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Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton found dead

Ron Asheton, the influential guitarist for legendary punk band the Stooges, was found dead early this morning at his home in Ann Arbor, police said.

Ann Arbor Police Sgt. Brad Hill said the department received a call around midnight with a request to check on Asheton, 60, because the unidentified caller said he had not heard from the guitarist in a few days. Police went to his home and found him deceased.

The death is still under investigation, but foul play is not suspected, Hill said.

The Stooges was founded in 1967 in Ann Arbor by Iggy Pop, Asheton and Ron Asheton’s brother, Scott. It is among the most important rock groups to have emerged from the Detroit area, a place that’s seen more than its share. The band was never a commercial success in its late 1960s and early ‘70s heyday, but the Stooges’ raw guttural sound helped create the template for punk rock, and later became hugely influential in the alternative-rock revolution of the late 1980s and early ‘90s.

Asheton was not an incredibly gifted player technically, but the dirgy, guttural sounds he created on early Stooges classics like “I Wanna Be Your Dog” were cited by guitarists as varied as Kurt Cobain, Thurston Moore and Jack White — who once called the Stooges’ 1969 effort “Fun House” the greatest rock album of all time. In a 2003 list by Rolling Stone magazine, the publication named Asheton the 29th-greatest rock guitarist of all time.

He made the “Stooges’ music reek like a puddle of week-old biker sweat. He favored black leather and German iron crosses onstage, and he never let not really knowing how to play get in the way of a big, ugly feedback solo,” the magazine said.

Though the band broke up in the 1970s among a swirl of infighting and drugs, its influence among later generations of rockers helped spurn a series of reunion shows in 2003 — including a legendary August gig at DTE Energy Music Theatre. A near fanatical reception to the reformation spawned a new album, “The Weirdness,” and a second tour in 2007.

The Stooges were among the nominees for this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, with the inductees expected to be announced this month.

In a 2003 interview with the Free Press, Asheton said the Stooges’ reunion was very important to him, and that he got great satisfaction from the recognition the band received — even if it was a long time coming.

“When I was a young guy coming up, going to the Grande Ballroom every weekend, I got to see my heroes play. Jeff Beck, the Who, everyone. I didn’t want to be a fanboy, but I’d stand there and wait — ‘I just want to say hi, this was great.’ I saw them walk by me with blank stares like they were zombies. I said to myself, you know, if I ever make it, I’ve got at least one minute for everybody who wants to say something. So I talk to people, and that’s what’s exciting now.”

Von Bondies guitarist Jason Stollsteimer, 30, is among a younger generation of rock musicians who soaked up Asheton’s influence. Asheton’s playing was the embodiment of the Michigan rock sound, he said.

“To me, he was the epitome of raw punk,” said Stollsteimer. “He wasn’t flashy or over the top. It was raw. The riffs he wrote stood the test of time.”
Stollsteimer’s band opened for the Stooges at their 2003 reunion show at DTE Energy Music Theatre. It was a triumphant comeback that saw the Stooges treated with a level of attention and respect they’d never previously enjoyed.

“He was like a kid ina candy store, just so excited,” Stollsteimer recalled of that night. “He wasn’t afraid to show it. Some people are too cool, but he was obviously very happy and proud.”