During their short yet highly influential career, the Stooges featured two guitarists — first Ron Asheton, then James Williamson. Whereas Asheton's style was earthy and entirely feel-based (feeding off the other members), Williamson's playing was aggressive and in-your-face and it was almost as if the rest of the group was trying to keep up with him. Born in Castroville, TX (a small town just outside of San Antonio), Williamson was raised by his mother and strict military stepfather. By the sixth grade, Williamson took up the guitar after being inspired by the likes of the Beach Boys and the Ventures, and by the eighth grade, Williamson had relocated with his family to Michigan. It was around this time that Williamson joined his first band, the Chosen Few, and discovered the harder sounds of the British Invasion (namely the Rolling Stones), which in turn toughened up his playing style. After doing time in a juvenile home, Williamson returned to the Chosen Few, and befriended the group's new bassist — Ron Asheton.
The band broke up shortly thereafter, with Asheton eventually switching to the six-string and going on to form the Stooges by the late '60s, along with Asheton's brother Scott on drums, bassist Dave Alexander, and the incomparable frontman Iggy Pop. Williamson befriended the group (even visiting the group in New York City as they recorded their self-titled debut in 1969). A year after the Stooges issued their sophomore release, 1970's Funhouse, Williamson joined the group as a second guitarist (with Alexander being replaced by several other bassists). With most of the bandmembers full-blown drug addicts by this point and with underwhelming record sales, the new lineup split up by 1972 after getting dropped by Elektra.
Later the same year, a clean and sober Iggy Pop met David Bowie, who in turn helped him get his career back on track — hooking Pop up with his management (MainMan), and eventually offering his services to produce Pop's next album (preceded by a new recording contract with Columbia). Instead of re-enlisting all of his former Stooges pals, Pop only invited Williamson to join him in England to try and put a new lineup together. When the auditions proved unfruitful, the Asheton brothers were asked to re-join, with Asheton moving to bass. The ensuing album, 1973's Raw Power, resulted in another timeless rock classic, almost single-handedly inventing what would soon be known as punk rock.
But once again, the album failed to perform up to expectations, as many of the bandmembers sank back into hardcore drug abuse, resulting in the Stooges' final demise in 1974. Despite Pop being in a deteriorating mental state, he and Williamson united to cut some demos in hopes of attracting the interest of a new label. When they couldn't find any takers, the duo went their separate ways (Pop would check himself into a psychiatric hospital before launching a successful solo career), although the tracks would eventually see the light of day on the 1977 release Kill City.
Williamson subsequently turned his back on music — going to school to become an electronic engineer, and eventually getting involved in electronics and computers in Silicon Valley. In 1979, Williamson took a short break from his computer career to produce and play guitar on Pop's third solo studio album, the new wave-ish New Values, while his guitar playing was showcased on numerous post-mortem live/demo Stooges collections (usually not the best of quality) — Metallic K.O., I Got a Right, I'm Sick of You, Studio Sessions, Jesus Loves the Stooges, etc. Despite only appearing on one official Stooges album during his career, Williamson's hellraising guitar licks nonetheless influenced a legion of subsequent hard rock/punk players, including Steve Jones (Sex Pistols), Kim Thayil (Soundgarden), Johnny Ramone (the Ramones), Greg Ginn (Black Flag), and Slash (Guns N' Roses), among countless others. ~ Greg Prato