James Williamson (musician)
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|Birth name||James Robert Williamson|
October 29, 1949 |
Castroville, Texas, United States
|Genres||Protopunk, Garage rock, Hard rock, Glam rock, Punk rock|
|Occupation(s)||Musician, Songwriter, Guitarist, Producer, Electronic engineer|
|Years active||1966–1980, 2009–present|
|Labels||Columbia, Bomp, Radar|
|Associated acts||The Stooges, Iggy Pop|
James Robert Williamson (born October 29, 1949) is an American guitarist, songwriter, record producer and electronics engineer who is best known for his contribution to the protopunk rock band Iggy & The Stooges.
Williamson began playing guitar in the 7th grade, while his family were living in Lawton, Oklahoma: "One summer while visiting Texas, I wound up getting a guitar because I thought it was cool. My sister was bringing home Elvis records and so I thought, 'I gotta have a guitar.' So I talked my mom into getting me one. My uncle worked for Sears, so I ended up with an old Sears f-hole guitar with action about an inch and a half off the fret board. Anyway, when I first learned to play guitar a little bit, it was just chords and stuff, but then about a year or so later we moved to the Detroit area, and it just so happened that I moved next door to a family that all played music. The son in that family, his name was Ken Black. He played electric guitar. I remember moving to Detroit—it was the summer when Martha and the Vandellas' "Heatwave" was a smash hit record. I would spend my days hanging over in his room, listening to him play and also learning how to play barre chords and things like that. By the end of that summer, I got good enough that I ended up getting my own electric guitar, which was a Fender Jaguar."
When Williamson was in the 9th grade in Detroit, he formed his first rock 'n' roll band, The Chosen Few, with schoolmate Scott Richardson. They performed cover versions of Rolling Stones songs and others. Williamson also spent some time in a juvenile home after his step father had told him to cut his hair and Williamson refused. In the first half of 1966, Williamson was in a boarding school in a small town eighty miles north of New York City. While there, Williamson helped form and played lead guitar in the Coba Seas. During that time, the Coba Seas taped a rehearsal session, resulting in the first recordings of Williamson's guitar prowess. In one of the Chosen Few's later line-ups, in 11th grade, Ron Asheton was the bassist. Asheton, as guitarist, went on to form The Stooges with his brother Scott, Dave Alexander and Iggy Pop.
After graduating from high school in 1969, Williamson travelled to New York to keep in touch with his friends The Stooges, who were recording their debut album with former Velvet Underground multi-instrumentalist John Cale.
By late 1970, Williamson joined The Stooges as a second guitarist. He performed his first gig with the band on December 5, 1970. The band were by then struggling with drug problems and a lack of commercial success; despite the injection of Williamson's considerable talent and enthusiasm, the Stooges couldn't overcome their difficulties, with Williamson stating: "I got hepatitis and moved back to Detroit and basically the band completely dissolved." Many of the demo recordings made during this period were belatedly issued as vinyl singles or EPs, including the proto-punk tracks "I Got A Right" and "Gimme Some Skin".
In 1972 David Bowie offered Iggy Pop and James Williamson a chance to record in London, and, having failed to find other suitable musicians, they invited the Asheton brothers to join them, with Ron moving from guitar to bass. Williamson co-wrote all the songs with Iggy and played all the guitar parts for The Stooges' classic 1973 album Raw Power. He played louder and raunchier than almost anybody at the time, with a jagged high-energy approach. According to Williamson, "I was a very emotional guitar player, so I always played that way. That's how we felt, so that was what it sounded like."
Williamson's explosive and aggressive guitar playing on Raw Power has often been cited as a major influence on the emerging punk scene in the mid-seventies. In fact, Williamson's influence goes well beyond that, with Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr stating "I'm his biggest fan. He has the technical ability of Jimmy Page without being as studious, and the swagger of Keith Richards without being sloppy. He's both demonic and intellectual, almost how you would imagine Darth Vader to sound if he was in a band."
After the Stooges
After collaborating with Pop in 1975 on demo sessions for a proposed new album to be produced by John Cale, which were released (despite Pop's objections) in 1977 as Kill City, Williamson gave up playing music professionally to train as an electronics engineer: "The Stooges was maybe my only real band and kind of a family and so when that fell apart it was difficult to go on."
In 1979 Williamson was again persuaded to work with Iggy Pop to produce and write for Iggy's third solo album New Values, with former Stooge multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston playing guitar on all the tracks except "Don't Look Down". Williamson also did the initial production work on Iggy's subsequent album Soldier, before falling out with Iggy over recording methods and losing contact with him for 16 years.
After working on Soldier, Williamson removed himself from the music business entirely and concentrated on his career in electronics and in 1982 received an electrical engineering degree from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Looking back in 2010, Williamson said, 'I gave up being a Stooge to study calculus. I designed computer chips, working with geeks who had no idea about my past and who wouldn't have heard of The Stooges'.
Following his graduation from Cal Poly Pomona, Williamson moved to Silicon Valley in 1982. For the next fifteen years, he worked for Advanced Micro Devices in San Jose, California, designing products around its chips. His coworkers never inquired about his earlier career as a rock musician; in a 2010 interview with Uncut, Williamson asserted that many of his colleagues were "nerds and geeks... they don't listen to The Stooges much." In 1997, he was hired as Sony's vice president of technical standards; in this capacity, he liaised with competitors and helped to codify nascent industry standards, most notably the Blu-ray Disc. He accepted an early retirement buyout offer from Sony in 2009.
