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James Williamson
James Williamson Pic: Heather Harris

“I didn’t want them to try to be Iggy. That’s why I had them – to be themselves. I think they did that very effectively.”

Stooges guitarist James Williamson talks to SHANE PINNEGAR about his new album, Re-Licked, a collection of songs written with Iggy Pop for the band’s follow-up to 1973’s Raw Power but until now were never recorded.

The nuclear A-bomb detonation of Raw Power would influence tens of thousands of rockers, punks and headbangers.

Not until later, however. Upon its release it stiffed, leaving Iggy & The Stooges suffering dwindling fortunes and spiralling problems, imploding 18 months later when they couldn’t get a record label to finance recording a follow-up.

Iggy and guitarist James Williamson had the songs written though, and they obstinately kept playing them live, but never got the chance to record them. Open Up And Bleed, She Creatures Of The Hollywood Hills, I Got A Right, Rubber Leg, Heavy Liquid and even the establishment-baiting Cock In My Pocket have all gone down in arcane rock n’ roll history as subverted classics through their appearance on countless illicit bootlegs from the tail-end of the band’s life, despite never having been officially recorded.

With The Stooges taking the year off the road, Williamson leapt on the opportunity to finally record them. Iggy wasn’t interested in revisiting the past, so Williamson got The Stooges touring band together to start recording these 40 year-old tracks and invited a diverse range of singers into the fold.

“I did about eight tracks with them,” Williamson says of the early stages of the project. “Then they have their own bands and side projects and things so it didn’t work out where I could use them for the whole thing. Then I was lucky enough to get Simone Marie Butler, the bass player for Primal Scream: she’s amazing. She came in and Michael Urbano, another amazing drummer came in, and Gregg Foreman from Cat Power is playing the keyboards on there. Those guys came in and really brought it. They were amazing to work with.”

When it came time to record the vocals, Williamson started with a visit to Austin, Texas to capture the soulful blues voice of Carolyn Wonderland on Open Up And Bleed and Gimme Some Skin. Most of the other vocalists made their way to him.

“It was a mixture, but mostly it was live in person,” he explains. “They came to me in LA. In fact, Alison Mossheart (The Kills, The Dead Weather) even flew from London to come and do those two vocals. She was hardcore, man. Her comment was, ‘I don’t know which I want to do more: to sing on this album or to hear it’. She came in to really rock it, and she did.

“I think the only two that I needed to ship off files for was Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream) which was no problem because Bobby knows those songs. He lived those songs. I think he did his vocal in just a few takes. Then Nicke Andersson (The Hellacopters) in Sweden – the same thing. But mostly they were done in LA.”

Williamson goes on to say he gave each singer free rein to do what they do best.

“My approach is to make a structure for the singers so that they know what the lyrics are that you want to use,” he says. “I had already cut the tracks for them, but in terms of their vocal performance, I really wanted them to bring their own style and their own talent to the songs. I mean, they can’t help but know what Iggy did when they learned the track or just from having heard the tracks over the years. I didn’t want them to try to be Iggy. That’s why I had them – to be themselves. I think they did that very effectively.”

Williamson didn’t want to mirror what The Stooges might have done in 1975, so he’s drafted in a wide variety of singers including garage rock queen Lisa Kekaula of The Bellrays, former Screaming Tree and minor legend Mark Lanegan and Ron Young from soulful hard rockers Little Caesar. It’s an eclectic mix of cult performers.

“Oh yeah. I really didn’t want to do that,” he says emphatically. “First of all, I wanted to make an album that I was happy with – and I’ve changed a lot since 1973 or ‘74 or whatever. I wanted to bring what I learned from life now. Those people are all wonderful artists. Every one of them just comes across so enthusiastically and so happy to be on the album. You can’t argue with that. When I listen to the record – and I hope you too – feel like, ‘Wow, these people are really having a good time with this’.”

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