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Aaron Gilbreath | Longreads | April 2019 | 48 minutes (8,041 words)
In 1973, East Coast rock promoter Howard Stein assembled a special New Year’s Eve concert at New York City’s Academy of Music. It was a four-band bill. Blue Öyster Cult headlined. Iggy and the Stooges played third, though the venue’s marquee only listed Iggy Pop, because Columbia Records had only signed Iggy, not the band. A New York glam band named Teenage Lust played second, and a new local band named KISS opened. This was KISS’s first show, having changed their name from Wicked Lester earlier that year. According to Paul Trynka’s Iggy Pop biography, Open Up and Bleed, Columbia Records recorded the Stooges’ show “with the idea of releasing it as a live album, but in January they’d decided it wasn’t worthy of release and that Iggy’s contract would not be renewed.” When I first read that sentence a few years ago, my heart skipped the proverbial beat and I scribbled on the page: Unreleased live show??? I was a devoted enough Stooges fan to know that if this is true, this shelved live album would be the only known full multitrack recording ever made of a vintage Stooges concert.
The Stooges existed from late 1967 to early 1974. They released three studio albums during their brief first life, wrote enough songs for a fourth, paved the way for metal and punk rock, influenced musicians from Davie Bowie to the Sex Pistols, popularized stage diving and crowd-surfing, and were so generally ahead of their time that they disbanded before the world finally came to appreciate their music. Their incendiary live shows were legendary. Iggy taunted listeners. He cut himself, danced, posed, got fondled and punched, and by dissolving the barrier between audience and performer, changed rock ‘n’ roll.
“We never knew what would happen,” Stooges guitarist James Williamson said in Open Up and Bleed. Musician Cub Koda, who witnessed many gigs, agreed. “[T]hey could do twenty minutes and be brilliant, then all of a sudden the set would go to hell in a handcart.” At the Goose Lake Festival in 1970, Iggy accidentally incited the inebriated crowd to tear down a fence. At the New York club Ungano’s in 1970, Iggy walked across tables, hung from exposed pipes in the club’s ceiling, did a backflip, and leapt back onstage. At Max’s Kansas City in 1973, he rolled on some glasses and kept performing as blood squirted from the wound. Stooges music scared people. Iggy both terrified and enchanted. The shirtless singer was the most beautiful specimen many listeners had ever seen. Yet one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest tragedies is the fact that no one seems to have recorded an entire original Stooges concert on high fidelity multitrack or professionally filmed an entire performance.
Since the band’s demise, devoted fans and opportunistic profiteers have done the only thing they could: gathered all live audience recordings, rehearsal and demo tapes, then released them as bootleg or semiofficial posthumous albums. The titles could fill a book: Metallic K.O.; A Thousand Lights: Live in 1970; the Heavy Liquid box set; Have Some Fun: Live at Ungano’s; You Don’t Want My Name… You Want My Action; More Power. New listeners rarely know where to start in the Stooges’ discography. All of this is historically important material. These murky live tracks and songs-in-progress offer glimpses of how the band’s fourth album could have sounded had they retained record label support. Most vintage Stooges concert recordings sound too awful to interest more than hardcore fans, because incredible performances are sunk in a swamp of low fidelity. Adding insult to injury, all the horrible bootleg covers with cheap fonts make the band look like camp horror rock better at chest cutting than songwriting, which undermines the band’s legacy as visionary rock ‘n’ rollers who set trends for decades. As one fan’s friend put it while listening to a bootleg: “[W]hy does everything you have by Iggy Pop sound like it was recorded up someone’s ass?” This is why a quality soundboard concert recording would be the ultimate Stooges score.
* * *
The Stooges story is as much about missed opportunities as musical genius. Rumors and what-if scenarios define the Stooges’ legacy. What if they’d recorded a follow-up to Raw Power? What if they’d released “Big Time Bum” as a single, as they’d told Motor City Rock and Roll News magazine they were going to in 1970? What if fans had a clear studio recording of their brief two-guitar line-up, instead of only audience recordings of it? What if, what if, what if. Instead, they never recorded “Big Time Bum” in the studio. They never properly documented their two-guitar lineup. They never released a fourth studio album until 2007, and it’s no Raw Power.
Rumors have long circulated about the amount of Stooges material that remains unreleased. Some fans speculate that Michigan photographer Leni Sinclair has uncirculated concert footage stored in her Detroit-area home. Others continue to believe Sinclair’s house burned down and took that footage with it, even though Sinclair has stated it wasn’t her house, but the People’s Ballroom, that burned, along with her color slides of the Stooges and MC5. Some fans think a few outtakes from the Raw Power era lurk in record company vaults. Others believe that guitarist James Williamson’s personal collection contains old unheard songs, or that the independent label Bomp! Records is sitting on some unreleased rehearsal tapes, for whatever reason. A Michigan musician even claims to have heard tapes of early Stooges home practices that his friend made back in the day. Much of this is wishful thinking, but the endless bootleg recordings and official reissues only fuel speculation.
