James Newell Osterberg was born in Michigan on 21 april 1947. He grew up in Ann Arbor with his parents Louella and James Newell Osterberg Sr, in a trailer park. Fascinated by music and sounds at an early age, he had a drum set in the trailer’s living room on which he started his own rock n roll education.
He ”finally negotiated to get the master bedroom – a comparable lesser of two tortures” for his parents, he says in the Jim Jarmusch documentary ”Gimme Danger” from 2016. He also built his own drums with toys and other things he found here and there, and that would make sounds.
A very early memory - and influence - was tv shows for children and among them the icon Soupy Sales. Soupy Sales asked kids to write to the show but only ”letters with 25 words or less” – a writing that James would adopt later on for his own songwriting, he also tells in "Gimme Danger."
”Try to make it 25 different words or less, I didn’t feel like I was Bob Dylan, keep it really short and none of it would be the wrong thing."
Iggy Pop inspired by Soupy Sales, from "Gimme Danger", 2016
James, soon to be Iggy Pop, founded the band The Iguanas in high school. And somewhere here he got the artist name that would follow him during hos whole career. The Iguanas were heavily inspired by the on going British Invasion movement, pop and rock n roll coming from the UK.
The Iguanas became the house band during the summer of 1965 at the Club Ponytail, Northern Michigan’s most famous teen nightspot.
The "British invasion" artists
After a small dispute about a single release, James joined the more blues influenced Prime Movers in 1966.
While playing with the Paul Butterfields band, he got the advice from bass player Jerome Arnold – "When you play, play it like you mean it."
The Prime Movers live in 1966 (Source: Wikimedia Commons/Public domain)
”I decided to go where the real people were doing the real deal.”
After a short stay at the Michigan University, Iggy Pop moved to Chicago, and thanks to the local success of his previous bands, he got to play with established blues musicians like Johnny Young and Big Walter Hornton, and also popular bands and artists like the Four Tops, The Crystals and The Shangri Las.
Chicago in the 1960s (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Chicago Blues of the 60s
After a while in Chicago playing with both smaller and bigger names, Iggy Pop finally moved back to Ann Arbor. He wanted to start a rock n roll band, but this time he would not sit at the back of the stage. “I was getting tired of looking at somebody’s butt all the time”, he says in “Gimme Danger”.
He wanted to be the frontman.
He got in touch with an old friend from high school, guitarist Ron Asheton and formed what would become the pioneer punk rock band The Stooges.
Discount records in Ann Arbor, where Iggy Pop worked for a while, and discovered various artists that would become great influences for The Stooges. (Source: Ann Arbor District Library)
The original Stooges, first called The Psychedelic Stooges, were Iggy Pop, David Alexander and the Asheton brothers, Ron and Scott.
The name came from The Three Stooges, an American vaudeville and comedy team active from 1922 until 1970.
(Source: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)
All together the band members had different musical influences. Ron Asheton and David Alexander were into british music like The Who and the Small faces. Iggy, having worked at a record shop, were inspired by both rock n roll, blues, the free and spiritual jazz of Sun Ra and Pharoah Sanders, and avantgarde and experimental music by composers such as John Cage and Harry Partch.
The Stooges started out as quite experimental, building their own instruments and making electro-acoustic experimentations from everyday objects like blenders and vacuum cleaners. Their shows were more freeform musical performances than music concerts.
On stage, the iconic Iggy Pop moves were born, mostly out of anger but also to inspire his co-musicians while playing.
The Stooges would make three groundbreaking albums between 1969 and 1973, after being signed to Elektra in 1968, thanks to their friends in the band MC5.
At the Elektra signing they got rid of ”Psychedelic” and called themselves The Stooges.
Album cover, The Stooges, 1969 (Source: © Elektra Entertainment)
The Stooges, 1969
In 1969, The Stooges went to New York to record what would become their first album. John Cale from The Velvet Underground, another contemporary influence for the band, had been suggested as producer.
Half of the album was written in the famous Chelsea hotel, while getting closer to the exciting new art movements and peers at the time: Andy Warhol, The Velvet Underground, Patti Smith and Nico, together with the foundation of a political anti-music business attitude.
Although it is now regarded as one of the most important influences for the following generations of punk, postpunk and rock bands, The Stooges album was a flop at the time. But yet, it would pave the way for music and bands for the rest of the century.
the second Stooges album was recorded in the Elektra Studio in Los Angeles. The band experimented even more with aggressive and experimental music, with Miles Davis and Maceo Parker added to the list of influences. They introduced a saxophone and an even more non-commercial approach to their music. The album "Fun House", produced by Don Gallucci, was released in 1970.
The Stooges became more and more noticed thanks to their innovative and frenetic live shows where the persona of Iggy Pop was the centerpiece. The legend tells that Iggy Pop invented the stage dive when he repeatedly jumped out in the audience, hoping that they would catch him. Which they did. Sometimes.
Fun House, 1970
Always close to the audience, here in Landerneau, France, in 2016. (Source: Wikimedia Commons/Tilly Antoine)
1971 marks a bad year for the group. Drugs, too much rock n roll and dropped by their label. David Alexander leaves.
