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Social Distortion's Mike Ness on Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton*

January 8, 2009 | 12:45 pm
  1. Mikeness1

Social Distortion singer, songwriter and guitarist Mike Ness is among the legions of punk musicians who confess a debt to Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton, who died recently at age 60.

“For me as a guitar player, the first thing I pick up on is tone," Ness said Tuesday, shortly after word surfaced of Asheton’s death, apparently of natural causes. "He had this primitive, high-energy sound. It was pre-metal, but still a metallic sound. It’s just so awesome. That was definitely what caught my ears.”

Ness, taking a break from writing material for a new Social Distortion album to talk about Asheton, said, “Everything he played -- it wasn’t like it was a rehearsed solo. It was always very spontaneous, I feel, very organic.”

Like others who found kinship with the Stooges’ primordial strain of rock, Ness said he spent time fiddling with the knobs on his guitar and amplifier trying to replicate the sound Asheton and the Stooges established on “The Stooges” (1969) and “Fun House” (1970). The group disbanded after the commercial failure of "Raw Power" (1973), for which Asheton moved to bass and James Williamson took over on lead guitar.

“They weren’t like Aerosmith. In the ’70s, you had all these classic-rock bands, but it seemed so unattainable to get to something like Keith Richards’ stature. But the Stooges, they were unpolished. Like the [New York] Dolls. They didn’t take that extra $200,000 in the studio and polish it,” he said with a laugh. “It was like the rough mixes of Aerosmith.”

The Stooges' recordings sold poorly originally, and the band didn’t receive widespread recognition as one of the most influential groups of the rock era until long after it broke up.

“I guess that’s what happens,” Ness said, “when you’re ahead of your time.”

-- Randy Lewis

*Update: An earlier version implied that Asheton was the guitarist on the Stooges' song "Search and Destroy." That track from "Raw Power" featured James Williamson on lead guitar.

Photo of Mike Ness performing in Anaheim in November 2007 by Los Angeles Times