In 1990, CBS Records formed Legacy Recordings, its catalog division, to preserve and reissue its vast archival holdings, and following the sale of CBS’s labels to Sony Music, which included Columbia, Okeh, and Epic, Legacy was tasked with reissuing some of the most beloved and historically important jazz, blues, folk, gospel, and rock in history. It also started looking for material inside its vaults.
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Starting in 2011, Columbia/Legacy began releasing a string of Miles Davis albums composed of music from the vaults. The six-part Bootleg Series contained music from 30 years of Davis’s time on the label. After letting Iggy and the Stooges fail without label support in the early 1970s, Columbia now gave the Stooges the same archival treatment, because time had proven the band to be a valuable commodity.
When Columbia/Legacy released the 3-CD, limited deluxe edition box set of the Stooges’ Raw Power in 2010, it had some unique Stooges music, including three unreleased studio outtakes — “Doojiman,” “I’m Hungry,” and “Hey Peter” — the song “Head On” from their potential fourth album, and a full, great-sounding audience recording of a 1973 show in Georgia whose audio Columbia professionally cleaned up. And yet, somehow there was more great stuff lying around.
Three years after the box set came out, a mysterious entity named Boca Del Rey Discos released 1,000 copies of a vinyl bootleg called Etiqueta Negra de Lugo. The only album Boca ever released, the LP included a scorching, untitled instrumental studio track that fans had never heard. This was a big deal. Of all the bootlegs that had come out in the preceding 40 years, no other one had this song. Was it a Raw Power outtake? An abandoned song idea? Fans made guesses and wondered why the Stooges hadn’t released it on the Raw Power box set, too. The song was that good. It certainly sounded better than the throwaway “Hey Peter” and another alternate mix of whatever song got mixed a hundred times by three different people. So where did it come from?
The name Boca Del Rey Discos translates to Mouth of the King Records. “I would lay even money on these tapes emanating from James Williamson,” a commenter wrote on YouTube. “Why neither Columbia/Legacy nor Easy Action [Records] managed to find a way to prise them from his grasp is unknown — maybe they just didn’t bother to ask.”
“They recorded a lot with James,” another fan said on a message board in 2014. “Mostly demos and practice tapes, but there is even more that still hasn’t seen the light of day.” That’s a titillating, but unsubstantiated idea. Fans get info from other fans, recycling hearsay and circulating misinformation. With the Stooges, it’s hard to confirm anything. As James Williamson said to writer Joel Gausten more than a decade ago, “Basically, everybody’s dead except Iggy and I.”
With the truth locked inside a maze of blurry facts and hearsay as convoluted as the Stooges’ discography, it’s hard to know who to trust. Trynka’s Open Up and Bleed is one of the few sources of vetted information. After all, the book was fact-checked, so reading it, I believed the info about the Academy of Music recording had to be accurate, right?
Outside of the book, the most useful information about the Academy show is a mediocre audience recording, the setlist, and between eight and 11 minutes of mostly silent black-and-white 8 mm footage shot by a musician named Ivan Kral. The Stooges played eight songs at the Academy: “Raw Power,” “Rich Bitch,” “Wet My Bed,” “I Got Nothing,” “Cock In My Pocket,” “Search And Destroy,” “Gimme Danger,” “Heavy Liquid,” and possibly a ninth, “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” If anyone might know what happened to Columbia’s live recording, Danny Fields might.
Back in the late 1960s, Elektra Records hired Fields to be their talent scout and publicity director, but an important part of his skill set was being countercultural. “Danny was the company freak at Elektra Records,” photographer Leee Black Childers said in Please Kill Me. “His job was to keep the stupid record company executives somehow in touch with the street.”
The young long-haired Fields dropped LSD, smoked weed in his office, and told the stiffs what new bands to sign. When Fields first saw the Stooges, they were playing with the MC5 on the University of Michigan campus in 1968. The union was a large wooden hall with high ceilings and great sound. “You could get those big amps crankin’,” Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton remembered in the documentary Gimme Danger, “and this room just rang.” Fields fell instantly in love with the Stooges, calling their performance “the music I had been waiting to hear all my life.”
“I had this maternity dress on and a white face,” Iggy said in the book Please Kill Me, “and I was doing unattractive things, spitting on people, things like that.”
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“I went up to Iggy when he came offstage and I said, ‘I’m from Elektra Records.’ He just said, ‘Yeah.’ He didn’t believe me. He thought I was like some janitor or some weirdo, because no one had ever said ‘I’m from a record company’ to Iggy.”
Iggy recalled the moment. “So this guy, Danny Fields, says to me, ‘You’re a star!’ just like in the movies. He said he worked for Elektra, so I figured he cleaned up as a janitor or something. I didn’t believe it, you know, like, ‘Get away from me, man.’” The Stooges eventually listened, and Fields signed them to Elektra in 1968. He taped one of their 1970 Ungano’s shows from the audience, taped them playing New York’s Electric Circus in 1971, and some fans believe he may have shot silent 8 mm footage of them playing at St. Louis’s American Theater in 1973. He didn’t even remember that he had the unreleased Stooges outtake “Asthma Attack” in his storage unit for 40 years. Apparently, he’s forgotten a number of things, and he hadn’t heard of Columbia taping the 1973 Academy of Music show. “I’m afraid I know nothing of the live recording you’re referring to,” he wrote in an email. That was disappointing. If not him, then who? Fields asked his friend James Marshall, a former DJ at WFMU.
