McGinnis: A conversation with James WilliamsonWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
If only we all could retire like James Williamson.
He’d spent the better part of the last 30 years working at Sony Electronics, Inc. In 2009, he was offered early retirement from his position as Vice President of Technology Standards. What to do with all his new free time?
How about, reunite with the band that helped define punk rock, just in time for a reunion tour and to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
Williamson was one of the major creative forces behind Iggy and the Stooges, the protopunk band that helped define punk rock. Then, after a falling out with Iggy Pop, Williamson just walked away. So why has he come back now, after all this time?
“What it boils down to is, Ronnie (Asheton, guitarist and co-songwriter for the Stooges) died last year, and so Iggy and I started talking again,” Williamson said. “Once (retirement) happened, then I said to myself, well, you know, now I’m available. So, I felt like I owed it to those guys. We all go back into our 20′s together, and know each other really well…
“So that’s why I did it — I felt like I could do it, I owed it to them, and I felt like maybe it would be fun and we could get a little closure after all these years.”
Of course, preparing to perform onstage isn’t easy for the youngest of spring-chicken rockers out there. Add 30 years of life and time away from rock, and you can see the uphill climb Williamson faced as he prepared to reunite with the Stooges.
“It was a bitch. I had been playing a little bit, mostly for –well, totally for my own amusement,” Williamson said.
“Luckily, some local guys that I knew around here offered to loan me their band (Careless Hearts) to rehearse with. Because, you know, playing by yourself and playing with a band is a whole different thing.”
The reunited Stooges’ first concert was in November, in front of 30,000 people in Sao Paulo, Brazil. More dates are scheduled in Europe this spring. The tour is just one of many huge events for the band this year, among them the re-release of the classic album “Raw Power” on April 27. Williamson deflects compliments about how revolutionary “Power” was, however.
“People give us more credit than we deserve. The process was pretty much seat-of-the-pants. We got over to London, and did a lot of rehearsing, so the band was very tight. And we thought we were gonna first record some of the material we already had left over from 1971 — like, ‘I Gotta Light,’ ‘Sick of You,’ and those songs. And we went in and did demo tapes of them, and the management kept rejecting them. There was pressure on us to write some hits.”
So Williamson and Pop worked on writing a whole new set of songs, James writing the music, Iggy the lyrics. The album’s influential sound may have been the result of a happy accident of scheduling more than anything. “We came up with this new set of material about the time that the management got diverted with David Bowie. So we got to go into the studio by ourselves — no producer, no nothing — just our songs, and got to lay down that record. And I think we got to capture something that’s rarely captured on record because of that fact.”
Although the album wasn’t a smash when it was first released, “Power”‘s revolutionary sound has been credited with influencing a whole generation of punk artists. The long-reaching influence of the album, and the Stooges, have given the band a larger place in history as time has passed — culminating, finally, in their election to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year.
“None of the band thought we were gonna get in, so we had kinda gotten cynical after seven years of getting rejected, being nominated and not making the cut. We were gonna have to be satisfied with setting a record for not getting in. But, turns out we got in,” Williamson said.
The Stooges will officially be inducted on March 15. And after that, the group begins its tour, which Williamson hopes will effect fans young and old.
“I hope we can show them how to rock,” Williamson said. “I think we still rock out up there. And I think a lot of the younger guys in bands these days, from what I hear, just aren’t rocking that much. They do a lot of other things. They emote, they…I don’t know what they do! It’s just not rock ‘n roll anymore. So I feel that maybe we have something to contribute in that regard. Because, it’s not a matter of your age or your emotion, it’s a whole approach to music that I think is missing these days.”
Email Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.