There was some sad news from this weekend, when it was announced that Scott Asheton, the drummer for the legendary punk band The Stooges, had died. Rock critics tend to get more specific when discussing The Stooges, christening their music as “proto-punk”, since their style laid the groundwork for the full-fledged punk movement a few years later. Today, this distinction may not hold as much weight with today’s audiences, simply because the line between proto-punk and punk has been blurred so much that it makes little sense to differentiate between them. That in and of itself is proof of the amazing influence that the band had.
Scott Asheton’s pummeling drumwork was a fixture of those early Stooges records, and all three of them are certifiable classics. Here’s a quick glance at those landmark records:
– From their John Cale-produced debut album, The Stooges, “I Wanna Be Your Dog”. It’s driving and relentless, and is pretty much the sound of impending doom. It’s the perfect soundtrack for the apocalypse.
One of the key aspects of the sound of The Stooges was their ability to maintain a groove, and that was driven by the drums. It’s in this “groove” that you can hear the connection between the older R&B sound and the proto-punk that was the hallmark of The Stooges. Asheton’s drumming helped prevent the band from becoming untethered and out of control (except in cases like “We Will Fall” where drifting away was completely intentional), as he alternately swung and pushed the beat. “I Wanna Be Your Dog” is a perfect example of the mix of these two styles. The drumming pattern is predominantly a bouncy rhythm through most of each line, contrasting with the insistent piano line and sleigh bells on each eighth note beat (provided by John Cale). Asheton switches the pattern in the last measure of each phrase, away from a shuffle to a more straight-ahead pattern where he emphasizes the last two beats with snare hits. This gives the combination of both groove and propulsion, a push-and-pull that keeps the tension alive in the song.
– From their followup, Fun House, “T.V. Eye”. The album may be even grittier than its predecessor, and the added psychedelic touches make it a real trip. I have no idea what this song is about, but fuck yeah does it rock.
Asheton’s drumming in this song abandons groove and focuses solely on pushing the beat, with snare hits on every single one. You can hear the roots of early-80’s hardcore punk with this track, as you will hear this pattern on the majority of those songs (though at a few higher beats per minute). Also, it’s a nifty trick when the band drops out, tricking the audience into thinking the song is over, before the guitar riff kicks in again. As you hear Asheton come back in with those double-sticked snare hits, it just begs the listener to start clapping or smacking something in line with the beat.
– From their third album, Raw Power, “Search and Destroy”. The band shuffled the lineup a little bit (and the band is credited as “Iggy and The Stooges”), but Scott Asheton was a constant behind the kit for this one. The band tightened up their sound a bit for this one, and I don’t know if there are many opening lines that are better than “I’m a street-walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm.”
“Search and Destroy” is a brilliant amalgamation of the two drumming styles previously highlighted. Asheton alternates between sections of bouncy patterns and quarter-note hits, with plenty of awesome fills in between that are in the brink of going out of control, but reign the band back in with each section.
It’s always a great idea to rock out to The Stooges, even in sad circumstances such as these. And if you’re new to the band, hopefully this is the kick you need to get down to the record store and pick up these brilliant albums.