“CBS did record that night on a mobile truck, also the rehearsal the week before in their studio,” Marshall said via email, “but when they did the Raw Power box the producers hunted high and low and could not find the tapes, they were probably destroyed or stolen way back when. The live album wasn’t released as it was deemed subpar. I wasn’t at the show, but I have the Night of the Iguana bootleg, from audience cassette, and you can tell Iggy is really a mess onstage.” Asked for more details, Marshall later said he “can’t remember where he read about the rumor of the mobile truck” and never believed it anyway.
James Williamson remembers things differently.
Williamson doesn’t recall where or when the unreleased instrumental on Etiqueta Negra de Lugo was recorded, but he is certain it wasn’t from the Raw Power sessions. That makes sense. The band recorded lots of rehearsals in 1972 and ’73. He remembered that CBS recorded the band’s 1973 studio rehearsals, when the label was evaluating whether to renew their contract to release an album after Raw Power. Williamson was adamant about the ’73 Academy show. “First, I can assure you that there was no remote truck recording us for that show,” Williamson said via email. “As was painfully shown with the lack of video footage for both the Raw Power reissue by Sony and the Jim Jarmusch video, the only film footage existing of that shoot was a brief handheld 8 mm clip shot as an afterthought on a home camera. No one wanted to spend the money developing film of us and nobody felt we were significant enough to spend the money. So, had CBS wanted to spend the money for a remote truck, you can be assured they would have spent a little on filming us as well.”
Trynka’s book is the best Iggy biography we have, and he’s a stellar journalist, but Williamson actually played the Academy show, so he seems a more credible source. More than a decade had passed since Trynka did the reporting for his book, and he couldn’t remember who told him about the recording. “But having had a quick look,” he told me, “I don’t think I can find whoever first mentioned the official recording to me. It could have been [L.A. underground music producer] Kim Fowley or [Doors manager] Danny Sugerman, it’s over a dozen years ago now and I can’t remember!” He could say with confidence that his source “would have been a direct one, not a previous magazine story unless it was contemporary.” To help confirm details, he contacted the Stooges’ sound engineer Robert Czaykowski, aka Nite Bob, who did the sound for that show.
Nite Bob engineered sound for New York Dolls, Aerosmith, and Steely Dan. In 1973, he ran sound for much of the Stooges’ final tour. Part of his job was to make sure the guitars sounded clear and loud enough to destroy the audience with a sound the band called “the clang.” About the Academy recording, Nite Bob told Trynka, “I remember a truck being there, but I thought it was for Blue Öyster Cult.”
Like the Stooges, Blue Öyster Cult were signed to Columbia Records in 1973, and some fans believe that Columbia recorded BOC’s performance and locked the recording in the company vaults. BOC’s publicist Steve Schenck says that’s false. “That show was not recorded with a mobile truck,” he told me. “I was there.” In 1973, Schenck was working as what he called the band’s errand boy. To confirm his memory, he asked singer-guitarist Eric Bloom, the original drummer Albert Bouchard, and their old front-of-house sound engineer George Geranios. “We recorded many shows in ’74 for what became the double live album On Your Feed or On Your Knees,” Schenck said. No one remembers Columbia recording the ’73 Academy of Music show.
Steve Martin, Iggy Pop’s publicist, asked Iggy’s management team about the Academy recording, who asked Columbia Records and Iggy himself. “I checked,” Martin told me, “and as far as we all know, they do not exist and if they do, no one seems to know where.”
Shelved, lost, stolen, never made — how does one recording live so many different lives?
* * *
Music gets lost and found all the time, especially in the various storage areas people call vaults.
To many fans, record company vaults are mysterious, mythologized places where corporations hoard material, letting art languish and die, exposed to thieves and the ravages of time, and deprive the world of music. They can certainly be repositories of lost treasures that only see the light of day if considered sufficiently profitable. To record labels, vaults are places to store recordings and control assets, where executives can keep subpar music from release and protect its investments and artists’ reputations. The Blue Note jazz label did this all the time. During the 1950s and ’60s, Blue Note would record tons of sessions with its musicians, like organist Jimmy Smith, and stagger the releases so not to flood the market. But the label often kept certain sessions that they deemed less inspired performances.
Rather than in vaults, some recordings get stored in people’s basements, attics, or closets, where they’re forgotten, damaged, or stolen. A rare audience recording of the Stooges’ two-guitar lineup once existed. Members of the Detroit band Matt Gimmick snuck a tape recorder into the Palladium in Birmingham, Michigan, and reportedly recorded the Stooges’ performance in late 1970 or spring 1971. The set consisted of songs Iggy and James Williamson cowrote but never fully or ever recorded in the studio for an album. Back home, the young band listened to the tape over and over to learn how to play them, and they did something the Stooges never could: They released their own studio recordings of two of those songs. That LP is rare but at least it exists. Unfortunately, the band lost their recording of the Stooges’ Palladium show decades ago. Guitarist Alan Webber never made copies of the tape.
