Deniz Tek and James Williamson

 Deniz Tek and James Williamson

Deniz Tek and James Williamson both started in bands that sold bugger all records when they were together the first time round. Several decades later both got the bands back together and got the respect they deserved. In the meantime, one became a record label executive while the other became a Navy flight surgeon and an ER doctor.  You couldn’t make it up. 

James Williamson and Deniz Tek reunite for their second collaboration (the first being Acoustic KO). There ain’t nothing soft about their new LP Two to One. Old school loud Rock ’n’ Roll that the pair is known for, with elements of the Detroit garage sound both mastered in the 70s. 

Deniz and James joined me from their US home-bases.  

Munster: How did the idea for the LP Two to One come about?

Deniz: Well James was doing some work with Cleopatra Records, and doing session work with some of their later releases, including Mitch Ryder and Robert Gordon. So he was in contact with their A & R guy Matt Green who was a person I’ve known for a while, having worked with Cleopatra in the past. It was there idea to get us together for a new album of originals with an electric Rock ‘n’ Roll band.

Munster:  It’s not the first time you guys have worked together; you made the Acoustic KO EP a few years back. Something must have clicked with you guys to continue working together.

James: Yeah once we actually met each other, which wasn’t until 2011 at the Ron Asheton memorial show. We realized we spent a lot of time in Hawaii. So we got to know each other, and throughout the processes, I came up with the idea of the Acoustic KO EP, and I found out Deniz could sing, so that worked out well. We collaborated on that, and I think what Matt Green saw in the whole thing was that we work well together. He said why don’t you guys try this and we thought why not?

Munster: Did you guys work together from the start or did you work separately then show the other whatever ideas you came up with?

Deniz: It wasn’t so much jamming it out, it was more I came up with some song ideas, ran them by James, and he gave me his comments and input. So I could fine tune them, or in some cases throw them out and start again and vice versa. The thing is I write my own lyrics. James writes music but doesn’t write lyrics. He goes to a couple of guys for lyrics, and I contributed some as well to his songs. So we did home demos and swap back and forth. We went back and forth on these songs for about six months to the point they were ready to record.

James Williamson (left) and Deniz Tek [photo: Anne Tek]

Munster: You guys must have been super keen to continue the collaboration.

Deniz: I was excited about it. Like James said, the Acoustic KO EP we did, two Raw Power songs and two Kill City songs, came out great. It was another step in the process of doing an old fashioned, old school Rock ‘n’ Roll album, with amps and drums.

Munster: what was it like that first meeting at the Ron Asheton memorial show in 2011? And what songs did you guys perform?

Deniz: They had me do a short set of songs from the first two albums. I did TV Eye, Real Cool Time, Dirt and Loose. Then James did a Raw Power set with the band, as well as Dog. Henry Rollins sang a song, at the end we all got up and did No Fun.

Munster: James how aware where you of what was happening in Australia? Were you aware of Birdman and the Saints?

James: Well I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t hear any of it. It wasn’t until I actually met Deniz I was aware of a lot of it. I didn’t go to Australia until the Stooges reunion, so I didn’t have that awareness at all. But once I was tuned in, it seemed pretty cool.

Munster: And Deniz with Birdman, you guys did a few Stooges songs in your live set in the 70s as well as record a version of TV Eye, and I figured a lot of people would have had their first introduction to the Stooges via Birdman.

Deniz: Yeah, I think that’s true. We were big Stooges fans and we covered a bunch of their songs and some of them made it to video and record. I used to buy copies. The Stooges albums were released in Australia but they never sold, so you could find copies of them at used record stores in the cut out bins, for 50 cents. So every time I was in Martins or Ashwoods, if I saw them, I would buy them and pass them out like leaflets, like, “You need to listen to this!” Like Jehovah’s Witnesses, “Here’s something you need to listen to.” So we were sort of Evangelist about promoting that sort of music around Sydney.

James: I have to say it wasn’t any different from the US, they were all in the cut out bins too. (laughs)

Munster: I saw a snippet of a chat you guys did with Craig Barman, and you talked about the current COVID climate, talking about live gigs and would people be interested in going out to gigs. Live streaming is very popular right now, do you think live streaming will be part of the norm in the future and would you guys consider doing streaming gigs? 

Deniz: It seems to be part of the norm now, but maybe not very translatable for the kind of music we do. We need a certain level of volume. You want some air coming out of the speaker cabinets. You want to be moving some air and the crowd response. And what the crowd gives back to the band is really important for our kind of music. You lose all that with the streaming stuff.

Munster: James, Mike Watt filled in for the late Dave Alexander in the Stooges when they reformed. He was quoted saying, “if I play one bad Stooges gig it will end up on my tombstone.” You joined the band after the passing of Ron Asheton. How did it feel to rejoin the band again? Did you feel that kind of pressure Mike Watts expressed? 

James: It was very interesting as I hadn’t really been in the music business for quite some time. Luckily I had some time to get my guitar licks down and play with a band and so forth. It actually felt kind of normal because I had been in the band so long before that. 

But the thing you forget about with the Stooges is that when the gig starts the fur is flying. So you cannot lose concentration or drift at all during the set, as things are moving so fast. The nature of the music, especially my music, is it’s very demanding, because you’re playing a lot of chords very quickly. 

