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Stooges' Lead Guitarist in San Jose

James Williamson, backed by Careless Hearts, brought 'Raw Power' to the Blank Club.

It was one of those epic nights that really did put San Jose on the map. James Williamson of the Stooges played at the Blank Club downtown —his first gig in 35 years.

Back in 1973, Williamson played guitar on and wrote much of the music for the seminal Iggy and the Stooges LP Raw Power, an album whose influence on the punk genre—and 15 years later, grunge—cannot be overstated. With the deranged Iggy Pop belting out the vocals, that album is still cherished as a definitive influence on everybody from the Sex Pistols to Henry Rollins, from the Smiths to Nirvana.

Williamson, now 59, had been toiling away as a Silicon Valley executive for the last 25 years—completely unbeknownst to anyone here—and this show marked his official return to the raucous guitar sounds of old. The Careless Hearts, a local San Jose band that normally plays laid-back country rock, and that sounds nothing remotely like the Stooges, backed him up for the special gig, which he set up in order to prepare for an upcoming Stooges reunion in 2010. They nailed it. With Williamson slinging axes onstage right next to them, and former Stooges sax player Steve Maxkay blowing his parts from the Funhouse album, the band went through the Stooges' best-known songs, along with a few surprises.

Watching Williamson play the unforgettable guitar lead for "Search and Destroy" was an incredible thing no one has witnessed in three decades, and he played a mean solo on "Johanna," from his post-Stooges collaboration with Iggy, Kill City. Careless Hearts lead singer Paul Kimball did a convincing Iggy impression (though he stated flat out at the beginning that his shirt wasn't coming off) especially as the band raged through the end of the set with "Loose," "TV Eye," "Search and Destroy" and "I Got A Right."

"I don't know about you guys, but I think this Stooge is out of retirement," Kimball said before an encore of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and the oft-bootlegged Iggy version of "Louie Louie."

The show was easily the most heralded gig in the Blank Club’s history, with fans from across the United States showing up to attend. Legendary drummer and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Clem Burke of Blondie, in the Bay Area performing with Magic Christian, showed up and hung out in the crowd. Several folks in the audience sported haircuts not seen since the ’70s and many looked like they had pulled out 30-year-old duds from the closet just for the occasion. After the show concluded, fans lined up for almost 30 minutes to have Williamson autograph LPs, posters, magazines and other items—something not usually seen at a 250-capacity venue in downtown San Jose.