On the Stooges fan forum, a fan named Rupert confirmed a rumor that the band performed “1969” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog” on Philadelphia’s short-lived Hy Lit TV show in 1969. A friend of the band named Natalie Schlossman produced a zine back in the late 1960s and early ’70s called Popped. She attended numerous Stooges concerts, published her own concert photos, hooked the band up with taper Michael Tipton, who famously recorded the band’s last concert, and she was in the studio during their Hy Lit performance. “HY Lit was a very popular DJ for many years,” she told Rupert. “This show was locally aired only. Jeanne taped the show with one of those old reel-to-reel cameras. We were up in the sound booth looking down at the studio. I did view the tape afterward but the quality was not great.” This was among the band’s earliest TV performances. “I know you will ask,” she told the interviewer, “so I will tell you that the tape is not around now.”
The flipside to all this sad news is that lost music occasionally gets found. After years of requesting access to the Blue Note vault, twenty-seven year old jazz enthusiast Michael Cuscuna finally got in there in 1975. He not only found an alternate take of Thelonious Monk’s famous song “Well You Needn’t,” but numerous unissued, album-length recordings by jazz legends Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley, Grant Green, Tina Brooks, and Jimmy Smith. Hindsight proved many of the labels original assessments were wrong.
A live 1957 recording of John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk sat in the Library of Congress’s archives unnoticed for 48 years, before the library’s Magnetic Recording Laboratory supervisor Larry Appelbaum found it. For 60 years , Verve stored a live recording of Ella Fitzgerald performing at Zardi’s Jazzland in Hollywood, before releasing it in 2017 just after what would have been her 100th birthday. In 2017, a DJ and music historian named Amir Abdullah helped unearth a pristine radio broadcast of Charles Mingus playing a Detroit gallery in 1973. Reels containing previously unknown early live recordings of jazz guitar giant Wes Montgomery sat for decades in peoples’ houses, falling apart.
The demo cassettes for Jimi Hendrix’s Black Gold Suite album project, thought lost for decades, or possibly stolen, were simply sitting in drummer Mitch Mitchell’s house, sealed with Jimi’s headband.
At a New York City street sale in 2002, Montreal record store owner Warren Hill found a 75-cent record with a handwritten label that said “The Velvet Underground Att Mr -N- Dolph 4/25/66.” It turned out to be the second known copy of the Velvet Underground’s first studio recording session, known as the Scepter Studios acetate. Hill’s copy sold at auction for $25,200.
In 2009, archivist and author Jeff Gold found a previously unknown live recording of Bob Dylan performing at Brandeis University in 1963. It languished in the huge personal archives of Rolling Stone cofounder Ralph Gleason. After his wife Jean Gleason died, the Gleason family slowly and carefully sold some of Ralph’s collection to a select group of buyers. In a basement stuffed with tapes and ephemera, Gold found a previously unknown live recording of Bob Dylan playing Brandeis University right before he got famous. After Gold negotiated a deal with Dylan’s manager Jeff Rosen, the show was officially released as a live album two years later. “Still,” Gold said, “after all these years, to find an unknown Dylan tape, and one this good — I was astounded.” Everyone was.
Liner notes for the 2-CD rerelease of the Stooges’ self-titled debut album list Gold as a “tape researcher,” but he’s so much more. He’s a record collector, music historian, art director, author, and researcher whose passion has made his life a musical adventure. He’s worked for A&M Records and Warner Bros. Records. He created the Stooges oral history with Iggy Pop called Total Chaos: The Story of The Stooges / As Told by Iggy Pop. At his core, he’s a fan who collects, preserves, and sells rare records and related ephemera, everything from old record store signage to concert posters and lyrics, on his website Record Mecca. People constantly contact Gold about material they think is valuable and want him to assess.
“I get calls every day about stuff,” he told the Wall Street Journal. In 2014, a man invited him to look at two boxes labeled old records that remained in his sister’s Manhattan building on 124 W. Houston Street in Manhattan. “It looks like there’s about 150 of them,” he told Gold. “I think they’re all Bob Dylan.” Once Gold started meticulously listening and identifying their contents, he discovered the 149 acetates contained unreleased cover songs and works-in-progress during the making of the albums Nashville Skyline, Self Portrait, and New Morning. Many of the songs had never been heard before. “As for the condition,” Gold said. “I think Bob played each of these once, twice, or maybe three times, and put them back in the sleeves. They sat boxed up in a closet for more than forty years , which is probably the ideal way of storing them.” These are the kinds of stories that give people hope that more Stooges material could still lurk in some cluttered basement: If someone could just find Columbia’s ’73 Academy recordings, or recover lost Stooges footage, their release would cause an uproar.
Around 2002, Danny Fields let Gold assess the contents of his personal archives and storage locker, and buy whatever interested him. Fields hadn’t paid his storage bill for a few months. “It didn’t seem to me he had any intention of paying his storage locker fees,” Gold told me. “My educated guess is I saved this from going into a dumpster.”
