Annette Brown, Lifetime The story of June Carter Cash comes to life in the…
- Posted on Mar 18th 2010 10:30AM by Barnaby Smith
Certainly he and Big Star never achieved the fame many of their songs deserved, but his legacy is assured due to the prestige he was held in by both his peers and critics alike. It is a testament to Big Star's critical and commercial revival in recent years that the reformed band were due to play SXSW this weekend (March. 20), and that a 98-track box-set, 'Keep An Eye On The Sky.' was released last year.
Chilton was born on Dec. 28, 1950 in Memphis, Tenn. into a musical family. He became lead singer of the Box Tops as a teenager in the '60s, who achieved worldwide acclaim on the back of hit single 'The Letter.' The Box Tops disbanded in 1970.
After a sojourn in New York, Chilton found himself back in Memphis in 1971 where he formed Big Star with guitarist Chris Bell, drummer Jody Stephens and bassist Andy Hummel. Their initial intention was to create a pop sound greatly influenced by the British Invasion bands that Chilton and Bell were enthralled with in their youth. Their debut album, '#1 Record,' materialised in 1972, after which internal squabblings lead to the band splitting up.
Soon though, Chilton, Stephens and Hummel reconvened and made 'Radio City' (1974) as a three-piece. Their next record, 'Third/Sister Lovers', was recorded in 1974 but not released until 1978. For this album Big Star had become just Chilton and Stephens, and that partnership dissolved soon after the album's recording. It is this album that is widely regarded as the band's masterpiece.
Big Star reformed in 1993 with Chilton and Stephens joined by Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of the Posies. The fourth Big Star album, 'In Space', came out in 2005, and the foursome had been touring sporadically since their resurrection. Chilton also released several solo albums throughout his career, including 1995's 'A Man Called Destruction' and 1999's 'Loose Shoes and Tight Pussy.'
Chilton's standing in the annals of music can be found by looking at those to cover his songs, from This Mortal Coil to Jeff Buckley to Wilco and Yo La Tengo. On their 1987 album 'Pleased To Meet Me', the Replacements paid their own homage with the song 'Alex Chilton'.
Often credited with single-handedly creating the genre of 'power-pop,' Big Star were formative influences on the likes of R.E.M., Teenage Fanclub, Primal Scream, Wilco and many more.
Speaking in 1987, Chilton said he was comfortable with the relatively modest level of fame he had achieved, saying, "What would be ideal would be to make a ton of money and have nobody know about you. Fame has a lot of baggage to carry around. I wouldn't want to be like Bruce Springsteen. I don't need that much money and wouldn't want to have 20 bodyguards following me.
"If I did become really popular, the critics probably wouldn't like me all that much. They like to root for the underdog."
SXSW creative director Brent Gulke has been quoted as saying, "Alex Chilton always messed with your head, charming and amazing you while doing so. His gift for melody was second to none, yet he frequently seemed in disdain of that gift."
Chilton is survived by his wife Laura and son Timothy.