But it was very satisfying though, in the way of having so much appreciation of what we did, as opposed to when we did it in the 70s when there was very little appreciation. So that was gratifying.

Deniz Tek and James Williamson [photo: Anne Tek]

Munster: Deniz you played with both Stooges guitarists throughout your career. What are some similarities and differences between Ron and James?

Deniz: I guess the biggest similarity was the attitude, once one of those guys gets on stage it’s like as James says; there’s no looking back and no time to look at your shoelaces. Its balls-out Rock ‘n’ Roll all the way. And Ron had that too. The playing styles are different, but the attitude, the full-on highly motivated attitude, is the same.

Munster: Both the Stooges and Birdman had similar stories in their original run; neither band sold a lot of records, hated by the establishment. When both bands reformed, they played to packed festivals, subjects of documentaries, Birdman inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame, and the Stooges in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. What does all the praise you get now mean to you today? Does it feel like validation or do you think, “Why didn’t we have this when we were together the first time round?” 

James: I think it was very much validation certainly we thought that way. As I often said we were highly delusional. 

It really took many many bands that patterned themselves after our sound and how we went about things, to get the public aware of us. Mostly people would hear us and have no context, or anything. So it was very hard for people to accept us, but once the Pistols, Nirvana and Guns and Roses and everybody sounded that way, all of a sudden we were expectable.

Munster:  With all the trouble both bands went through in the 70s is it hard to look back on those times with fond nostalgia?

James: Not at all. I enjoyed that time even thought it was very difficult. I was in my early 20s, it was wonderful. It was an adventure. There was no way to replace that adventure. It was something unique. If I had left it there I would not be sorry about it. 

But the fact I didn’t leave it there and I was able to finish the other side and was able to get the acceptance makes it even better.

Munster: Where were you born James?

James: I was born in Texas. My mother remarried an army guy so we moved around a little bit. We lived in Oklahoma. Then finally we moved to Detroit. That was when I was in year 8.

Munster: Deniz you were a Detroit native. What makes Detroit such a special place when it comes to music?

James: I’ve been away from Detroit for a long time but back then it was all about music. There was no escaping music. All the way from Motown, which was when I first moved there, to the local bands in Ann Arbor. And there were many, many good bands in Ann Arbor, as in Detroit. And those two places are not that far away from each other. So you can go to shows in both places all the time.

 Once I started playing music, the bar was set so high, and the bands are so used to good bands that you’d better bring it otherwise you’ll have trouble. (Deniz laughs) That happened a lot.

Deniz: Detroit’s kind of a unique place. Detroit was started by Louie the 14th. He was looking at a map and it was a place on the straights on the Detroit river, and he thought that was a good place to make a settlement. And we can trade with the Indians, get some furs. So he sent this guy Baron Cadillac to start Detroit. It’s been back and forth between all kinds of things until now. And Detroit has been back and forth, through all kinds of things until now. It has all kinds of industries, such as Detroit Cars, a very heavy industry and industrial place. 

Then you have Ann Arbor which is 45 minutes away from Detroit. Where it’s this art center, with the University of Michigan with 50,000 students. It’s very bohemian and artistic, and right in the middle is Motown records. 

So all these things are clashing. I’m no music sociologist, but to me it seems it’s a set up for interesting and energetic things to happen.

Munster: Deniz, you worked recently with Penny Ikinger on her Tokyo record, how was that experience?

Deniz: It was great. Penny was great. She came to the house in the Island and she spent some days there. 

We went into a real shed. People talk about wood shedding. This actually was a wood shed. We sat down with an acoustic guitar and a tape recorder and made up those songs. 

And then we toured it in Japan and played those songs on the road. And then she recorded some extra guitar with her Japanese band. It was really good working on that.

Munster: James is it true you have retired from touring?

James: Essentially yes. I’ve done plenty of it. (laughs) I’m not yearning for it anymore.  

Touring’s tough, it’s not my favourite thing to do. I do the occasional show now and again. I guest on some of my friend’s stuff time to time. 

In fact that’s how we found our bass player for this album. I was a guest with Cheetah Chrome, at the Burger Boogallo festival. I did some of his songs and he did some of mine. And I liked the bass player so I asked him if he wanted to do this and he jumped on it. I do some stuff but I’m not a suitcase guy anymore.

Munster: And gents, with COVID it’s hard to know what’s around the corner, but any plans for the future?

Deniz: Well for me, I have some more songs written and I’d like to record them, maybe in the springtime next year. If I can get back to the mainland, and it’s easy to travel, I’ll go back in the studio and record another album. I have the material right now. 

As for touring, I’m on the cusp of where James is at. I haven’t stopped. Recently I’ve been known to do 32 shows in 30 days in Europe, and that’s with six-eight hour van rides in-between shows. I don’t know if I want to go back to that, COVID gives me an excuse not to, but when I’m doing it I really enjoy it. So, I can’t say for sure whether I’ll go back to that sort of touring again or not, but if the offer was good and the conditions were good, I would probably say yes.

James: I have little things here and there. I have a little Cleopatra project that I’m doing here during shut down. Just odds and ends. I keep busy, and mainly keep mind and body together. I don’t care how you look at it, it’s very, very trying during these times. It’s important to let yourself have it easy and do what makes you happy and that’s what I’m doing.    


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