“Danny was one of those guys who saved everything,” Gold said, “so he had file cabinets full of stuff. You’d look up ‘1971,’ and there would be everything from postcards from Lou Reed to a Christmas card from his printer thanking him for his business, or dry cleaning receipts, or you name it, and it was indiscriminately saved. So I just sat on his floor for days and went through file by file, item by item, and pulled out anything that I was interested in buying from him.”
Gold paid the storage bill and spent a few days excavating its contents with flashlights. “So there were reel-to-reel tapes with no boxes, unlabeled. There were reel-to-reel tapes in boxes, labeled. There were cassettes. I couldn’t really tell what was what,” Gold said. Since it was Fields’s, he knew it was worth saving and would contain important material, so he made an offer based on his assessment, what he called “a grab bag situation.” “There were a couple of boxes of reel-to-reel tapes that said ‘The Stooges’ on ’em, and one that said ‘The Velvet Underground.’ There were cassettes. I could tell what maybe 25 percent of it was, but a lot of stuff was unlabeled. So it was kind of like, I guess it’s worth taking a shot, these are Danny’s tapes, so I figured, overall, it would all work out.”
He rented a studio in order to identify the contents of the reel-to-reel tapes. He found Fields’s audience recording of the Stooges playing Ungano’s in New York City in 1970, the earliest known live Stooges recording. He found a full copy of John Cale’s original rejected mix of the band’s debut self-titled album, along with uncut, extended versions of songs like “No Fun” and “Ann.” And he found one unreleased outtake called “Asthma Attack.” Unlike so much Stooges material, this track had never circulated publicly. Granted, it wasn’t good, but it was rare. Fields didn’t even know he had it.
“Fields was the band’s A&R guy,” Gold explained, “and got copies of everything there was. He wasn’t in the bootlegging world. He was in the throw-it-in-a-box-never-to-be-looked-at-again world. When I bought this stuff, it was before the Stooges had reunited. They were a band of fascination to record collectors and people like myself, but it wasn’t like anybody was gonna go make millions of dollars doing Stooges bootlegs. … I think he literally just saved everything, which was great, and if you’d ask him about something specific he’d say, ‘I don’t know.’”
Gold was Rhino Records’ first employee back when it started in L.A. in 1973. For years he urged his friends at Rhino to release the recordings he’d found, despite little general interest in the Stooges at the time. Eventually, Rhino bought it all for what Gold described as “some marginal amount of money.” For the 2010 rerelease of the Stooges’ debut album, Rhino released Cale’s mix and “Asthma Attack” in its super collectors “Handmade” series. “The live Stooges recordings we have are just what happened to be captured and then what happened to survive. Again, these Danny tapes happened to survive only because he kept everything and because I happened to show up and pay his bill. It wasn’t as if they were carefully protected for forty years because everybody knew this was important history. It was accidental history. That’s exactly what it is: accidental history.”
Music history, like the general historic record, is a frequently bizarre, hopeful blend of reality and fantasy. The deeper you delve into the Stooges, the more warped the stories get and the more you realize the role accidents play in preserving what little documents fans have.
Musician, music collector, and writer Ben Blackwell put me in touch with someone who had a story.
In 1982 or ’83, organist Dave Feeny answered an ad in Detroit’s Metro Times. A local show promoter named Gail Parenteau was selling a bunch of antiquated equipment that she’d inherited from the Magic Veil light show. Back in the ’60s, companies like Magic Veil would project colorful slides of swirling abstract images on top of bands playing concerts and across the venue walls. By the 1970s, punk pushed all that hippie stuff out of favor. But Feeny’s 1980s band the Hysteric Narcotics was part of a throwback music scene called the Paisley Underground that appreciated that psychedelic aesthetic. The band paid Parenteau a few hundred dollars for five or six boxes filled with half a dozen 16 mm film reels, approximately six projectors in various states of decay, hundreds of slides, and modified slide projectors. Terry Murphy, brother of the Hysteric Narcotics’ singer, owned a 16 mm movie projector, so the band played the reels to see what they’d bought. They found live Grand Funk Railroad footage, some live MC5. The tapes kept falling apart. On one of the reels they found clips of Iggy Pop dancing on stage. “At the moment we were bigger fans of MC5,” Feeny told me, “but of course we knew who the Stooges were.” When they first watched the Stooges reel, they had no idea how little archival Stooges footage existed, or where this footage was shot. What they’d found is some of the crispest and earliest surviving vintage Stooges concert footage. Leni Sinclair shot it at the July 1969 Delta Pops Festival at Delta Community College in University Center, Michigan. The show had been legendary, because Iggy lifted a female student from the crowd and carried her on his shoulder. She was the daughter of a high-ranking school administrator. The school threatened to withhold the band’s $300 payment, but the concert promoter intervened, the group got paid, and the promoter was banned from ever putting on another show at the campus. The audience watched nervously as Iggy lifted her up. You can see this in the film. “We didn’t know really the significance of it until later,” Feeny told me. “We just thought it was like, Oh it’s just more of this stuff from that era that she must have shot.”
