Iggy Pop Biography

James Newell Osterberg, 21 April 1947, Muskegon, Michigan, USA. The sinewy ‘Godfather Of Punk’, Iggy Pop was born just west of Detroit to an English father and raised in nearby Ann Arbor. He first joined bands while at high school, initially as a drummer, most notably with the Iguanas in 1964 where he picked up the nickname Iggy. The following year he joined the Denver blues-styled Prime Movers, but a year later he dropped out of the University of Michigan to travel to Chicago and learn about the blues from former Howlin’ Wolf and Paul Butterfield Blues Band drummer Sam Lay. On returning to Detroit as Iggy Stooge, and further inspired after seeing the Doors, he formed the Psychedelic Stooges with Ron Asheton of the Chosen Few. Iggy was vocalist and guitarist, Asheton initially played bass, and they later added Asheton’s brother Scott on drums. Before the Chosen Few, Ron Asheton had also been in the Prime Movers with Iggy. The Psychedelic Stooges made their debut on Halloween night 1967, in Ann Arbor. The same year Iggy also made his acting debut in a long-forgotten Françoise De Monierre film that also featured Nico. Meanwhile, Dave Alexander joined on bass and the word ‘Psychedelic’ was dropped from their name. Ron switched to guitar, leaving Iggy free to concentrate on singing and showmanship.

The Stooges were signed to Elektra Records in late 1968 by A&R man Danny Fields (later manager of the Ramones). They recorded two albums (the first produced by John Cale) for the label which sold moderately at the time but later became regarded as classics, featuring such quintessential Iggy numbers as ‘No Fun’ and ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’. Steven MacKay joined on saxophone in 1970 in-between the first and second albums, as did Bill Cheatham on second guitar. Cheatham and Alexander left in August 1970, with Zeke Zettner replacing Alexander and James Williamson replacing Cheatham - but the Stooges broke up not long afterwards as a result of Iggy’s heroin problem. Stooge fan David Bowie tried to resurrect Iggy’s career and helped him to record Raw Power in London in the summer of 1972 (as Iggy and the Stooges, featuring Williamson on guitar, and the Ashetons, who were flown in when no suitable British musicians could be found). The resultant album included the nihilistic anthem ‘Search And Destroy’. In 1973, Scott Thurston (keyboards) was added to the line-up. Bowie’s involvement continued (although his management company MainMan withdrew support because of constant drug allegations) as Iggy sailed through stormy seas (including self-admission to a mental hospital). Prior to this, the Stooges made their final live appearance on 9 February 1974 at Detroit’s Michigan Palace, which dramatically ended with a battle between the group and a local biker gang. The results were captured on the popular, but poor quality, live recording Metallic KO, which was released only in France at the time. Iggy Pop live events had long been a legend in the music industry, and it is doubtful whether any other artist managed to sustain such a high level of abject self-destruction on stage. It was his performance on the British television slot So It Goes, for example, that ensured the programme would never air again.

After Raw Power there were sessions for Kill City, although it was not released until 1978, credited then to Iggy Pop and James Williamson. It also featured Thurston, Hunt and Tony Sales, Brian Glascock (ex-Toe Fat), and others. The Stooges had folded again in 1974 with Ron Asheton forming New Order (not the same as the UK band) and then Destroy All Monsters. Steve MacKay later died from a drugs overdose and Dave Alexander from alcohol abuse. Glascock joined the Motels.

Interest was stirred in Iggy Pop with the arrival of punk, a genre on which his influence was evident (Television recorded the tribute ‘Little Johnny Jewel’). In 1977 Bowie, with whom Iggy had relocated to Berlin, produced two studio albums - The Idiot and Lust For Life - using Hunt and Tony Sales, with Bowie himself, unheralded, playing keyboards. Key tracks from these two seminal albums, which share the same edgy modernist slant as Bowie’s own ‘Berlin trilogy’, include ‘Nightclubbing’, ‘The Passenger’ and ‘China Girl’ (co-written with and later recorded by Bowie). Iggy also returned one of the several favours he owed Bowie by guesting on backing vocals for Low. In the late 70s Iggy signed to Arista Records and released some rather average albums with occasional assistance from Glen Matlock (ex-Sex Pistols) and Ivan Kral. He went into (vinyl) exile after 1982’s autobiography and the Chris Stein-produced Zombie Birdhouse.

During his time out of the studio the singer cleaned up his drug problems and married. He started recording again in 1985, with Steve Jones (ex-Sex Pistols) featuring on the next series of albums. He also developed his acting career (even taking lessons), appearing in Sid And Nancy, The Color Of Money, Hardware, and on television in Miami Vice. His big return came in 1986 with the Bowie-produced Blah Blah Blah and his first ever UK hit single, ‘Real Wild Child’, a cover version of Australian Johnny O’Keefe’s 50s rocker. His rejuvenated Brick By Brick album featured Guns N’Roses guitarist Slash, who co-wrote four of the tracks, while his contribution to the Red Hot And Blue AIDS benefit was an endearing duet with Deborah Harry on ‘Well, Did You Evah?’. This was followed in 1991 by a duet with the B-52’s’ Kate Pierson, who had also featured on Brick By Brick.

The singer’s 1993 release, American Caesar, from its jokey self-aggrandizing title onwards, revealed continued creative growth, with longer spaces between albums producing more worthwhile end results than was the case with his 80s career. Avenue B was a stylistic oddity, a reflective, semi-acoustic set informed by the singer turning 50 and his recent divorce. He returned to a more traditional Iggy Pop sound on the follow-up albums Beat ’Em Up (2001) and Skull Ring (2003), the latter reuniting the singer with former Stooges bandmates Ron and Scott Asheton. He subsequently toured and recorded with the reunited Stooges.

Throughout his career, Iggy Pop has remained the consummate live performer, setting a benchmark for at least one generation of rock musicians.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.