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Posts Tagged ‘Iggy Pop’

(Above: Rare footage from Devo’s first-ever concert in 1973.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

On May 2, 1970, Bob Lewis thought he had it all figured out. In just a few weeks he would graduate from Kent State University. He would come back in the fall and start on his graduate degree in anthropology.

The National Guard arrived on campus the next day and everything changed. There had been rumblings of unrest before. The previous year there had been a skirmish over the administration allowing the Oakland police department to recruit on campus. When the students tried to protest at the disciplinary hearing of the student organizers they were locked in a building and surrounded by the police.

But that incident didn’t compare to what happened on May 4, 1970. The details of the day are well-known: four unarmed students were killed by National Guard troops trying to disperse an anti-war rally. In less than 24 hours an entire generation entered a new paradigm.

“Devo wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Kent,” said Lewis, one of the band’s founding members. “If it hadn’t been for May 4, I would have gotten my doctorate in anthropology and taught or gone out on digs. Jerry (Casale, Devo’s bass player) probably would have wound up as a graphic artist or art professor.”

Instead, Casale and Lewis decided to channel their outrage at the system by holding a mirror to it. Informed by professors who had become friends, visiting faculty and articles such as “Readers vs. Breeders and “Polymer Love,” the duo started creating their own agenda.

Kent State students run for cover as the National Guard open fire on May 4, 1970.

“Devo, at least partly, was a joke at first. It was a lens we turned on society,” Lewis said. “The plan wasn’t necessarily to be in a band in the beginning. There was always a multimedia, subversive element.”

In 1972, after working odd jobs in Kent, Ohio, the duo migrated to California to write for the underground newspaper the “Los Angeles Staff.” In exchange for writing legitimate articles, Lewis and Casale were allowed to insert pieces of Devo propaganda. The paper quickly folded and the two were back in Kent that fall.

“Jerry and I worked on Devo for two years before Mark (Mothersbaugh, Devo keyboardist) got involved,” Lewis said. “At the time he was in a group called Flossy Bobbit, playing Hammond B3 organ, mellotron, Moog (synthesizer) and Farfisa organ all at the same time. The first thing we told him when he joined was that everything had to be simple and stupid.”

Mothersbaugh not only brought a higher level of musicianship to the group, but several thousand dollars worth of equipment, including a PA. Like Casale and Lewis, Mothersbaugh was a Kent State alum and was also present at the protest on May 4.

“Mark was two or three years younger than us, so I didn’t really know him,” Lewis said. “I certainly recognized him from school. I think he and Jerry may have had an art class together.”

Mothersbaugh was recruited to perform at the university Creative Arts Festival in the spring of 1973. The trio of Mothersbaugh, Casale and Lewis – who played lead guitar – were joined by a drummer from town, Casale’s brother Bob on rhythm guitar and singer Fred Weber. Billed as Sextet Devo, the band promised “polyrhythmic tone exercises in de-evolution.”

In the book “We Are Devo,” authors Jade Dellinger and David Giffels described first show, also captured on amateur video. Bob Casale performed in scrubs, Jerry Casale wore a butcher’s coat, Bob Lewis was hidden under a monkey mask and Mothersbaugh sported a doctor’s robe and ape mask. The set opened with Mothersbaugh playing “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” and featured what the band called a “headache solo.” Unsurprisingly, it took the group a while to find the next gig and a stable lineup.

“At one point it was Jerry and three Mothersbaugh brothers. Jerry didn’t like that because he’d always be outvoted,” Lewis recalled. “Jerry finally tormented Jim Mothersbaugh into quitting as drummer, but it took another year before we found Alan (Meyers) to play for us.”

An early band flier.

When the group began to get more serious, Lewis knew the musicianship would have to improve. When Bob Mothersbaugh started playing lead guitar, Lewis transitioned from guitarist to manager.

“I became more of a manager than a player because we decided someone had to do it,” Lewis said. “I liked that other (managerial) stuff better anyway.”

The five-piece lineup of the Casale and Mothersbaugh brothers and Meyers toured Ohio with their confrontational stage show. In 1976 they were the subject of the short film “The Truth About De-Evolution.” The combination of touring and the film set the table for the band to cut their first single. “Mongoloid”/”Jocko Homo” was released in 1976 on the band’s Booji Boy label.

“We sold 17,000 copies of that single ourselves,” Lewis said proudly. “I was trying to get us in record stores in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and England, which meant I either had to get up really early or stay up really late to talk to these guys and convince them to stock us. Of course now you could just send an e-mail, but back then it was an adventure.”

