|Iggy Pop is a true rock and roll survivor, a pioneer celebrated for inspiring countless garage and punk rock bands with his ferocious, mesmerizing performances. His raw vocals and infectious energy have spoken to generations of fans, both in his work with the Stooges and as a solo artist.
A heart full of napalm
The man who would be Iggy was born James Newell Osterberg on April 21, 1947, in Muskegon, Michigan. He began his forays into the music scene in the early 60s as drummer for a garage band called the Iguanas. After dropping out of the University of Michigan in 1966, he left to explore the Chicago blues scene.
Osterberg returned to Michigan in 1967 and formed the Psychedelic Stooges with Dave Alexander on bass and brothers Ron and Scott Asheton on guitar and drums, respectively. The band gradually established its identity and garage rock sound, shortening its name to the Stooges, while Osterberg took on the identity of Iggy Pop. Along with the change in name, Pop established a confrontational stage presence like no other rock frontman before him, performing shirtless and routinely cutting himself before leaping into the audience.
The Stooges signed to Elektra Records in 1968 and issued a self-titled debut the next year, featuring the single “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” In 1970, the group, joined by saxophonist Steve Mackay, released Fun House. Neither album was a major commercial success, and the band members became embroiled in personal problems. Consequently, Elektra dropped the Stooges, leading to the band’s break-up.
However, The Stooges did not stay silent for long thanks to David Bowie, who took Pop under his wing. Pop re-formed the band as Iggy and the Stooges with James Williamson on guitar, while Ron Asheton moved to bass. Bowie mixed the band’s new record Raw Power, which included the tracks “Search and Destroy” and “Gimme Danger.” Despite positive reviews upon the album’s release in 1973, the band soon split again. Pop spiraled into personal and legal troubles that landed him in a Los Angeles psychiatric hospital.
Bowie visited Pop at the hospital and later took the down-on-his-luck rocker on tour in Europe. The pair took up residence in Berlin for three years, with Bowie arranging a record deal with RCA and collaborating on two 1977 solo efforts from Pop. The Idiot and Lust for Life both sold better than the Stooges’ albums, and the punk movement embraced Pop as an early hero.
Bowie and Pop split ways, but the former Stooge kept up a steady output of solo releases, working with a series of collaborators like his old guitarist, Williamson, and former Sex Pistols bassist, Glen Matlock. Pop also found time to co-author an autobiography detailing his years of rock and roll excess, entitled I Need More.
Pop finally had his first taste of mainstream success when Bowie re-recorded their co-written effort “China Girl” for his own 1983 album, Let’s Dance. The duo joined forces again for Blah Blah Blah in 1986, which spawned a minor hit in Pop’s rendition of “Real Wild Child.” In 1990, he at last achieved a Gold album with Brick by Brick and a Top 20 single in “Candy.” Meanwhile, Pop also embarked on an acting career, with roles in films like Sid and Nancy and The Color of Money.
Lust for life
Cited as a major influence by the grunge artists of the 90s, Pop continued to tour and release albums throughout the decade. In 2003, he and the Ashetons reunited the Stooges, along with bassist Mike Watt of The Minutemen. This incarnation toured extensively and put out The Weirdness in 2007. After Ron Asheton died of a heart attack in 2009, Williamson returned to the fold. The band released one more album, 2013’s Ready to Die, before the deaths of Scott Asheton and saxophonist Mackay.
Pop carried on, however, and found his latest songwriting partner in Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme. They recorded their album, Post Pop Depression, at Homme’s studios, keeping their plans secret until work was complete. Following the March 18, 2016 release, Pop and Homme set out on tour together. Clearly, Iggy Pop has weathered changing trends by retaining his unmistakable personality through all his experimentation with different musical styles and artistic endeavors.