Forgotten Heroes

Hound Dog Taylor looks typically jovial while cradling his Kawai-made Kingston S4T. Note the length of his slide, on the fifth of six fingers on his left hand. It is longer than the width of his guitar's estimable neck.

Photo by Diane Allmen

Cheap guitars, cheap booze, and amps on stun—the shaggy tale of the legendary court jester of Chicago slide-guitar blues.

What magicians really practice is subterfuge. The noisy blues mage Hound Dog Taylor was a master. His quote, "When I die, they'll say 'He couldn't play shit, but he sure made it sound good,'" is emblazoned on a T-shirt, over a photo of his 6-fingered fretting and sliding hand. And his stage persona—laughing and joking at warp speed and bullhorn volume, drunk, Pall Mall dangling from his lips, a huge slide raking his Kawai Kingston's strings in a way that made his amp detonate fragmentation bombs—was that of a barroom jester. But there is genuine magic at the nucleus of Hound Dog's wild-ass playing, for the effect it had on audiences and the story in sound it still tells.

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From his family bluegrass band to joining the Byrds and driving the invention of the StringBender, White’s hybrid style and repertoire has inspired generations of pickers since he came on the scene as an in-demand session player in the ’60s.

In the mid 1960s, the Byrds were one of a handful of bands that defined the era. Built around tight vocal harmonies and Roger McGuinn's jangly Rickenbacker 12-string, their chart-topping music incorporated elements of folk, early rock, country, and psych. But by 1968 the original lineup had disbanded and version two—featuring multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Gram Parsons—was also ending. By mid-year, McGuinn was the only remaining original member. But he had an ace up his sleeve: In July of that year, he reunited with founding bassist Chris Hillman and they recruited guitarist Clarence White into the band.

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A punk-era artist-as-sideman who simultaneously embraced and shattered rock’s conventions with Lou Reed, Richard Hell, Matthew Sweet, and others.

Much has been written about New York City’s late-’70s punk scene. The term “punk” was coined by critics and applied to a disparate collection of artists working at CBGB, a grimy hole-in-the-wall on the Bowery. It didn’t represent a genre as much as a scene, and applied to the lifestyle and fashions of its participants as much as the music. The hype, if you believe it, idealized a raw, visceral return to basics, and implied—at least musically—amateurism and a distinct lack of chops.

Except that wasn’t the case.

Whether you’re talking about the polyrhythmic complexity of bands like the Talking Heads, the understated virtuosity of Television’s Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine, or even the deep chops of drummer Marc “Marky Ramone” Bell (Dust, Voidoids, Ramones), the punk scene was a wellspring of talent. Punk’s focus, for the most part, was song-centric and eschewed extended jamming, and the scene’s musicians prized restraint, as opposed to flash. But ability—despite their short hair, leather, and safety pins—wasn’t lacking. They were a reaction to the milquetoast fluff on popular radio (Debbie Boone, the Eagles), and took pains to distinguish themselves as misfits. But even the punks had their outliers, and a prominent delegate was guitarist Robert Quine.

Quine was an idiosyncratic force of nature. He was much older than most of his colleagues, he didn’t dress like a punk—he wore sport coats and cheap button-down shirts, and his guitar playing was a synthesis of his eccentric, yet specific, aesthetic. He was a master musician, but he wasn’t a jack-of-all-trades, and his instrumental voice was cultivated and singular.

Quine’s breakout recording, Richard Hell and the Voidoids’ Blank Generation, was released about a month before his 35th birthday, in 1977. It was an unconventional and abrasive, yet sophisticated and important, release. Over 40 years later, young artists still cite it as a primary influence. The Voidoids recorded their follow-up, Destiny Street, in 1982, but by that point, punk’s glory days were nearly a distant memory and Quine was on to other things. His next major project was a contentious, yet fruitful, stint with Lou Reed, followed by about 20 years as a sideman with numerous artists.

Quine was a niche player, yet somehow fit in multiple contexts—whether commercial pop or confrontational art—and was at home on projects by artists as diverse as Matthew Sweet, John Zorn, Lloyd Cole, and Lydia Lunch. He played for the song, didn’t overplay, but stood out anyway. You can always identify Quine on a track, even though his playing is tasteful and song-appropriate. It’s also high-mid focused and unpredictable. He preferred plugging into a Deluxe Reverb’s left channel and cranking it up.

When Quine died in 2004, he had never released a solo album. He was a sideman, except that he wasn’t a studio ace. He’s not that anonymous guitarist on countless jingles and hits. He was an artist and a stylist. He was complex, and his career—like most things Quine—was a paradox.

“I just don’t give a shit, maybe because I’m such a lovable genius.” —Robert Quine

“The fact is that critics like me because I am a cult figure, which means I’m not really successful,” Quine told writer Jim DeRogatis in an interview for his book, Let It Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America’s Greatest Rock Critic, published in 2000. “I’m not big enough of a target. About every five years, I do a record with someone and magazines are interviewing me again. It works for me a lot where I can do no wrong. I’m not a major success or anything, but I seem to have been a survivor, and I play better than I ever have. When I look around at other people from the era, I seem to have done OK, and the reason is I truly don’t give a fuck. I honestly believe that rock ’n’ roll was pretty much finished by 1961. The atrocities I’ve pulled ... I just don’t give a shit, maybe because I’m such a lovable genius.” Quine was an enigma, but he cared more than he let on.

For this feature we spoke with Quine’s bandmates Richard Hell and Ivan Julian, his longtime collaborator Fred Maher, songwriters Matthew Sweet and Lloyd Cole, disc jockey and author James “the Hound” Marshall, and others.

Becoming a Voidoid
Robert Quine was born on December 30, 1942, and grew up in Akron, Ohio. Music was a constant from early on—from his interest in Gene Autry to whatever his parents played around the house.“I was 12 in ’55, when rock ’n’ roll hit,” Quine told Jason Gross in a 1997 interview for Perfect Sound Forever. “It just completely transformed me. I was getting into Frank Sinatra before that. But when that hit, it was all over. It was raw. The first rock record I bought was Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers’ ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love?’ The sax solo in the middle was completely inappropriate. It almost sounds like Albert Ayler. But it was lyrical. That was my obsession.”

That music—early rock ’n’ roll, but with an ear for the freest streams in jazz—was a constant throughout his life. He was passionate about guitarists like Link Wray, Mickey Baker, and James Burton—not to mention Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry, whom he saw on a double bill in high school—as well as Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Impulse!-era John Coltrane, and Miles Davis’ ’70s electric output. That formed the foundation of his playing, especially in the ways he phrased his lines and took risks in solos, and it was how he connected with bandmates and friends.

Quine started playing the guitar as a teenager. He learned Chuck Berry songs and played along to Ventures albums. He bought a Strat in 1961—inspired by Ritchie Valens—and that was the model he used for most of his career, although his initial inspiration was a Telecaster.

“I remember him telling me about the thing that really made him want to get a guitar,” says James “the Hound” Marshall, a close friend of Quine’s throughout his years in New York. “There’s a bowling alley in Akron called the Fairlawn Lanes, and the Caps were playing. The Caps were like the local rock stars. They had this almost-hit called ‘The Red Headed Flea.’ They were either sound-checking or rehearsing, and Quine remembers the guitar player sitting on his amp with a Tele and a cigarette dangling out of his mouth, just playing whatever, and that was the coolest thing he’d ever seen.”


Robert Quine was 12 when he first heard rock ’n’ roll in 1955. “It just completely transformed me,” he told Jason Gross in a 1997 Perfect Sound Forever interview. “When that hit, it was all over. That was my obsession.” Photo by Willard Van Orman

Quine graduated from Earlham College in Indiana in 1965 and earned a law degree from Washington University in St. Louis. He passed the Missouri Bar and in the late ’60s moved to San Francisco. While still in college, he discovered the blues and listened to John Lee Hooker and Lightnin’ Hopkins, as well as jazz, from artists like Ramsey Lewis and Bill Evans, to the more adventurous musicians mentioned above.

Quine played in bands throughout college and law school, usually covering songs by groups like the Kinks, the Rolling Stones, and the Byrds. He was also one of the earliest, and most dedicated, fans of the Velvet Underground. He was a regular audience member, befriended the band, and taped hundreds of hours of material at concerts in San Francisco and St. Louis. In 2001, Polydor Records released three discs gleaned from his recordings as Bootleg Series Volume 1: The Quine Tapes.

“The second album [1968’s White Light/White Heat] completely changed my life,” Quine said in that same interview with Jason Gross. “I spent thousands of hours on headphones wearing that out. What Lou Reed did, he actually listened to Ornette Coleman, and deliberately did off-harmonic feedback and the deliberate monotony of it. This stuff is like Jimmy Reed—it’s monotonous or it’s hypnotic. For me, it was hypnotic.”

Quine relocated to New York City in the early 1970s. He got a job writing about tax law for a New Jersey-based law journal, but by 1975, he’d had it. He was already in his 30s and wanted to try making it as a musician. He quit the law journal and started working at Cinemabilia, a Greenwich Village film memorabilia shop, which was where he met coworkers Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine, both—at that point—from the band Television.

Quine’s efforts at landing a gig were fraught with frustration. He was bald, which in hyper-fashion-conscious mid-’70s New York was a major liability. He didn’t dress the part, was a decade older than many of his peers, and his sometimes caustic personality rubbed people the wrong way.

“He didn’t have a shag haircut,” Marshall says about Quine’s struggles finding work. “At one point, through mutual friends, he tried for a job playing with Art Garfunkel. He got drunk and told him he thought Simon & Garfunkel were for people too stupid for Bob Dylan. Garfunkel punched him in the nose.”

By early 1976, Richard Hell was no longer with Television. He had also left his next project, the Heartbreakers, which he started with former members of the New York Dolls. He was offered a production deal, which he accepted, and recruited Quine for his new band, the Voidoids.

“This was the chance Quine had been waiting for, for a long time,” Hell says. “Nobody wanted to put a bald-headed old guy in a band. He knew this was like his big break. But he was kind of an alien in this theater of CBGB and he wasn’t sure what I wanted from him, and he was tentative. He was definitely tentative. But I knew what he was capable of, because we’d become really good friends. I spent night after night over at his house listening to records with him. He had a few tapes of his bands from college. I knew what he liked in music, which corresponded almost exactly to what I liked, and I could hear on the live tapes of his college band that he could really tear it up, if he could shake the inhibitions and anxieties or whatever. But as it turned out, I really had to push him.”

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The guitar anti-hero who started the Stooges and changed the sound of rock 6-string’s future, paving the way for … everything.

Late 1960s Ann Arbor, Michigan—a sleepy college town about 45 minutes west of Detroit—is the unlikely birthplace of punk. But it was there, led by a local band called the Stooges, that America’s most visceral, degenerate export was born.

The Stooges weren’t Eastern Michigan’s most popular band at the time. That honor went to the MC5. But the Stooges may have been the most important—even compared to Michigan artists like Bob Seger, Alice Cooper, and Ted Nugent, that would go on to sell out arenas in the next decade. The Stooges classic songs, like “T.V. Eye” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” have been covered over and over by numerous artists. The chaos they inspired is today standard behavior at most punk, hardcore, alternative, indie, and metal shows. They embraced noise. They were aggressive and confrontational. They weren’t hippies, despite their late-’60s pedigree. They were ahead of their time and—this isn’t clichéd or hyperbolic—pioneered the next half-century of alternative rock.

In addition to his band’s influence, the Stooges’ guitarist, Ron Asheton, made a significant impact as well. He embraced power chords. His tone was grating and jagged. He didn’t play with that vintage tube warmth associated with many of his contemporaries. And he loved feedback and noise. As his band’s only guitarist, he found ways to make his 6-string sound like more than one instrument. He explored non-Western tonalities and experimented with drones.

In hindsight, the Stooges are famous for their nihilistic, antagonistic performances and their lead singer’s self-destructive antics—some say Iggy Pop invented stage diving and crowd surfing—as well as their straightforward, no-nonsense songwriting, and Asheton’s innovative guitar playing. But at the time, no one was interested. The Stooges released three albums that didn’t sell well. They played to half-empty clubs and were taunted and harassed by their audiences. They didn’t have a loyal fan base and they weren’t popular overseas. In 1974, plagued by drug use and mismanagement, the Stooges broke up.

Not that anyone noticed.

But payback is sweet. The mainstream may have ignored the Stooges, but the underground grew to adore them. Over the next three decades, young bands dissected their music, copied their sound, and used them as a starting point to invent new genres and movements. Their legend grew and their albums, while never radio-friendly, continued to sell.

“Ronny never got into the drugs,” Kathy says. “He was very angry when the Stooges broke up, because he was just sitting by and watching this all deteriorate.” —Kathy Asheton

In 2003, after a 29-year hiatus, the Stooges regrouped with Mike Watt on bass for a one-off performance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. That performance led to a tour, which led to a full-fledged reunion. But unlike the old days, the reunited Stooges headlined major festivals and played to enthusiastic crowds numbering in the tens of thousands. What’s more, they weren’t a nostalgia act. Their audiences were young and the old-timers kept their distance. It was as if the culture had finally caught up with them.

Ron Asheton died in 2009, and although the Stooges’ story has been told many times over, those retellings usually focus on the band’s iconic countercultural status and Iggy Pop’s larger-than-life persona. Much less has been written about Asheton’s guitar playing, sonic choices, and gear. Our hope is to remedy that. We spoke to his family, roadies, old friends, collaborators, and bandmates, and bring you this picture of an important and influential talent.

