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HIGH FREQUENCIES: Iggy Pop

The Atlanta love affair continues

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Photo credit: Billy Ratliff
Iggy Pop on stage at 688, October 1980

Iggy Pop returns to Atlanta this weekend to headline the Project Pabst Festival in East Atlanta. Often described by pundits early in his fledgling career as “the world’s forgotten boy,” lifting lyrics from his song “Search And Destroy,” Pop is anything but forgotten over 40 years later.

IGGY Vintage

STREET WALKING CHEETAH WITH A HEART FULL OF NAPALM: The Stooges-era Iggy Pop. | Photo Courtesy Tony Paris Archives

An underground alternative to the ’70s counterculture, espousing a raw power and sexuality that was the antithesis to flower power and the remnants of the Summer of Love, Pop’s life was then a massive intake of hard drugs and loud, blistering rock ’n’ roll. That he would later be called the godfather of punk rock was due more to his general attitude and antipathy than to the musical approach of his band, the Stooges.

Atlanta rock ’n’ roll fans, at least those searching out the less-commercial, more depth-charged sounds of bands like the Velvet Underground, the New York Dolls and the Stooges, have always had a certain love affair with Iggy Pop, whether because of Pop’s week-long engagement at Richards in 1973, his residency at 688 Club in 1980 or his many one-night stands over the years. And what’s not to love? That smile. That forlorn look. That wild abandon onstage. The proto-punk before punk had a claim to fame.

It was the Stooges’ week-long stint in October of ’73 at Richards, a nightclub then tucked away across Monroe Drive from Grady High School, that consummated the relationship. Night after night, Iggy and the Stooges would berate the audience with their sonic assault, obscenities and seeming indifference to those who’d paid to see the show. Performing in little to no clothing on stage, Iggy was already well-known for pouring hot candle wax on his bare chest, breaking glass and writhing around in it onstage, and stage diving into the audience (yes, breaking the barrier between performer and audience was something Iggy originated).

At a time when Southern rock was “the next big thing” — the Allman Brothers Band were riding high with Eat A Peach, Wet Willie and the Atlanta Rhythm Section had both started to chart, and only months earlier Lynyrd Skynyrd had released (Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd) — a week-long engagement by an Ann Arbor, Michigan, hard rock band with three albums to its name and no real record sales to show for them seemed like a major gamble for a promoter to take.

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Iggy Pop at 688, October, 1980. | Billy Ratliff

According to promoter Rich Floyd, who, along with his partner Richard Bryan, opened Richards when both of them were fresh out of Georgia Tech, it wasn’t so much taking a chance as the norm at the time.

“Initially, for the first year, year and-a-half, our booking policy was to book everybody, when possible, for six nights, two sets a night, whether it was Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker, Bob Seger ... charging $1 on Monday and Tuesday to see the same act you could see on Wednesday and Thursday for $2, and then if you absolutely just had to wait for the weekend, it would cost you $3 to see the band.

“If you ask the question, ‘Why Iggy?’ Richard and I got off trying to bring what we considered new and up-and-coming type of entertainment into the city, and I realized — from the first show that I did, at the Municipal Auditorium, the odd pairing of the Guess Who to headline with Pink Floyd as the opening act on their first United States tour — that there was an underground following, if you will, in Atlanta for some of the craziness we might want to try to bring to town.

“I’m glad people remember it fondly,” Floyd admits, dusting off some of the cobwebs in his mind, while recollecting the Richards days. Of the week-long Stooges engagement, Floyd remembers one thing in particular, the stuff of which legends are made. “I know it happened for one very unique memory that I have. Sharon (Lawrence) was there, and she brought Elton John in, keeping him covered. He got up onstage in a gorilla suit and Iggy didn’t know what was going on and threw him off. It wasn’t until later on in the dressing room, that Iggy found out it was Elton John.”

Ever the businessman, as much as a music fan, Floyd concludes, “It was a good week, in terms of business. I remember the crowds being good.”

Opening night after night for the Stooges was Hydra, an Atlanta band featuring Wayne Bruce, Orville Davis, Spencer Kirkpatrick and Steve Pace. Well-known throughout the Southeast, they were yet to record their first LP, the self-titled Hydra, which would be released the following year on Capricorn Records. While Hydra was known as the first “Southern hard rock band,” the pairing still seems a little incongruous.

Guitarist Kirkpatrick doesn’t see it that way at all.

“We were very happy there that week," he recalls. “We were a very good fit. Iggy even came onstage with us for some Chuck Berry madness. The Stooges were both a tight outfit and a very loose outfit at the same time. They kicked ass!”

As for the irrepressible Iggy, Kirkpatrick says he found him “to be very down-to-earth. And still the ‘other’ Iggy was ever-present. I enjoyed seeing him mess with the young ladies, one night knocking over their beers and breaking glasses, then diving onto said glass ... blood, guts ... a six-pack and a savant ... I’m thankful for that week!”

Another long-time Atlanta musician, Michael Holbrook, bassist for the Hampton Grease Band, was also in the audience for many of the Stooges sets, remembering them vividly. The first night, he was sitting at the first table in front of the stage.

“Iggy came on stage wearing a black Speedo. Before he said a word, he busted a beer bottle on the mic stand, rolled in the broken glass on the stage, stood up, and with blood and glass sticking all over his body, grabbed the mic! The first line he sang was ‘butt fucker trying to take my girl, butt fucker trying to change my world.’ The audience moved back. One of the greatest musical moments ever. Brilliant!”

