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Pressing the Flesh With Iggy Pop: My Encounter With the Godfather of Punk in 1977
Fresh from his year in Berlin with Bowie, you'll never guess where I met the living legend.
They say never meet your heroes, but when given the opportunity by a friend in 1977, I couldn’t turn this one down. By the time I met Iggy Pop, legendary Godfather of Punk and Rock’n’Roll Hall of Famer (with his late ‘60s-early ‘70s band, the Stooges, 2010), I had already spent hours with other punk cornerstones, the New York Dolls and the Ramones.
Meeting another punk legend, and this one in particular, was certainly on my to-do list. I just never imagined I’d end up meeting him exactly where I met him!
The timeline for our rendezvous might be a bit fuzzy, as there was no ticket stub or other official way to “time-stamp” the month or year. I do know I was working at Cactus Records (the Shepherd location), a popular Houston record store in 1977, about when this happened.
Context: Setting the Stage (and Recording Studios)
As for Iggy, he and good friend, David Bowie, were arrested and had charges dropped for marijuana possession in New York state during a spring ‘76 tour stop. David had taken Iggy on the road with him for his Station to Station-Isolar Tour as a companion.
Wanting to “get clean,” the two moved to West Berlin in late spring 1976 (the Isolar Tour ended in Paris on May 18…they would end up spending time in France, as well) and stayed for about a year, with time also spent in Berlin for recording parts of Bowie’s Low LP as well as all of “Heroes”.
Bouncing between northern France and Munich, the two also recorded Iggy’s The Idiot during the summer of ‘76 (Iggy had just been signed to RCA, joining Bowie as a labelmate). Bowie actually wrote most of the music for the album (and produced), with Iggy providing lyrics. Tapes began rolling for Bowie’s Low in the fall, shortly after The Idiot was completed.
Related: Behind the scenes of the Autumn 1977 taping of the Bowie/Bing Christmas Duet:
Critics and keen listeners have noticed a marked similarity in the sound of the two albums, recorded as they were back-to-back in the same French studio (Château d'Hérouville), and similar German studios (Munich’s Musicland for Iggy, Berlin’s Hansa for Bowie).
Low (the album recorded after Iggy’s The Idiot) was released first, in January 1977, on RCA Records, Bowie’s label since 1971. The label delayed the album’s release for several weeks, fearing (for some reason…maybe they didn’t hear a hit) poor sales. Nevertheless, the album started moving up the charts, prompting RCA to rush The Idiot into stores for early spring release.
The Idiot hit the streets in the US on my 22nd birthday (March 18) in 1977. Iggy hit the streets, himself, touring to support the album. Bowie, seeing no need to promote an album RCA didn’t believe in, toured with him providing almost backstage keyboards, and performing no songs himself.
I attended the Houston leg of that tour, and Bowie looked almost silly being half-concealed by the curtain downstage left sitting at an electric piano. But, always generous to a fault when it came time to support fellow artists, Bowie’s lack of a spotlight that might pull focus from his buddy on this tour was inspiring…and much appreciated by Iggy.
(Note: This concert website shows no The Idiot Houston stop on the Iggy tour with Bowie on keys. But, I know I saw an Iggy show with Bowie as described above, and I don’t recall travelling out of town to see it. When Iggy toured Lust for Life later that fall, there was a Houston stop, which I don’t believe I saw. Bowie did not travel with Iggy for that tour.)
Back to the Bayou City
A friend of mine, Kevin, worked at rival record store, Sound Warehouse. We were good enough friends that when Iggy had contacted him for an unannounced store visit, he called me: “Brad, come quick! Iggy’s gonna be here in about 20 minutes!” Why he didn’t come to Cactus is beyond me!
Legend has it that Elton John would visit the Sunset Blvd Tower Records in Los Angeles in the ‘70s. He would request they shut the place down for his shopping visit, where he would buy three of each desired album…one for each of his three homes!
“Call me Jim.”
Not quite the recognizable global superstar as a 1970s-era Elton, Iggy made no such request, although the store may have indeed locked their doors for this mid-afternoon, weekday drop-in. With my RCA Records promotional 2’x2’ poster of The Idiot’s front cover in hand, I walked in, and immediately saw Mr. Osterberg quietly browsing the Classical cassette section!
Noticeably absent was anybody in Iggy’s “inner circle,” assuming he had one. No management, no agent; not even an RCA label rep! It would be the next year when I would ask British punk recording artist Tom Robinson’s “people” for permission to take him in my car somewhere after one of his shows. They actually said, “yes,” although Tom had no idea where I was taking him! Read about it here:
“Call me Jim,” the inspiration for thousands, if not millions of those who call themselves punks, coolly intoned. I’m sure nothing but fan boy blather spewed from my lips, as we firmly shook hands, exchanging rapid pleasantries.
Not wanting to waste any of his time, I quickly unrolled the poster and produced a black marker, both of which I handed to…uh, Jim, and kindly asked him to sign it.
First, he scribbled a Hitler mustache onto his upper lip (the one on the poster), a curious thing to do considering where he’d just been living for several months! Next came this: “To Brad, Drop dead, Iggy Pop.” That poster is still somewhere on the planet (this one). I sold it on eBay around the turn of the century (this one).
It would be just a few months later, in January 1978, where I would get verbally dissed by another punk kingpin, Johnny Rotten.
The story of seeing the Sex Pistols’ show in San Antonio, and my run-ins with Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten, can be read, here: