After being invited to join The Stooges in 1970, guitarist James Williamson helped the band create one of their most influential albums. At the point Williamson joined The Stooges, most of its members were suffering from the effects of extensive drug abuse and were frustrated by their lack of commercial success. Despite the enhanced musicianship Williamson offered, The Stooges soon succumbed to these pressures, and Williamson ended up returning home to Detroit before the year was out.
But in 1972, Iggy Pop ran into David Bowie, who, at that point in time, was at the height of Ziggy Stardust fame. Bowie was a fan of Iggy’s band, The Stooges, and convinced him to give it another shot. Williamson was the first person Iggy called. The guitarist’s aggressive style defined the band’s iconic 1973 album Raw Power, for which he played all of the guitar parts and helped Iggy write the songs. The energy of that album is often cited as a major influence on the emerging punk scene of the 1970s, and it was largely down to Williamson.
Recently, Williamson revealed the album that changed his life. For all of us, there’s always one album that shifted our perspective or renewed our understanding of what music could do, be, or say. For Williamson, that record was Bob Dylan’s self-titled 1962 album. Of the record, Williamson wrote: “I could actually name any Dylan album of the ’60s here, but no other album has so completely turned my life upside down as his debut did. Maybe we don’t sound like him, but even for The Stooges, his approach was very important.”
Williamson goes on to explain that it was his forward-thinking approach that influenced him the most: “Dylan wasn’t only endlessly talented, he was also the first rock musician who had no reverence for the past. That impressed me, as did his ability to express the thoughts of an entire generation with absolute clarity. Of course, he has always resisted the perception that that was always his intention, but I’m not buying it.”
“I believe that he simply never cared about being honest when it came to judging his work or his image in public. He wanted to talk down his influence on the social movement of the ’60s. But honestly: how can you do that when you stood in the back of a pick-up truck singing protest songs?” Williamson continues.
“From a purely musical point of view, Dylan also coined wonderful, original chord progressions – for that matter, I have always tried to emulate him. I’m probably one of the few musicians who would really like to meet Dylan, simply to talk about his songwriting. I do not find him intimidating, but rather funny from today’s point of view. But my chances are pretty bad. He’s a very private person who does not go out very often. That’s okay. Nobody can take the music away from me.”
Bob Dylan’s self-titled album of 1962 was the singer-songwriter’s debut. The album is primarily formed of renditions of folk standards, but it also features two original compositions, ‘Talkin’ New York’ and ‘Song to Woody’, the latter of which was an ode to Dylan’s idol Woody Guthrie.
Although on its release it received mixed reviews, the album contained all the seeds which would go on to make Dylan one of music’s greatest songwriters. Dylan, with his wit and unique delivery, was able to take these classic American standards and transform them into songs that spoke to a generation of young people just finding their feet. And for James Williamson, it changed everything.