Holbrook also remembers the “gorilla incident” vividly. He was standing in the back of the club that night, and could see something that looked like a person in a gorilla outfit, lurking by the dressing room door for a few songs. When the gorilla walked onstage, Holbrook remembers, Iggy was “in shock. I had heard Iggy was tripping. He looked really scared.”

Sharon Lawrence, working with Elton at the time, remembers that night well. It was her idea to get the gorilla suit for Elton.

“Elton would get so full of himself,” she recalls of the superstar, then just starting to enjoy the fruits of his world-wide success. “The world was his oyster, but he always had to have some little mood, someone didn’t care about him or whatever, so I was constantly coming up with stuff (to keep him occupied).”

“I went somewhere and I got the gorilla costume, it was a good one, it was really good. I knocked on Elton’s door, and he opened it. I had it on a hanger, and he said, ‘Oh, what’s that?' And I said, ‘Elton, you were complaining that you’d been bored and that you’d been to all the shops and bought everything you wanted and now what are you supposed to do? I think we have to surprise some people. And one of the surprises is for you, because tonight I’m taking you to see Iggy Pop.’”

Lawrence knew that going to see Iggy would excite John, because the two had already met when Lawrence invited Pop to a party at Rocket Records (then John’s recording label) in Los Angeles. "That was the first time Elton had ever met him, and he thought that I must’ve been the coolest person in the world to know that he would want to meet him. And Iggy was only half-dressed, but he’d spent hours on makeup and hair."

But, before the trip to Richards, Lawrence had John don the costume at their hotel.

“I’ve been checking out the locale of your band,” she recalls telling him, “and I happen to know that that Dee Murray is taking a shower. I think that if you want to get into your gorilla costume, you will find that it fits you, because I took every precaution that it would, and Elton couldn’t wait! He put that thing on, we adjusted it and we ran into Dee’s room to the bathroom. He was washing his blond hair, Elton pulls back the plastic curtain and Dee starts screaming. ... He fell for it. And I said, ‘Dee, Sharon’s here to protect you. You know Elton lusts after you, I just couldn’t hold him off anymore,’” she laughed — and laughs now, recounting the story four decades later.

“Elton was just out of his mind with happiness that this had happened, so I told him, ‘I have something better’ letting him know of her plan for him to wear the gorilla costume at Iggy’s show.

“I had made copious phone calls to be sure exactly when Iggy was going on with the rest of his band. When we got to the club, we had to sorta keep Elton covered with a blanket over him (until we got him) in the dressing room, where he was going to change while Iggy was onstage. I’d gotten the set list and I had a feeling of when Iggy would be pretty wound up, so that’s when I had decided Elton would go onstage.

"At a certain point, I said to Elton, ‘Okay, lumber on,’ and I showed him where he could get on stage.” Lawrence starts laughing hysterically, “and all of a sudden, this gorilla comes out onstage!

“Iggy was just stunned! He simply didn’t know what ... I think he was really ready to start crying and call the police or something,” she says triumphantly. “I think it was one of the greatest things anybody ever pulled.”

Everyone who witnessed it would agree.

For an audio assault of the Stooges live at Richards, check out the Raw Power Legacy Edition which features the bonus disc, “Georgia Peaches,” recorded during their residency at the Atlanta club in October, 1973.

PETTY Bio

An American Boy Dept. ... When writing began on this column, many people involved in Atlanta’s music industry were contacted regarding memories of Tom Petty, especially during his early days around the release of his first two albums. There were the obvious — his wearing a leather jacket on the cover of his first LP and the inclusion of a Petty song on an early German punk compilation both had him lumped in with punk rock and new wave, which he was not. But could anyone remember if he and the Heartbreakers had played Atlanta before their opening for Blondie and the Kinks at the Fox Theatre Aug. 6, 1978? No. Everyone fell short. And perhaps therein lies Tom Petty’s legacy. From seemingly inauspicious beginnings, with good musicianship, better songwriting, hard work and determination, while maintaining a loyalty to your fans, success can be achieved — even if you’re a smirky kid from Gainesville, Florida, with nothing more than a dream.

Rummaging through my files, I came across this, the biography one sheet sent out with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the band’s first album. Petty said it best then — and his words still ring true.

Upcoming .... The Jeff Mosier Band brings its bluegrass roots music back to the Vista Room tonight, Oct. 5, to “make music together and refocus our minds on the beautiful things in life through sound and songs” following such a heavy week. ... Friday night, Oct. 6, the Nighthawks, still fronted by original singer/harp player Mark Wenner, return to Blind Willie’s. ... Saturday night, Oct 7, the Avondale Towne Cinema presents Monster Jam II — an evening of songs that deal with a monster theme — and participating players dressing accordingly. It’s open to all musicians. See the club’s website for more information and the sign-up sheet. ... Sunday night at Eddie’s Attic, Lilly Winwood brings her music, steeped in her native England’s countryside and Nashville roots. If her last name doesn’t sound familiar to you, then, please, check her out on her own merits. ... Wednesday, Oct. 11, Five-Eight headlines the Star Bar, where you can expect to hear material from their new Songs For St. Jude release.

 



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