L.A. Blues

The legacy of Iggy Pop and the Stooges in a new box set

"Jac had one of the first transistor board studios on the West Coast, and he worked diligently to get rid of any room sound," continues Gallucci. "The studio itself had infinite soundproof baffling: all kinds of movable panels, wavy walls, all the latest technology in that day to get perfectly clean, crisp recordings. He was also one of the first people to push Dolby, so he could get this great voice and guitar stuff. So now we're in this superclean studio that is the total antithesis of how you'd want to record the Stooges. There's no edge to it. There's no grunge. There's no warmth of the old tube amps. So we basically just ended up tearing the studio down. We took out all the baffles, all the carpets. We did everything we could to make it a live environment. And then we broke all the rules. We didn't even baffle or separate them from each other. We just put mikes in front of their amps, and Iggy sang live with a hand-held mike. All of this muddied the sound and made it sound more live, even though you could still listen to it and think, Gee, it still sounds sorta clean." The fact that Iggy sang through a PA system in the studio created some of the first purposely distorted vocals on record, King Crimson notwithstanding. Says Asheton: "I think Jim [Osterberg, a.k.a. Iggy] was smart. He set up a little PA that was just like the rest of the amplifiers, 'cause he wanted to be right there with the band. He liked that PA sound. We never even questioned it. Well, cool, he's gonna do it live. We're not gonna do the old, sterile trip after all."

On Fun House the Stooges took their song structures to even more basic levels than on their debut, and then stretched them as though they were elastic. Simple, machinelike (but never mechanical) riffs changed slightly from verse to chorus, then into open solo sections, all cued by Iggy's vocals. On the title track, the more tenor saxophonist Steve Mackey takes off, the more Iggy encourages him, yelling "Blooowww!" all the while. Then, just as suddenly, he reels the guys back in: "Hey, bring it down! Let me in!" This is not at all unlike how James Brown was leading his own band at the same time. Asheton reckons it's a fair comparison.

"We'd always start practices with a jam," says the guitarist. "[Bassist] Dave [Alexander] would say, 'Hey, I've got this bass line.' He'd play it, and then we just built around it. We all liked James Brown, so we just jammed on that in that same way. We just kind of whipped it together, a meeting of the minds. And Iggy was always a good arranger."

A new box set documents how Iggy Pop and the Stooges created a new genre of music and a now-classic rock album
A new box set documents how Iggy Pop and the Stooges created a new genre of music and a now-classic rock album

The heavy funk of the title track was complemented by the hard-rock jamathon of "1970," which found Mackey heading into free-jazz territory. Originally a sax player for a school marching band and later a rock combo, Mackey recalls being introduced to more adventurous playing by the MC5's notorious manager, John Sinclair. "He turned me on to a lot of stuff like that: Archie Shepp, Coltrane, everything." Soon Mackey was adding the same free elements to his own Detroit-based group, Carnal Kitchen. "We had adopted that pretty much early on. Iggy heard us play our first gig in '69 sometime. He came up to me one day and just says, 'We're gonna jam on Thursday night. You wanna come by and jam with us?' I'd been out to the Stooges' house before, so I drove out there on Thursday night, and he pretty much already had Fun House figured out and how he wanted it to sound."

"We really wanted to do something completely different," confirms guitarist Ron Asheton. "All our early stuff was totally freeform. We loved Coltrane. And being limited as musicians on our instruments, we'd often just go to the show basically unprepared. 'Okay, here's the riff. We'll just work off that riff and see what happens and where it goes.' That's how we built stuff up. Even when we were signed to Elektra, we didn't really have tunes per se."

The Stooges' set at the time would always end with "Fun House," which would traditionally dissolve into improvisatory madness to close the show. On the record, however, this exploratory part was turned into its own separate piece called "L.A. Blues." (On the box set, the unedited seventeen-minute version is titled "Freak.") The decision to break the bit into two distinct numbers again came from Gallucci.

"He thought it would be a good idea, and he was the producer, so nobody argued with him about it," says Mackey, who later went on to play with Andre Williams, the Violent Femmes, and Snakefinger. "We just said, 'Okay, that's cool.' But it was really interesting trying to get that energy coming cold out of nowhere. That particular session [for 'L.A. Blues'] was pretty far-out. I guess I decided I was going to be psychedelic for that session. And so I was, chemically, if you know what I mean. I don't know if anyone else in the studio was, but I certainly was."

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