Last night the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported that legendary singer songwriter Alex Chilton had died at age 59 from an apparent heart attack. This morning the sad news was confirmed with countless articles hitting the internet.
As founder of the Box Tops and Big Star, Chilton had a massive impact on pop music, and he went on to influence a generation of bands, including The Replacements, The Posies, and R.E.M.
At an early age, Alex Chilton’s gifted talent as a song writer was evident. At the age of 16 he founded the band the Box Tops and went on to pen numerous hits including “The Letter”.
In 1971 he went on to form Big Star after the Box Tops break-up, recruiting childhood friend Chris Bell to play guitar along with drummer Jody Stephens, and bassist Andy Hummel. Big Star’s debut album #1 record was released in 1972 on Ardent records but failed to reach a large audience due in part to distribution problems. Over time the influence of Big Star’s recordings grew legendary, with powerful vocals, lush harmonies, and British Invasion styled arrangements of the tracks. In the late 90’s Big Star saw a resurgence when “In the Street”, became the theme song for “That 70’s Show” which was re-recorded Cheap Trick.
Chilton moved to New York in 1975 after Big Star broke up, working as a solo artist in and arround the emerging punk rock scene. In the early 80’s Chilton returned to his native Memphis playing and recording occasionally with Panther Burns. Over the next decade he continued to record sporadically.
In 1993 I had the pleasure of seeing a reformed Big Star perform in Columbia Missouri featuring Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow from the Posies on guitar and bass. And this weekend Big star with the new line up was scheduled to plat at the SXSW festival in Austin Texas. While there hasn’t been an announcement yet, it is likely that a tribute to Chilton will take place this weekend.
If you are unfamiliar with Alex Chilton, Big Star, or The Box Tops, I suggest doing a search on YouTube. There are plenty of great videos available.