James Williamson

Silicon Valley's secret rock star

August 16, 2010: 3:00 AM ET

For more than two decades James Williamson worked at high-level jobs at places like Sony. Then his old boss Iggy Pop called again.

By Mina Kimes, writer

"I said to myself, what would Bob Dylan do?" recalls James Williamson, former Sony exec and member of the Stooges.

Offices are full of people with past lives -- and for more than two decades James Williamson kept his a secret. Before retiring last year, Williamson was the vice president of technology standards at Sony Electronics, where he traveled around the world developing compatibility guidelines for products. Former colleagues describe him as calm and analytical. He looks the part of a Silicon Valley exec -- short white hair, suit jacket -- and enjoys vacationing in Hawaii and playing tennis. A few years ago he took up the ukulele and the slack-key guitar. It was his first time picking up an instrument, he says, since the 1970s, when he played guitar for the Stooges, one of the most famous punk-rock bands of all time. (That would be his secret.)

Williamson wasn't ashamed of his rock-and-roll past -- he just didn't bring it up, he says, and his co-workers didn't ask. Even the Stooges fans in the office would have been hard-pressed to make the connection between the strait-laced Sony (SNE) executive and the guitarist whose band members were known for violent antics like rolling in broken glass onstage and flashing the audience. So for years Williamson kept quiet, shunning interview requests until rumors of his new career began popping up on the Internet in the late '90s. After he agreed to appear on a VH1 program about the Stooges, his colleagues began to ask, tentatively, whether he was the guy from the band.

"I was sitting across the table from our deputy general counsel, who's a huge music fan, and he asked, 'Are you James Williamson from the Stooges?'" says Williamson. "It blew his mind." (The counsel, Christopher Ekren, says he always knew his co-worker's secret.) More

Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by WordPress.com VIP.