Iggy Pop (born James Newell Osterberg, Jr.; April 21, 1947) is an American singer, songwriter, musician, and actor. Though widely known as an innovator and “godfather” of punk rock, Pop’s music has encompassed a number of styles over the years, including pop, hard rock, jazz and blues. Pop became known as ‘Iggy’ in high school, during which time he served as drummer for local blues band The Iguanas. He is vocalist of influential protopunk band The Stooges (Pop and the other surviving members of the group reunited in 2003), having become known, since the late 1960s, for his outrageous and unpredictable stage antics.
Though his popularity has fluctuated through the years, many of Pop’s songs have become well-known, including “Lust for Life“, “The Passenger“, “Real Wild Child“, “Candy” (a duet with Kate Pierson ofThe B-52’s), “China Girl“, “Nightclubbing“, “Search and Destroy” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog“.
James Newell Osterberg, Jr. was born in Muskegon, Michigan, the son of Louella (née Christensen) and James Newell Osterberg, Sr., a former high school English teacher and baseball coach at Fordson High School in Dearborn, Michigan. Osterberg was raised in a trailer park just off old U.S. Route 23 in Ypsilanti, Michigan. He is of Irish and English descent on his father’s side, and of Norwegian and Danish ancestry on his mother’s. His father was adopted by a Swedish American family and took on their surname (Österberg).
Osterberg began his music career as a drummer in various high school bands in Ann Arbor, Michigan. One band was the Iguanas, from the name of which he adopted his future moniker Iggy. After exploring local blues-style bands such as the Prime Movers (with brothers Dan and Michael Erlewine), he eventually dropped out of the University of Michigan and moved to Chicago to learn more about blues. While in Chicago, he played drums in blues clubs, helped by Sam Lay (formerly of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band) who shared his connections with Iggy. Inspired by Chicago blues as well as bands like The Sonics and The MC5, he formed the Psychedelic Stooges and began calling himself Iggy. The band was composed of Iggy on vocals, Ron Asheton on guitar, Asheton’s brother Scott on drums, and Dave Alexander on bass.
The seeds of Iggy Pop’s stage persona were sown when he saw The Doors perform in 1967 at the University of Michigan and was amazed by the stage antics and antagonism displayed by singer Jim Morrison. Morrison’s extreme behavior, while performing in a popular band, inspired the young Pop to push the boundaries of stage performance. Pop was the first performer to do a stage-dive, which he started at a concert in Detroit. Other exploits of Pop include rolling around in broken glass, exposing himself to the crowd and vomiting on stage.
In 1968, one year after their live debut and now dubbed The Stooges, the band signed with Elektra Records, again following in the footsteps of The Doors, who were Elektra’s biggest act at the time (reportedly, Pop called Moe Howard to see if it was all right to call his band “The Stooges,” to which Howard responded by merely saying “I don’t care what they call themselves, as long as they’re not the Three Stooges!” and hung up the phone). The Stooges’ first two albumsThe Stooges, (on which Iggy was credited, much to his displeasure, as “Iggy Stooge”), produced by John Cale; and Fun House, sold poorly. Shortly after the new members joined, the group disbanded because of Pop’s growing heroin addiction.
In 1971, Iggy Pop and David Bowie met at Max’s Kansas City, a nightclub and restaurant in New York City. Pop’s career received a boost from his relationship with Bowie when Bowie decided in 1972 to produce an album with Pop in England. With James Williamson signed on as guitarist, the search began for a rhythm section. However, since neither Pop nor Bowie was satisfied with any players in England, they decided to re-unite The Stooges. It would not be a true reunion insofar as Dave Alexander, due to alcoholism, was unable to play on the record (he died in 1975). Also, Ron Asheton grudgingly moved from guitar to bass to make way for Williamson to play guitar. The recording sessions produced the rock landmark Raw Power. After its release Scott Thurston was added to the band on keyboards/electric piano and Bowie continued his support, but Iggy’s drug problem persisted. The Stooges’ last show ended in a fight between the band and a group of bikers, documented on the album Metallic K.O. Drug abuse stalled his career again for several years.