James Williamson became a punk rock legend as part of the 1970s band The Stooges. He wrote the songs and played guitar on the iconic album “Raw Power,” which changed the course of music. But, a few years into it, he just walked away. He put down the guitar for more than three decades. What did he end up doing? Not what you’d expect. Take a listen.

To learn more about Williamson’s troubled musical past, read Kevin L. Jones’ interview with the guitarist on KQED Arts.)


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S1 Episode 4: The Improbable Transformation of a Punk Pioneer 15 August,2017Judy Campbell

  • ScottyGee

    Yes, your first comment is a negative one, but I suppose that you braced yourself for this. So here it is: I understand that the story is about James Williamson’s ‘leap’ out of the Stooges, which is an interesting story, but leaving Ron Ashton (the Stooges first guitar player) who was a little less chord-heavy than Williamson, but certainly has a HUGE influence on what was to become punk rock — not to mention the way that he was railroaded by Iggy and Bowie — is a huge omission. Moreover, your story suggests that Williamson invented his sound (and punk rock) in total vacuum, but if you haven’t done your research and given a good listen to the Stooges first record and Fun House, you would understand that Raw Power isn’t that different from the other two except in the fact that Bowie’s production places vocals and guitar bursts way out in the front — the other two are more sonically balanced. Even with the afore mentioned issues, I was okay with the story until the part where Williamson tells his son that he invented punk rock. Seriously?

    • Kevin Jones

      I appreciate your sentiment and defense of Ron Asheton — the first two Stooges are fantastic examples of psych-influenced proto punk — but this podcast was about Williamson and in an effort to have a streamlined narrative, we really didn’t have time to add a part about Ron. Also, I would completely disagree with your assertions that he was railroaded by Iggy & Bowie — when Iggy went to London, he had no intention of re-starting the Stooges in the first place, so there was never a plan to work with Asheton — or that Williamson’s sound wasn’t truly his, as the first 2 LPs are great, heavy psych but Williamson’s songs were much faster and compared to the Wah wah-heavy guitar freakouts on the other albums, Williamson’s songs were streamlined (and that’s really what lead to punk). Compare the song “Real Cool Time” to the track “Raw Power” and the evolution is unavoidable.

      I highly suggest you read my story about Williamson to see where we were coming from. Also, keep being a fan!

      • ScottyGee

        Thank you so much for taking the time to respond! According to Ashton, he showed up to rehearsal and was handed a bass — not that there’s anything wrong with that; I’m a bass player, but still.

        I agree that Raw Power is faster and more chord heavy. My criticism is much more based on the emphasis that JW invented punk rock and that he did so locked away in an airtight room — he, and Raw Power are part of a continuum. I do believe that he didn’t have much to go on in the early ’60s, but by ’72? Consider “White Light/White Heat”, which was released in ’68: the production isn’t nearly as big (obviously), but it’s a punk rock song or “Rip Off” by TRex — it’s clear that Williamson is influenced by Electric Warrior. Consider “Shake Appeal” besides being “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” with attitude, it could easily be a TRex song (albeit produced differently).

        To be clear, I LOVE Raw Power, so I’m not here to argue that it isn’t a good record. I think that it’s great, but it’s part of a much broader picture. I’ve heard Iggy on more than one interview mention that the Stooges were influenced by free jazz, the MC5, and the sounds of machinery…

        Finally, comparing “Real Cool Time” to “Raw Power”, clearly “Raw Power” is more ‘punk’, but “1969” then “1970” are just as ‘punk’ as anything on Raw Power. Perhaps you just don’t think that there’s a place for sax in punk rock, but (rest his soul) Steve Mackay was one heavy player!

        Anyway, be well.

        • Kevin Jones

          You be well too! All good points. And yeah, I guess I’m going off what Williamson told me about his songwriting process, etc. which I didn’t include in either story. But did you ever see this?

          He breaks down where he says Search and Destroy comes from, though subconsciously he might have been influenced by glam.

          As for sax in punk rock, I’d be stupid to ignore the awesomeness of Xray Spex, Tin Huey and the Contortions!

          • ScottyGee

            Wait. Did we just have a civil ‘comments’ conversation?? Peace!

  • Wong Wei

    I think that you are overstating the impact of punk rock, it’s but a small blip in the history of music if you even call it that. Glad he crawled out of the pit.

  • Lee Shafer

    the best stuff ALWAYS flies under the radar

  • team satan

    Why not just do the Williamson interview, the music journalist bits are excruciating.


Judy Campbell

Judy Campbell is a producer for Forum, KQED’s live call-in radio program, and occasionally fills in as host. She is also the co-host and co-producer of the KQED podcast The Leap, about people making dramatic, risky changes. Previously, Judy was a KQED reporter, focusing on criminal justice and prison issues.

Before joining KQED, Judy was a reporter and producer for Pacifica Radio and KPFA in Berkeley and wrote for the East Bay Express and Marie Claire magazine. Her work has regularly appeared on NPR and she’s been recognized with awards  from the Public Radio News Directors Inc., the National Association of Community Broadcasters and, as a part of a California Report team covering the execution of Tookie Williams,  an Associated Press Television and Radio Association award for her reporting on lethal injection and as a witness to the execution.

Judy grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan and is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Email: jcampbell@kqed.org


Amy Standen

Amy Standen (@amystanden) is co-host of #TheLeapPodcast (subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher!) and host of KQED and PBSDigital Studios’ science video series, Deep Look.  Her science radio stories appear on KQED and NPR.

Email her at astanden@kqed.org

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