarist James Williamson Gets Re-Licked

When guitarist James Williamson rejoined the Stooges in 2009, following the passing of Ron Asheton, it was a second shot at being a working musician and a return to his roots. Since the early 1980s he was more likely to mess around with computer parts than play his guitar in concert, at the various technology jobs he held in Silicon Valley. However, for the past four and a half years, Williamson has returned to his first passion, shredding away at guitar. During his time back he’s been able to enjoy the band finally getting its due – something that largely escaped the band in the 70s – with a surge of popularity. Last year’s Ready to Die was his first album with the Stooges since 1973’s Raw Power.

When Iggy Pop and the band decided to take this year off, Williamson wasn’t ready to halt this new musical momentum. Williamson had long been a fan of the material he co-wrote with Iggy post- Raw Power in 1973-74. But the only place to find the songs were bootlegs since the band’s deal with record label CBS fell through and the songs never appeared on an album. Wanting to revisit these songs and give them a proper release, Williamson reached out to Stooges touring members Steve Mackay, Mike Watt and drummer Toby Dammit, as well as various guest vocalists, to breathe new life into these songs. They’ll appear on his upcoming solo project album Re-Licked.

The album is tentatively scheduled for release this fall but Williamson has released several tracks to tide fans over. Two of these songs -“Open Up and Bleed” and “Gimme Some Skin” – came out as a limited 7 inch vinyl single at Record Store Day and feature Texas blues singer / guitarist Carolyn Wonderland on vocals. Recently, he released “I Gotta Right” and “Heavy Liquid,” two songs featuring The Bellrays’ vocalist Lisa Kekaula. Other guest vocalists include Jello Biafra, Mark Lanegan, Alison Mosshart, The Orwell’s Mario Cuomo, and Ariel Pink. The album will also include other lesser-known songs like “Rubber Legs,” “She Creatures of the Hollywood Hills” and “Wild Love.”

We talked with Williamson earlier this year about the sudden recent passing of Stooges drummer and close friend Scott Asheton, getting to revisit these songs and what it means to be back playing music again.

*First of all, our condolences to you and the rest of the band about Scott’s sudden passing. *

Well thank you very much. Yeah, it was a big shock to all of us that knew him. He passed away too early but I guess none of us get to pick when we do that. So it’s just up to the rest of us accept what happened keep him in our memories.

What’s one of your favorite memories of him?

Oh, there’s so many. You know, he and I roomed together for awhile in Ann Arbor when I was first getting into the band. So I spent a lot of time with him. I don’t know, maybe some of the funny things he and his brother [Ron] used to do to amuse ourselves. In the airport when we were touring back in the 70s I remember right in the middle of the airport him getting down and laying on the floor and propelling himself in circles going “beep beep beep beep” like the Three Stooges do. And just goofy stuff like that. Scott was a very gentle soul and very nice guy and I’m going to miss him.

I imagine you’re happy you were able to play again with him when you came back in 2009 and then recorded last year’s Ready to Die album.

Very much was. Enjoyed that and enjoyed making an album with him and lots and lots of rehearsals together so it was just good catching up after all that time. In fact I even heard from him a couple weeks before he died. So I had contact with him as recently as that.

Have recent events like that affected your view of this current solo project?

Not at all. It’s not a Stooges project really. It’s a project that I’m doing because it’s on my bucket list, let’s put it that way. And so it’s something that I wanted to do for a very long time. I think it’s more or less a tribute to Iggy and my songwriting. I’m glad it’s actually turning out so nicely. But no, none of the Stooges related things would enter into this project even though some of the touring members of the Stooges have played on it.

What helped get this project off the ground?

One of my very favorite songs that I wrote with Iggy we played on tour called “Open Up and Bleed.” And I’ve always loved that song and I always thought it was a crime that we never recorded it. So towards the end of last summer I started messing around with it and got a little bit different arrangement for it and was talking to my wife about it. We were both saying “You know what this song really needs is a female singer that can belt out a song like Janis Joplin used to.” So I decided “Ok I’m going to go find someone like that.” And I looked and I looked and looked.

I won’t bore you with the details but finally a friend of mine forwarded a YouTube video of Carolyn Wonderland, who’s a blue singer and guitarist in Austin, Texas, and I said “You know what, that’s my girl right there.” So I tracked her down and she was totally cool about it and wanted to do it. I recorded the track first with Mike Watt and Toby Dammit and then went down to Austin to put her vocal on it. I was completely blown away. So it started out as a single really and once Carolyn impressed me that much with what she could do I thought, “You know what, this is cool, let’s keep going on this.” So I came up with a whole bunch more and I think we’re about eight tracks in right now. We’ve got a few more to do in May and some exciting singers singing on them. So it’s really turned into a really fun project.

What did Iggy think of the project?

You know, there’s been mixed stuff on this. I informed him about all of it back in early December of last year and at the time his response was “great,” he wished me great success with it. And then subsequently in the press, there’s been a couple of comments that were not that positive like the one he gave me. But beyond that I’ve had other communications with him, where he was clear that…I have as much right to record these songs as anybody does. In fact more so because I co-wrote them all. So he’s fine. It seems fine.

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