The first sign of the band’s cult following appeared before a show at Max’s Kansas City when a flat-black oldsmobile 98 zoomed up the street bearing the face of Booji Boy, the group mascot. After the release of another independent single and an appearance on a Stiff Records EP, Devo caught the attention of David Bowie and Iggy Pop. David Bowie suggested a production deal through Warner Brothers that he would produce, and the band went to Germany to record.  Bowie was unavailable, so his friend Brian Eno produced the first album.

“The band was in England recording while I was in the States trying to arrange for them to do some concerts in Europe on the way back home,” Lewis said. “Meanwhile, (Virgin Records president Richard) Branson takes them out on his boat on the Thames (River), gets them high and convinces them to sign with Virgin. Had I been able to, I would have told them they shouldn’t do that. Warner Bros. promptly sued them.”

Many recordings from Lewis' tenure have been released on the two "Hardcore Devo" collections.

Although Virgin and Warner Bros. amicably agreed to split distribution rights, it would not be the Devo’s final lawsuit. Lewis’ relationship with the band, and particularly Jerry Casale, had soured ever since Lewis told Casale that Devo would never be popular with him as the front man. It had to be Mark Mothersbaugh.

“From that point on I was on my way out,” Lewis said. “When Elliott Roberts, who managed Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, announced to Warner Bros. that he wanted to be manager, I knew I was gone, because then I was replaceable.”

Lewis received no credit or mention on Devo’s debut album “Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!” The album came out in 1978 and Lewis promptly sued for theft of intellectual property. With the band now located to Los Angeles, Lewis was up against a high-powered, label-financed law firm. Help came in the unlikely form of a cassette tape from a former high school newspaper reporter.

“Word had gotten around that I was suing the band and this person called me up who had interviewed us after one of our first performances at the Akron Arts Festival,” Lewis said. “This tape contained an interview of the band where he asked who came up with the Devo concept and Mark said ‘This guy right here, Bob Lewis.’

“When I played that tape at the deposition their lawyers looked like they had been gut-shot,” Lewis continued with a smile. “Shortly thereafter we reached an equitable settlement.”

Just as Lewis discovered he liked managing better than performing, he learned he enjoyed legal work. After managing a few bands to near-success, Lewis became a paralegal.

“I have the best job in the world.  Essentially, I’ve been practicing law without a license for the last 30 years,” Lewis said. “The catch is I always have to work with a lawyer.”

The band today. Devo plays tonight as part of the Buzz Under the Stars concert at the City Market with Ben Folds and Silversun Pickups. Tickets are $34.

Lewis left Ohio for Lawrence, Kan. in 1998 where his wife was working on her doctorate. Shortly thereafter the couple moved to Kansas City, Mo. Today, Lewis works as a paralegal for the Community of Christ Church in Independence, Mo. and lives in a house filled with antiques and art and a story behind each piece.

Last month Devo released “Something For Everybody,” their ninth album and first in 20 years. In the downtime, Mark Mothersbaugh has become a highly sought film composer. Mothersbaugh wrote the music for several of Wes Anderson’s movies, including “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenenbaums.” His brother Bob wrote the music for the “Rugrats” cartoon series. Jerry Casale, who directed most of Devo’s music videos, has also directed videos for Rush, Foo Fighters, Soundgarden and Silverchair. Myers left Devo in 1987; the drum stool is currently held by Josh Freese.

More than a generation after their lawsuit, Lewis said he is on good terms with the band. If he attends tonight’s show, however, it will be as a fan with a ticket purchased at the box office.

“It all depends on the weather,” Lewis said. “I e-mailed the guys the other day to let them know what they were facing here. I told them with as hot as it’s been it may not be a good idea for a bunch of 60-year-old guys jumping around in rubber suits. I’m sure they’ll be OK.”

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IggyPop-02-big

By Joel Francis

Purists of all stripes can relax: Iggy Pop’s much ballyhooed 15 studio album, “Preliminaires,” is not the jazz album Pop talked up before its release.

That said, the album’s lone foray into the genre is actually one of its best songs. Borrowing enough of Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans hot jazz sound and arrangements to earn Satchmo a partial songwriting credit, “I Want to Go to the Beach” is surprising triumph that should throw a nice curveball into dinner party playlists.

The rest of “Preliminaries,” however, is more French café than bebop bistro. Pop opens and closes the album with two spoken word pieces in French and provides two versions of “She’s the Business” – both with and without French narration – that are straight from the Serge Gainsbourg model.