Murphy transferred the film to VHS around 1983. Their friend Jim Shaw, owner of the beloved Detroit-area vintage clothing store Cinderella’s Attic, had a lot of friends, and as the footage circulated among fans and Detroit musicians, Shaw got a VHS copy to Sinclair in Ann Arbor. After he contacted her, she explained that she hadn’t intended to document the Stooges or use that footage for anything. She came to capture the MC5’s performance and was just testing out her equipment, which is why she only captured snippets of the Stooges. Jim Jarmusch used it in his 2016 documentary Gimme Danger. It’s some of the only vintage footage in the film. “That could’ve been half of it for all I know,” Feedy said. “Maybe they had a bunch more stuff as well, and that’s just the stuff that she kept.” Ben Blackwell heard this story through the collector grapevine.
Blackwell grew up in Detroit, buying records, playing drums, and listening to rock ‘n’ roll in what is arguably America’s most influential rock city. Blackwell is steeped in Detroit rock lore. The first place he drove when he got his license was Car City Records in St. Clair Shores, Michigan. After his uncle Jack White started Third Man Records in 2001, he eventually hired Blackwell to work in production and distribution. He’s spent a lot of time researching Michigan bands like the Stooges, deepening his historical knowledge and his connection to the network of collectors who sell and trade rare Stooges material. It was Blackwell who provided the crystal-clear vintage black-and-white footage that appears in Third Man’s promo to Gold’s book Total Chaos, and in Gimme Danger. Blackwell told me he “bought that from a local Detroit collector a few years back. No idea who shot it originally, but pretty certain that it’s from the Grande Ballroom.” Where did it come from?
“You know, the circle of Detroit rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia collectors is pretty small,” he said. “You buy things on eBay for a couple years and you start to get to know the players. And you start running a record label with Jack White’s name attached and the rest of the ones you haven’t met start to reach out to you. So I became aware of a collector who supposedly had some film. He hadn’t been able to watch them in forever, I promised him that I would share a DVD of the footage once I had it transferred and it was all pretty simple. As for where he got it … who knows. He never really made it clear. Shit passed through so many hands.”
Blackwell had other stories.
“I have heard anecdotes that the Iggy and the Stooges show at the St. Clair Shores Civic center with Bob Seger was professionally filmed,” he told me. “A friend of mine, who’s since passed away, said he went to a hotel party after the show and the crew who filmed the show set it up to playback for Iggy that night. With whatever drugs or women were at the party, Iggy was reportedly not distracted in the least; he wanted to see his own moves!”
As far-fetched as this scenario sounds, it is plausible. The Super 8 camera allowed amateur photographers to process their film quickly enough to view it after a concert, without editing. Similarly, Sony introduced the PortaPak and the EIAJ-1, two portable cameras that could record and be ready for viewing in a few hours. Even though PortaPaks were expensive, journalists and film collectives around the country had access to these cameras. But knowing that a professional, possibly multicamera, shoot of this show could once have existed makes the idea of its disappearance feel like even more of a loss.
Blackwell had another story: “Beyond that, some of the footage I have also came from a local Detroit record store. Third Man was working on an event to celebrate the Detroit Rock City book by Steve Miller a few years back. We were planning a panel discussion, sharing rare audio and I wanted to top it off with some film too. Years earlier I’d heard of some homeless guy bringing a box of stuff into the shop Record Graveyard that had two reels and a bunch of paper that seemed to belong to John Sinclair. Supposedly a letter of commendation from the governor from 1972 (or 1974?) made out to Sinclair. The guy said he’d found the box in an abandoned garage somewhere in Detroit. Jeff Garbus, who owns Record Graveyard, had held on to the reels for a few years, showed them at some benefits and events around Detroit, but when I asked him if he’d lend them to me for this Detroit Rock City event in Nashville, he said, ‘Just send me some records and consider them yours.’”
As unreal as the idea of film sitting in an abandoned garage sounds, in Detroit, it seems possible. In 2013, 31,000 buildings reportedly stood abandoned, from theaters to houses — people just walked away from foreclosures — and by 2013, 30 percent of the city had become vacant land, leveled by fire or demolition, only to return to woods and what locals call “urban prairie.” That’s a lot of space for things to get lost and found. What’s miraculous is that this film survived those mean Michigan winters and the city’s frequent arsons and demolitions, before finding their way to an archivist like Gold and Blackwell.
“To Jeff’s credit, a true collector can usually tell when it makes sense to let something go if it’s going to live at a better place,” Blackwell said. “I mean, passion is the ultimate drive. You have to love the stuff. You have to care about it. You can’t be in it for any expected PAYOFF. You have to care about the history, about telling the story, about uncovering an artifact or a recording that can help change the way that we tell our stories.”
James Marshall’s remembered rumor, Paul Trynka, and Nite Bob’s stories about the Academy recording were all incorrect. No board tape existed. But what if a Stooges board tape did exist and, before anyone remembered where they’d last put it, it got thrown out after a foreclosure, or stolen from a collector’s house, liquidated at a fire sale, or burned in one of the hundreds of actual fires that used to get set on Detroit’s notorious Devil’s Night? It seems vaguely possible.
If Columbia recorded the Academy of Music show, Jeff Gold would probably have heard of it. He told me, “I don’t know anything about that tape I’m afraid.” In fact, he doubts Columbia would have made it.
