Hot Licks from James Williamson
Iggy and the Stooges guitarist James Williamson has just released his Re-Licked CD (Leopard Lady Records), featuring a selection of vintage Stooges songs that have never previously been captured in a studio to James’ satisfaction. Vocals on these new recordings are supplied by a variety of guests, with James on lead guitar throughout.
“Most of these songs were written after Raw Power was released and we had been dropped by Mainman and we were beginning to tour the US under new management. We were still under the belief that CBS/Columbia Records would pick up their option for us to record a second album for them. All of this was around the1973-74 timeframe. We wrote these songs fairly quickly and were playing them live, as was our usual way. Of course, they would be bootlegged as was very common in those days. However, the record company decided not to pick up the option for us to do the album, so all that remained was the bootlegs, although a couple of things like Johanna did show up on the Kill City LP. There are also a couple of songs included on this album from early demo sessions before Raw Power, namely I Got a Right and I’m Sick of You, one of the earliest songs I ever wrote with Iggy.”
So why do this project now? “I have always wanted to hear these songs recorded properly, I feel that they are some of our best writing, certainly a tribute to the song writing of Iggy Pop and James Williamson. Iggy and I discussed doing this before we did ‘Ready to Die’ in 2013, but decided against it as the obvious comparisons between the young Stooges and the older Stooges would surely be drawn. Instead after our final tour date last September, I decided to try a new arrangement of ‘Open Up and Bleed’ that I had come up with while on tour. I sought out a female singer who could really belt out a song the way the Janis Joplin used to and found Carolyn Wonderland, who is a singer with the voice that Janis would have wished she had had. Once that went so well, I decided to go ahead and do a full blown album of all of this material.”
Re-Licked is a comprehensive collection of the pre Kill City material. “I did pretty much all of the songs from that period of time, at least the ones that were do-able. I selected the singers based on their own styles, availability, interest and enthusiasm and was very pleased with the results.” The singers James selected include Lisa Kekaula from the BellRays, who performed a similar role in the MC5 / DKT touring project. “I had heard about DKT only after I had already done the track with Lisa. It’s a cool concept that works really well with the right singers…in my case, I wasn’t trying to make this a version of the Stooges but rather an interpretation of the songs.”
Re-Licked contains some gems, but inevitably it is an uneven selection. The lead-off single ‘Open Up And Bleed’ is a highpoint, Carolyn’s’ soulful wail counterpointed by some delicate accoustic guitar picking. Slower, less well known songs such as She Creatures Of The Hollywood Hills and Til The End Of The Night do better than the likes of Cock In My Pocket and other raucous rockers. The only uptempo track that convinces is Wet My Bed where James flaunts his best Chuck Berry riffs. Also recommended is Wild Love, where Mark Lanegan and Alison Mosshart channel a sleaze-rock Sonny and Cher. Overall Re-Licked is well worth a listen: properly recorded and no longer mired in sub-bootleg mire, the songs do indeed shine through.
Sadly a live version of Re-Licked seems unlikely. “Well, I would love to play this material live, but with 14 well known working singers, it’s nearly impossible logistically. That said, if some promoter wants to put together a showcase in a major city like London, Paris, NYC, LA or Sydney…I’d be thrilled to do it as I know the singers and musicians would be as well. We could tour as James Williamson And…” Apparently Iggy views the project with mixed feelings. “Well, he has vacillated from wishing it all success, to saying he was never asked, to back to wishing it well and thanking all the singers…he’s likely heard the singles so far, but very few people have heard the album yet. I’ll send him one after it gets released. Just for the record he has been asked to participate but has not responded.”
And why is James known as Strait James Williamson these days? “It’s a kind of inside joke. In the song ‘The Dum Dum Boys’ Iggy sang the line “James, he’s gone straight”…so I named my music publishing company Strait James Music, Straight isn’t distinctive enough for a publishing name” .