In 2015, Williamson was selected to receive ANSI's Ronald H. Brown Standards Leadership Award for his contributions to consumer electronics standards development. The award, named after late United States Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, is presented as part of World Standards Day celebration.
Reuniting With the Stooges
Following the death of Ron Asheton in 2009, Williamson rejoined Iggy & The Stooges. To rehearse for the Stooges gigs, he hooked up with San Jose based roots rock band Careless Hearts, who backed him on his first gig in 35 years at the Blank Club in San Jose, CA on September 5, 2009. They performed a number of early Stooges songs, and also some material from the Kill City album. In June 2010, a CD + DVD combo was released of this event called James Williamson with Careless Hearts.
The Stooges first reunion concert with Williamson occurred on November 7, 2009 in São Paulo, Brazil. The band added material from Raw Power and several of Pop's early solo albums to its repertoire.
Williamson is known primarily for his use of Gibson Les Paul Custom guitars, but he also plays other guitars live (although Les Paul Customs are his guitar of choice). Williamson says that all the songs on Raw Power were written in his London bedroom on a Gibson B-25 acoustic and the acoustic guitar used in the studio was a Martin D-28. A Vox AC30 amplifier was used for recording Raw Power and no effects pedals were used. Williamson says he plugged his Les Paul Custom into the AC30's Top Boost channel, volume at full and bass low, and played primarily on the Custom's low-output bridge humbucker pickup. Williamson often used Marshall amplifiers when playing live in the 1970s, and recently switched to Blackstar Amplification's Artisan 30 for live use. All guitars currently used onstage by Williamson are equipped with low-output, microphonic, humbucker pickups modeled after those in his original 1969 Gibson Les Paul Custom. These pickups were custom wound by Jason Lollar who reverse engineered the 1969 pickups, at the suggestion of James' touring guitar tech Derek See, and local tech Brian Michael. In concert, for "Gimme Danger" and "Open Up And Bleed", Williamson uses a Fishman Power Bridge piezo pickup equipped Les Paul (patched through a Fishma Aura pedal) for simulated acoustic guitar sounds.
A detailed gear diagram of James Williamson's 2011 Iggy & The Stooges guitar rig is well-documented:
- 2014 - Re-Licked
with The Stooges
- 1973 - Raw Power: Guitars
- 1977 - Metallic K.O.: Guitars (live)
- 1995 - Open Up and Bleed: Guitars (live)
- 2013 - Ready to Die: Guitars
with Iggy Pop
- 1977 - Kill City: Guitar, Vocals, Producer, Mixing
- 1979 - New Values: Producer, Guitar, Vocals
- 1980 - Soldier: Producer (uncredited)
- 2005 - A Million in Prizes: The Anthology:
with Careless Hearts
- 2010 - James Williamson with Careless Hearts: Guitar
with the Coba Seas
- 2010 (recorded in 1966) - Unreformed: Guitar
- "The Stooges: James Williamson Interview | Features | Clash Magazine". Clashmusic.com. Retrieved 2014-07-15.
- [dead link]
- "The Leap: Episode 4: The Improbable Transformation of a Punk Pioneer". KQED News (in en-us). Retrieved 2015-11-24.
- "James Williamson: 'Key To That Record Was We Had No Supervision' | Interviews @". Ultimate-guitar.com. Retrieved 2011-02-25.
- Will Hodgkinson and Alexis Petridis. "The world was not ready for Iggy and the Stooges | Music". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-07-15.
- [dead link]
- "From punk rocker to Sony exec - Video - Fortune". Money.cnn.com. 2010-06-17. Retrieved 2011-02-25.
- "Being a Stooge is My Retirement Job" (PDF). Straightjameswilliamson.com. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
- Pulcrano, Dan (September 18, 2013). "Don’t Quit Your Day Job: James & The Stooges". Metroactive.com. Metro Silicon Valley. Retrieved 14 October 2013.
- "Electronics Engineer and Musician James Williamson Named 2015 Recipient of Ronald H. Brown Standards Leadership Award". prnewswire.com. Retrieved 7 April 2015.
- "Stooges Play First Gig with New Lineup". SPIN.com. 2009-11-11. Retrieved 2011-02-25.
- "The Stooges: inducted in 2010 | The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum". Rockhall.com. Retrieved 2011-02-25.
- "Blackstar Amplification - Artist News". Blackstaramps.co.uk. Retrieved 2011-02-25.
- Cooper, Adam (March 9, 2011). "James Williamson's 2011 Iggy & The Stooges Guitar Rig". GuitarGeek.Com.
- Official website
- 2009 interview with Williamson Paraphilia Magazine Issue Five
- 2007 interview with Williamson
- 2001 interview with Williamson
- Creem magazine 1974 interview with Williamson & Pop
- IEEE 2008 Annual Election page for Standards Association Board of Governors with Williamson as nominee
- James' official Myspace page
- 2010 Interview on American Public Radio