Q&A with Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame guitarist James Williamson - brand new, odds-defying studio album, Two To One

"I miss reality in the music of today… everything seems synthesized and auto tuned and phone. I guess I’m old school and like it real."

James Williamson: Rock n' Roll Blodline 

Legendary proto-punk guitar heroes, James Williamson & Deniz Tek, have joined forces for a brand new, odds-defying studio album, Two To One, set to be released September 18 by Cleopatra Records. An inductee into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, Williamson was the guitarist and co-songwriter for one of the most iconic and influential albums of all-time, Iggy & The Stooges Raw Power, while Tek launched and occupied the same role for what became Australia’s ground zero for the punk movement with his band, the revered Radio Birdman. The album features 11 all-new original compositions highlighted by the first single “Stable” and the explosive lead-off track “Jet Pack Nightmare.” James born in Texas and his family moved to Detroit, Michigan when he was in the 8th grade. He formed his first rock 'n' roll band, "The Chosen Few", with Scott Richardson in the 9th grade. They performed cover versions of Rolling Stones songs and others. Williamson also spent some time in a juvenile home. In one of the bands later line-ups, in 11th grade, Ron Asheton was the bassist. Asheton, as guitarist, went on to form The Stooges with his brother Scott and Iggy Pop. After graduating from High School, Williamson travelled to NYC in 1969 where he met up with The Stooges, who were recording their debut album.                James Williamson & Deniz Tek / Photo by Anne Tek

Later, in 1971, Williamson joined The Stooges, who were struggling with line-up changes, drugs and lack of success. David Bowie offered Iggy a chance to record in London, and eventually the Asheton brothers re-joined, with Ron on bass. Williamson co-wrote all the songs (with Iggy) and played all the guitar parts for The Stooges 1973 album Raw Power. He played louder and raunchier than almost anybody at the time, with a jagged high-energy approach. For this, along with his creative song writing, many people consider him one of punk's pioneers. Many of the demo recordings made prior to Raw Power were belatedly issued, including the hard rock tracks "I Got A Right" and "Gimme Some Skin". After collaborating with Iggy on the 1975 sessions for their duo album Kill City, Williamson left the music business to become an electronic engineer and work in the computer industry. Recently he retired from the electroncis industry as Vice President of Technology Standards with Sony Electronics, Inc, but is still doing some consulting work. Kill City was issued in 1977 and in 1979 Williamson returned to produce, write and play on Iggy's third solo album New Values (with Scott Thurston emulating Williamson's guitar style), and do initial production on Iggy's next album Soldier.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Special Thanks: Bill James (Glass Onyon) & James Williamson

How has the Rock n' Roll Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Music and the Rock n’ Roll scene has been my life’s blood since my teenage years. But, once I joined the stooges, I feel that I began to influence the music as much or more than it had influenced me. Ultimately, what we accomplished in London in 1971 and beyond was 20-30 years ahead of its time. So, my journeys have been self-exploration as much as anything.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

At its most basic level, my sound is the sound of a Gibson Les Paul Custom played through a vintage Vox AC30 amplifier. However, my playing and thus my sound is also in my fingers and picking… I was largely self-taught and had started writing my own songs almost from the start. Thus, I developed a very aggressive style which is my signature sound.

Are there any memories from new album album "Two To One" studio sessions with Deniz Tek which you’d like to share with us?

It was really a lot of fun working with Deniz to make a no-frills, good old-fashioned guitar album. Took me back to Raw Power and Kill City days. Deniz comes from a very similar approach to music that I do, both of us have had many years of experience in Detroit and Ann Arbor, Michigan. 

"Music and the Rock n’ Roll scene has been my life’s blood since my teenage years. But, once I joined the stooges, I feel that I began to influence the music as much or more than it had influenced me. Ultimately, what we accomplished in London in 1971 and beyond was 20-30 years ahead of its time. So, my journeys have been self-exploration as much as anything." (James Williamson & Deniz Tek / Photo by Anne Tek)

Which meetings have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

As a teenager I went to 5 different high schools. When I was 15, I started a band with another guy named Scott Richardson. We called it “The Chosen Few”… later I was sent away to boarding school and due to line up changes a new bass player named Ron Asheton was added. Ron had played bass in a band called “The Prime Movers”. One time while I was home for a holiday, I went to a gig “The Chosen Few” were playing (A Frat Party) and I met not only Ron Asheton that night but also Iggy Pop (then just called Jim Osterberg).

Best advice was “Don’t follow leaders and watch your parking meters”...—Bob Dylan

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

I’ll never forget the night the early Stooges lineup was supposed to play the East Town Theatre in Detroit.  Scott Asheton (the drummer) decided he wanted to drive the equipment truck from Ann Arbor to Detroit.  Unfortunately, he didn’t pay attention and the bridge in Ann Arbor was lower than the top of the truck, so he ran into it and was lucky that no one was more seriously hurt… but he certainly couldn’t play the show that night. So, here we were without a drummer and we needed the money so needed to play the show. Anyway, Steve McKay (the Sax Player) said he knew how to play drums so we put him on… Of course he didn’t know the songs or how to play drums so it was one of the worst shows every… but we did get paid.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss reality in the music of today… everything seems synthesized and auto tuned and phone. I guess I’m old school and like it real.

What were the reasons that Michigan was the center of Rock n' Punk researches and experiments?                                     (James Williamson / Photo by Heather Harris)

Michigan inspired a lot of music from the Motown Acts thru Rock n’ Roll. In fact, there were so many good bands that you had to be good to survive since Michigan audiences were not shy about bands they didn’t like.

"At its most basic level, my sound is the sound of a Gibson Les Paul Custom played through a vintage Vox AC30 amplifier. However, my playing and thus my sound is also in my fingers and picking… I was largely self-taught and had started writing my own songs almost from the start. Thus, I developed a very aggressive style which is my signature sound."

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

I learned to be true to my own instincts and tastes. In music you are always the best interpreter.

What is the impact of Rock music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

I just want people to like my music or if they don’t, just be honest about it.

James Williamson - Home

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