Here he meets Bowie first time, Bowie was a huge fan and tracked him down more or less. David Bowie and Iggy Pop would start a lifelong friendship. Bowie arranged for Iggy to come to London and record, and finally they managed to get the whole band to London, including new guitarist James Williamson. They would, thanks to the deal with Columbia by Bowie, manage to record their third album Raw Power.
Unfortunately, due to "moral turpitude" as Iggy says in "Gimme Danger" the band would once again be dropped. The members would either play with other bands or change career. Iggy Pop however remained close to Bowie, who for the second time would help him getting his career back on its feet.
It's the end of The Stooges. For now.
David Bowie in 1974 (Source: Wikimedia Commons/AVRO)
Raw Power, 1973
The Iggy Pop & Stooges legacy
"I was in the big bad world now, I was not a teenage communist anymore."
Iggy Pop on leaving the US for a new record deal in London, from "Gimme Danger", 2016.
David Bowie first enabled The Stooges to record their seminal third album "Raw Power", he then helped Iggy a second time to reinvent himself for the start of his solo career.
Bowie offered Iggy to come on tour with him after a passage in rehab. They finally got along so well that they moved to Berlin together in 1976.
In 1977, Iggy Pop's first solo album "The idiot", co-written and produced by David Bowie was released. It was quickly followed by "Lust for Life" the same year, also produced by Bowie.
The Idiot, 1977
Lust for life, 1977
In 1979 Iggy pop reuinted with Stooges guitarist James Williamson and some productive years followed, tending towards the new wave era with 4 albums between 1979 and 1982: "New values", "Soldier", "Party" and "Zombie Birdhouse." He also wrote an autobiography released in 1982: "I need More", that chronicled his early years up until the then-present day.
In 1986 Iggy Pop got his first US hit single with his cover version of Real Wild Child on the once again Bowie produced "Blah Blah Blah" album.
He also started to make smaller appearances in movies, like "Sid & Nancy" by Alex Cox and "The Colour of Money" by Martin Scorsese.
Iggy Pop live in 1979 in Cardiff. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
"Iggy, you are such a gift to rock 'n roll"
– Jim Jarmusch congratulating Iggy Pop on receiving the Polar Music Prize
The 1990s started with the album ”Brick by Brick”, including a chart hit with Kate Pierson from the B-52’s, and collaborations with Guns N’ Roses members Slash and Duff McKagan.
Iggy Pop also starred in high school musical ”Cry Baby” next to Johnny Depp and Ricki Lake, by iconic director John Waters, and cinema would mark Iggy Pop’s career even more during the upcoming decade. His soundtrack for ”Arizona Dream” by Emir Kusturica would be a major hit in 1993 and ”Lust for life” made quite a comeback in 1995 as part of the soundtrack for ”Trainspotting.”
John Waters congratulates Iggy Pop
Jim Jarmusch congratulates Iggy Pop
”I started listing everyone that I thought was cool, and realised that none of them was any as cool as The Stooges.”
Iggy Pop on the reunification in "Gimme Danger" by Jim Jarmusch, 2016
The album ”Skull ring” from 2003 was meant to be a guest star album, and Iggy Pop invited the Asheton brothers among others, so they played together for the first time since 1974. On the other hand, bass player Mike Watt from punk rock band the Minutemen had played some shows with Ron & Scott Asheton on tour with another punk rock legend, J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr, who managed to inspire The Stooges to get back together again with the original trio and Mike Watt on bass.
In 2003 they played together again at the Coachella festival and toured major festivals until 2009 with Ron Asheton, who sadly passed away in January that year.
The Stooges at the Sziget festival in Budapest, 2006. Iggy Pop, Mike Watt and Scott Asheton. (Source: Wikimedia Commons/Derzsi Elekes Andor)
James Williamson then rejoined The Stooges in 2009 (after having worked as an engineer in the Silicon Vally for the past 25 years) and The Stooges toured and released two more albums. In 2010 they were inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame after several nominations throughout the years.
The Stooges released one last album in 2007 with Ron Asheton, ”The Weirdness”, and the final album with The Stooges came in 2013, ”Ready to die.”
The Weirdness, 2007
Ready to Die, 2013
In parallell with The Stooges reunification, Iggy Pop kept releasing music and touring during the 2010s. "Post Pop Depression” recorded with Josh Homme in 2016, reached the US Top 20 and his first ever UK Top 5.
Since 2016 he presents Iggy Confidential, a music podcast on BBC 6 Music, where he presents electing mixes of oldies and new discoveries.
Besides his long career with The Stooges and solo, Iggy Pop has always remained close to the music and the upcoming generations of musicians coming after him. He has not only inspired a lot of bands from the 70s and onwards, but also collaborated and shared the music with younger generations of artists and crossing over genres and artistic expressions.
Iggy Pop, 2022 (Source: © Photo by Rob Baker Ashton)
Biography published in 2022.
© Header photo by Rob Baker Ashton.