Consider the timeline. The Academy show happened on December 31, 1973. At some point either before the show or shortly after, Columbia dropped Iggy Pop, or at least didn’t renew his contract, which left the Stooges without a record label for the second time in their short life. If Columbia viewed the Stooges as a money pit, and recording on a mobile truck was expensive, why would the record label spend the money recording a band they already knew they didn’t want? Stooges photographer and friend Robert Matheu debunked the rumor using the same logic.
Blackwell hadn’t heard of this Academy of Music recording either, and he questioned its existence from the same economic perspective. “Putting on my record label hat,” he said, “Raw Power wasn’t performing well by any standards, Columbia surely wasn’t looking to sink MORE money into the band (they’d exclusively signed Iggy, remember?) and at that point, with the players being so mercurial based on whatever substances were available backstage each night, to drop the dough on a live album would’ve been a terrible decision by any label exec worth his salt.”
* * *
Maybe this isn’t such a loss after all. The show was documented in other forms than a multitrack, so we know it wasn’t one of the band’s better performances.
An English writer named Chris Charlesworth attended the Academy show and wrote about it for the popular U.K. weekly Melody Maker. “[The venue] had been described to me earlier as a 3,000 seater urinal which was a little cruel but it doesn`t figure in my personal favourite venue list after last night,” wrote Charlesworth. “The audience are of the more bizarre category, some dressed as flashily as the bands and others resembling down and outs seeking a warm retreat for a few hours away from the cold outside. Within two minutes of arriving a sallow looking youth has inquired whether I have any acid to sell. At the front door there’s a search: could be for a gun.”
Built as a movie theater by William Fox in 1927, the 3,600-seat Academy of Music stood in Manhattan’s East Village at East 14th Street and 3rd Avenue. It took its name from the opera house across the street after the Consolidated Gas Company demolished that building. Sid Bernstein, the promoter who booked the Beatles’ first U.S. tour, was the first person to book rock bands at the Academy, including the Kinks, the Rolling Stones, and Herman’s Hermits in the 1960s.
Howard Stein started booking rock shows at the Academy in 1971. He put Black Sabbath on a bill with Jeff Beck. He booked Foghat, King Crimson, Joe Cocker, Humble Pie, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Roxy Music, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. In 1971, Stein booked the Band there four nights in a row. Capitol Records recorded all four sets and released them as a 4-CD box set, featuring a set with Bob Dylan. Rolling Stone called the album an instant classic. Many fans consider these the Band’s definitive recordings. The room sounded that good. In December 1973, Lou Reed played the Academy of Music after leaving the Velvet Underground, and RCA released the official concert recording as Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal and Lou Reed Live. Ten days after Reed’s performance, the Stooges played.
KISS opened with a 30-minute set. “In that time,” bassist Gene Simmons remembered on Kissology, “I spit fire, caught my hair on fire — they thought it was part of the show — I threw something into the audience, which later resulted in an accident, which put somebody else on fire.”
“Variation of mood is not their forte, although what they play is effective enough,” Charlesworth wrote. “The closing number, ‘Firehouse,’ I think, ends with clouds of dry ice puffing from amps, flashing lights all round them and a display of fire-eating by the bass player. He even chucks a few loose flames out in the general direction of the audience and one fiery mass appears to land on an unfortunate youth`s head. He’s carried out holding his face in his hands but few seem to notice.”
Teenage Lust played after that. “We had a small Teenage Lust light-up-with-Christmas-lights kind of sign cut out of Styrofoam,” their singer Harold C. Black remembered. “[KISS] had the major, we’re talking Las Vegas–style light-bulb sign. And then KISS went on with the flames and the giant sign. It was like, if you pardon the expression, ’Oh, fuck.’ Not exactly what you wanted to go on after. And then [Simmons’s] hair went on fire and I’m like, ‘Is that part of the act? How is it that they did that?’ People in the front row said, ‘What the hell is this?’ They’d never seen anything like it before.”
Frontman Paul Stanley added, “The cheapest effect of all? I split my pants.” Breathing fire and splitting pants was nothing compared to the true, self-destructive chaos of the Stooges.
Like everyone else, KISS had heard raves about the Stooges’ wild shows. Stanley was unimpressed. “When it was time for the Stooges to play,” Stanley wrote in his memoir, Face the Music, “the band took the stage and started playing — without Iggy. Crew members had to carry Iggy down a flight of steps, drag him to the side of the stage, prop him up behind the curtains dangling there beside the stage, and then basically throw him onstage. Iggy could barely stand up, much less walk or jump. I suddenly realized why he did all those crazy contortions. Despite all the hype and legend, I thought the Stooges were awful.”
Charlesworth was equally unimpressed. “There are no changes since I last saw them in Los Angeles,” he wrote in Melody Maker. “At the Academy Iggy is contorting his features and screaming his head off behind a very basic and very noisy group. To be fair, I should point out that Iggy gets a hero’s welcome, but his particular writhing, his unintelligible vocals and his band’s total lack of any subtlety leave me cold as ice.”
Visually, there was nothing cold about Iggy’s performance. You can see for yourself.