The Beginning

Ron Asheton was born in Washington, D.C., on July 17, 1948. His father’s business took the family to Davenport, Iowa, and then, following his dad’s heart attack, to Ann Arbor, Michigan. “Our mom’s parents and family were in Michigan,” Kathy Asheton, Ron’s younger sister says. Ron was the oldest of three siblings. Stooges drummer Scott Asheton was in the middle. “They decided—not sure how our dad would be doing—to move so we could be near family. Sadly, about a year later, our father passed away, in December, 1963.”

Asheton’s mother, while still in Iowa, encouraged her children to take music lessons. Ron studied the accordion, Scott—years before discovering rock ’n’ roll—took drum lessons, and Kathy sang. Those music lessons stopped with the family’s move to Michigan—along with the uncertainty that accompanied their father’s illness and early death—and Ron put his interest in music on hold.

At least, until the Beatles played The Ed Sullivan Show. “The Beatles came in February of ’64, right after our father passed away, and that got Ronny going,” Kathy says. “From that point on, that’s what he wanted to do. He wanted to play guitar. He wanted to be the Beatles. So that’s how that started for him.”


With “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “1969,” the Stooges’ 1969 debut alone would be enough to qualify Ron Asheton, at right, just behind Iggy Pop, as a guitar giant. His drumming brother, Scott, is at center, with bassist Dave Alexander at rear.

He also traveled to England, along with future Stooges bassist Dave Alexander, during his senior year in high school. “There was a good friend of his—also from a very good family in Ann Arbor—and they had moved to England,” Kathy Asheton says, putting to rest a number of myths about her brother’s early days. “It wasn’t like he was just floating off into a land of strangers. He had a family connection there, which was part of the, ‘yes, you have permission to go.’ It was the biggest thing. He’d write letters. Ronny wrote letters to Bill Cheatham—who was his best, dearest friend [Editor’s note: Cheatham was a roadie for the Stooges and also played second guitar in the band for a short period, before being replaced by James Williamson.]—saying that he met Ringo. They started a rumor in high school that ‘Ronny met Ringo.’ But it was really a joke. He never did meet anybody. He saw the Who there, but he didn’t meet any of them.”

After he returned, Asheton played bass in a number of local bands, often running through a fuzz pedal and wah-wah, including the Chosen Few, which included future Iggy and the Stooges guitarist James Williamson. He also shared a stage with the Prime Movers, whose drummer was Iggy Pop.

“He met Iggy at the local Discount Records,” Kathy says. “That’s where Iggy worked, and that was the music hub of Ann Arbor, where everybody connected.”

Ron—as a guitarist—started the band that would eventually morph into the Stooges original line-up, featuring Pop, Alexander on bass, and his brother Scott on drums. “We were all shook up when our father passed away, but Scotty took it very hard,” Kathy Asheton says. “He was hanging out with, say, the wrong people and our mom was concerned about that. Ronny took Scotty under his wing and took him to all the Chosen Few shows, just to keep an eye on him. Scotty was like their little roadie at the gigs. He would help out with the drum kit, and that’s when he started taking more interest in playing drums.”

The band’s original name was the Psychedelic Stooges, which was a tip of the hat to the Three Stooges. “Ron was a huge fan of the Three Stooges,” says Deniz Tek, the guitarist in the legendary Australian punk band Radio Birdman and an old friend of Ron’s from Ann Arbor. “At one point, when he was a kid, he was the president of the Three Stooges fan club. Later, when Ron was living in Hollywood, he knew Larry Fine from the Three Stooges. Larry was in a nursing home in Beverley Hills and Ron would often go visit him and help him out with answering his fan mail and stuff like that. He would get cigars and whisky for him.”

The early Stooges didn’t sound like anything else. They were loud, raucous, raw, free, and improvisatory. They didn’t have a set list—or even established songs—and crafted each performance to fit the event. Their focus wasn’t developing a repertoire, but putting on a show and making each night an experience.

“They were doing what they called ‘Energy Freakouts,’ or jams,” Tek says. “It was fascinating to me as a teenager to attend those shows, because I never saw anything like it. Scotty would bang on 44-gallon oilcans with steel pipes. Iggy made noise, putting mics in blenders and things like that. Ron just had this raw guitar mayhem. They would adapt it to the gig.”

“The gigs were one big jam,” Mike Watt (Minutemen, Firehose) says. Watt was the Stooges’ bassist throughout their 2003-’14 reunion. “Ronny told me about making noise with an electric blender, Dave Alexander throwing the amp down to make sounds, and Scotty beating oil drums with their horoscope signs painted on them. It was a whole different thing than what we know from Stooges’ albums.”

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