Other tracks find Pop channeling late-period Leonard Cohen for “I Want to Go to the Beach,” dropping in some acoustic Delta blues for “He’s Dead/She’s Alive” and delivering another spoken word piece about how dogs are the ultimate companion based on the Michel Houellebecq novel “The Possibility of an Island.” On the gentle yet foreboding “Spanish Coast,” Pop croons in a deep baritone on what could be a lost Marianne Faithful song. There’s also a cover of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “How Insensative.”

Try as he might, Pop can’t repress his rock side for the entire album. “Nice To Be Dead” is a solid rocker that is one of the album’s best tracks and very much what one would expect from Pop. The electronic “Party Time” is to cocktail parties what “Night Clubbing” was to nights on the town.

While “Preliminaires” is a departure, it doesn’t arrive out of the blue. Pop first dabbled in jazz on a 1990 duet with Debbie Harry on Cole Porter’s “Well, Did You Evah!” He also did an entire album of jazz-tinged spoken word pieces. And although that album, “Avenue B,” was a disaster, “Preliminaires” succeeds in large part because Pop delivers each track with authority and authenticity.

While Pop’s genre hopping could be a bizarre recipe for disaster, he turns this into a strength, weaving the diverse threads together for a cohesive listen.  The resulting variance in mood and texture is another element that keeps “Preliminaires” from being as stilted and dreary as “Avenue B.” “Preliminaires” greatest strength, though, might simply be that Pop knows when to quit. Most songs hover between two and three minutes and the 12-track affair is over in a brief 36 minutes.

“Preliminaries” will not bump “Lust for Life” or “The Passenger” off the pedestal atop Pop’s catalog and likely won’t even stand as a major entry in his canon, but curious fans interested in what the Wild One can do when stripped of his raw power should find something to like.

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(Above: The Stooges do “1969” in 2007.)

By Joel Francis

When Ron Asheton started playing electric guitar in the mid-’60s, there were no signs pointing the way he wanted to go. The Beatles were just starting to experiment with feedback and backwards instrumentation on their albums; Pink Floyd was buried in the London underground and Andy Warhol had yet to champion the Velvet Underground (not that many were paying attention anyhow).

The closest things to the sounds in his head were Pete Townshend’s guitar riff on The Who’s “My Generation,” the surf guitar instrumentals of Dick Dale and the dirty blues of the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds.

By the time Asheton, his brother Scott, and their longtime friend Dave Alexander hooked up with fellow Ann Arbor, Mich. musician Jim Osterberg there were a few more road signs. Home state natives the MC5 had kicked out their jams, and the free jazz freak-outs of John Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders were regularly released on the Impulse label. But there still weren’t many fellow travelers on the Asheton brothers’ weird road during the Summer of Love. Osterberg, who would soon call himself Iggy Pop, was one hitchhiker they had to pick up.

Four years later, it was mostly over. In retrospect, it’s amazing the band lasted that long. The Stooges two albums, released in 1969 and 1970, were rawer than razor burn, more violent than the 1968 Democratic Convention and as combustible as the Hindenburg. When it was over, Asheton’s guitar work pointed the way that nearly every guitarist since has followed, or at lease acknowledged.

It’s difficult to imagine the furious stomp of the White Stripes and the six-string perversions of Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr without the expanded palette Asheton created. The Sex Pistols and the Damned both covered “No Fun” in concert. Heck, the blueprint of the grunge movement was mostly hijacked from the Stooges’ designs.

Of course David Bowie prodded the Stooges to reconvene in 1973 for “Raw Power,” but it wasn’t the same. Iggy’s name was out front and Asheton was confined to the bass guitar by Ig’s new best bud, James Williamson. There was even a piano player! Asheton’s rightful place on lead guitar was restored when the Stooges reunited a generation later for a couple guest shots on Iggy’s solo album, an R.L. Burnside tribute and, finally, an album of their own, but by then they were no longer leaders.

Ron Asheton’s name rarely comes up in “Guitar God” discussions. The music he made nearly 40 years ago remains difficult to assimilate by mainstream tastes. And like his long-overdue adulation, it took people a while to figure out he was gone. Six days after dying from a heart attack, Asheton’s body was discovered in his Ann Arbor apartment.

There was no obituary in the New York Times and little mention on the 24-hour news channels, but somewhere in heaven a white cloud is tarnished with soot and Asheton’s scary noise is driving the harp-plucking cherubs out of their minds. Which is as it should be.

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