That night, a musician named Ivan Kral captured part of the show on his 8 mm camera from the seventh row. Kral’s silent black-and-white footage shows close-ups of Iggy in tight shorts and tall leather boots, crawling on the stage between rows of light bulbs, leaning on a mic stand, bending over backward in a painful arch, and it shows brief grainy shots of James Williamson in a leather vest playing guitar. It’s some of the only known footage of the band in their heyday.
Kral was a musician whose band Luger played New York clubs like Max’s Kansas City in the early 1970s. Born in Czechoslovakia, his diplomat parents moved the family to the US by 1966. “I came from a country that banned rock ‘n’ roll,” Kral told Metromode. By ’66, Kral was already a rock ‘n’ roller. “We came to this country because my journalist father spoke publicly against the ‘damn commies’ to U Thant at a United Nations meeting. After the New York Times published it, the secret police were tailing us. My country was called the Czech Socialist Republic [from 1969 to 1990].” Fearing he’d be kidnapped by communist secret police if he left the country, he remained in the U.S. as a refugee, though he lived in fear of deportation. “I used my parent’s camera to film friends and the city. I figured the reel would be like my diary of America,” Kral said. “I thought I’d be able to share my home movies of the scene with my band mates in Prague. It’s all what I saw backstage. When I had to go onstage with Debbie [Harry] or Patti [Smith], I would just hand the camera to someone and ask them to continue filming,” he said in Metromode. Using his father’s Yashica Super 8 camera, he spent the early ’70s filming everyone in his New York rock circle: Television, the Ramones, the New York Dolls, Blondie, Talking Heads, Wayne County, most before they’d released their first albums. When the Stooges came to New York, he filmed them, too.
“The music was great. The performance was great,” Kral told one interviewer. “Sitting in the seventh row I filmed a guy who fell off the stage and let the audience carry him with their hands. It was original and he is an original.” ‘He’ meaning Iggy. “New Year’s Eve 1973 was chaos when Jim hit the stage,” Kral said. “Audience went nuts. Trampled, I dropped my Super 8, cut my hand on broken glass reaching for it under the stampede. I was more worried about the film than the camera! I woke up the next morning with bloody gashes plus footprints on my coat.”
Kral recorded parts of the intro and four songs: “Raw Power,” “Wet My Bed,” “I Got Nothing,” and supposedly 28 seconds of “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” He shot fragments because he didn’t shoot anything for commercial release. When the bands got famous, though, he recognized the value of his footage, so he and filmmaker Amos Poe compiled edited version of this incredible footage onto two indie films: Night Lunch and Blank Generation. Neither of these includes the Stooges footage.
Another photographer attended that night: a native New Yorker named Roni Hoffman. Close friends with Blue Öyster Cult, she took the opportunity to photograph them and the Stooges from the side of the stage. She’d already seen the Stooges at Max’s that year, and her contact sheets from the Academy reveal a who’s-who of musicians and rock journalist royalty in attendance that night. Patti Smith hung out backstage with Todd Rundgren, Bebe Buell, Nick and Sunny Tosches, and Richard Meltzer, as well as a record company employee whose name she couldn’t remember. This was New York. Record executives lived in the city, so they came to their bands’ shows. That didn’t mean he was there to oversee recording. She didn’t remember any recording being made. She does remember the show, though. “It was memorable,” Hoffman told me. “Iggy’s always memorable.”
* * *
And yet, even after hearing all of this, many fans will continue to believe that Columbia’s recording still wallows in the CBS vaults, lost, damaged, or stolen. I guess you’ll just have to believe whichever story tells the one you want to hear. The story I hear isn’t the one I want, though. It’s the one the facts suggest. It’s just that sources remember different things, memory is fallible, and the last thing Stooges fans need is more fuel for the rumor mill. You’d think that would be the end of it.
Just when one rumor gets put to rest, Third Man Records cofounder Ben Blackwell sent me this email: “Furthermore, without being able to divulge too much more, I can say that I have uncovered a full show of the Dave Alexander lineup, recorded off of the soundboard. Yes, you read that correctly. It sounds REALLY good. There’s still lots of moving parts, hence my caginess, but really, this thing sounds SICK. It is quite possibly the best live recording we will ever hear of the Stooges, damn near fifty years after it was recorded.” Alexander was the band’s original bassist. He’d left the band in 1970 and died a few years after Raw Power came out. Blackwell couldn’t say anymore.
That’s the Stooges for you. Even decades after their demise, nothing about them is ever simple except their guitar chords. As Iggy told the audience at their fourth reunion show in 2003: “We are the mother fucking Stooges! We are a freak of fucking nature!” Naturally, the band filmed this performance professionally and recorded it through the soundboard. You can listen on YouTube. Maybe doing so has stripped it of its mystique.
Tom Maxwell contributed reporting to this story.
Aaron Gilbreath is a writer and editor at Longreads. He’s the author of This Is: Essays on Jazz, the personal essay collection Everything We Don’t Know, and the forthcoming Through the San Joaquin Valley: The Heart of California.
Editor: Tom Maxwell; Fact-checker: Matt Giles
Copy editor: Jacob Z. Gross