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Ron Asheton dies at 60; guitarist for pioneering punk band the Stooges

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Ron Asheton, whose scorching and energetic guitar work behind singer Iggy Pop in the Michigan punk band the Stooges established a new model of raw emotion for a succeeding generation of punk, grunge and alternative rockers, has died. He was 60.

Asheton's body was discovered Tuesday at his home in Ann Arbor, Mich., after his personal assistant had been unable to reach him. Ann Arbor Police Sgt. Brad Hill said that there were no signs of foul play and that Asheton appeared to have died of natural causes. Police said it appeared that he had been dead for several days. Autopsy results are pending.

"That first Stooges album and the second one had a big influence on me," Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones said Tuesday. "The Stooges' and the New York Dolls' albums were my blueprint for how to play guitar."

A representative for Pop said the singer had no immediate comment.

"In many ways Ron was the heart of the Stooges, and the Stooges were the creators of punk rock," Paul Trynka, author of the 2007 biography "Iggy Pop: Open Up and Bleed," said Tuesday. "If you don't understand Ron, you don't understand the Stooges, and if you don't understand the Stooges, you don't understand punk rock."

The Stooges charted a short but influential career from their formation in 1967 until they disbanded seven years later. Like New York's Velvet Underground, the Stooges had minimal commercial success, but their recordings and explosive live performances, during which Pop was known to cut himself and vomit on stage, put primal emotion front and center, paving the way for a whole new strain of rock music.

"We really did open up the gate," Pop said last year, "and through that gate came rats, scorpions and all sorts of things."

Ron Asheton was born July 17, 1948, in Washington, D.C. After moving with his family to Michigan and attending Ann Arbor High School, he and his younger brother Scott, a drummer, befriended one Jim Osterberg, who adopted the stage name Iggy Pop. Bassist Dave Alexander rounded out the original lineup.

The Stooges shocked late-'60s audiences with the intensity of performances that were a decade ahead of the explosion of punk rock that broke open the floodgates on music as a weapon of confrontation.

Despite often being reviled by clubgoers and music critics, they landed a contract with Elektra Records, also home of the Doors. Velvet Underground keyboardist and songwriter John Cale signed on to produce their debut, "The Stooges," which spent 11 weeks on the Billboard album chart in 1969, peaking at No. 106.

Songs from that album, however, notably the one that became the Stooges signature number, "I Wanna Be Your Dog," inspired countless aspiring musicians.

"It's a song that gave birth not to 1,000 bands, but probably 50,000 bands," Trynka said, "starting with guys like Steve Jones and even the Ramones before that. Each of those bands has spawned their own imitators, but it was Ron as much as anybody who started it all."

Asheton's distinctive guitar style was evident from the beginning, employing massive distortion in blistering riffs ideally suited to Pop's Mick Jagger-influenced vocals.

"The Stooges" album sold better than its follow-up, "Fun House," which never charted, although many rock aficionados consider it the band's finest. It also outperformed 1973's "Raw Power," which was produced by David Bowie.

The group disbanded after the commercial failure of "Raw Power" -- it lasted only three weeks in the Top 200, stalling at No. 182.

"The Stooges never broke up because of harsh words or fistfights," Asheton said in August. "It was Iggy saying, 'I'm worn out. I have to stop.' "

Ron Asheton continued playing guitar in a variety of short-lived bands between his stints with the Stooges, none of them capturing significant attention. Scott Asheton moved to Florida and went to work in construction.

The Stooges reunited in 2003, with bassist Mike Watt from the Minutemen and Firehose taking over for Alexander, who died in 1975.

"I don't think we would've ever had a punk scene without the Stooges," Watt told The Times on Tuesday. "It was a mind blow for me to get to be in that classroom for 5 1/2 years. This sad thing has broke my heart."

Their reunion show became a flash point for the 2003 Coachella Valley Arts & Music Festival in Indio, and last year they released their first album in 24 years, "The Weirdness." That album didn't change the Stooges' fortunes commercially -- it has sold only 30,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan -- but the reunion resulted in fan appreciation on a scale the band never got originally.

"You could see them at festivals in Glastonbury or at the Hammersmith Odeon playing to crowds of 19-year-olds. How many people get that kind of closure?" Trynka said.

Information was not immediately available on any survivors besides Scott Asheton or plans for services.

randy.lewis@latimes.com

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