Alex Chilton, RIP
Just heard the news, and am in tears.
MEMPHIS MUSIC LEGEND ALEX CHILTON DIES
By Jody Callahan, Bob Mehr
Updated Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Pop hitmaker, cult icon, and Memphis rock icon iconoclast Alex Chilton has died.
The singer and guitarist, best known as a member of '60s pop-soul act the Box Tops and the '70s power-pop act Big Star, died today at a hospital in New Orleans. Chilton, 59, had been complaining of about his health earlier today. He was taken by paramedics to the emergency room where he was pronounced dead. The cause of death is believed to be a heart attack.
His Big Star bandmate Jody Stephens confirmed the news this evening. Chilton had been scheduled to perform with Big Star on Saturday as part at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.
The Memphis-born Chilton rose to prominence at age 16, when his gruff vocals powered Box Tops massive hit “The Letter.” The band would score several more hits, including “Cry Like a Baby” and “Neon Rainbow.”
After the Box Tops ended in 1970, Chilton had a brief solo run in New York before returning to Memphis. He soon joined forces with a group of Anglo-pop-obsessed musicians, fellow songwriter/guitarist Chris Bell, bassist Andy Hummel and drummer Jody Stephens, to form Big Star.
The group became the flagship act for the local Ardent Studios' new Stax-distributed label. Big Star’s 1972 debut album,met with critical acclaim but poor sales. The group briefly disbanded, but reunited sans Bell to record the album . Released in 1974, the album suffered a similar fate, plagued by Stax’s distribution woes.
The group made one more album,, with just Chilton and Stephens — and it too was a minor masterpiece. Darker and more complex than the band’s previous pop-oriented material, it remained unreleased for several years. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine would name all three Big Star albums to its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
In the mid-'70s Chilton began what would be a polarizing solo career, releasing several albums of material, like 1979’s— a strange, chaotically recorded album of originals and obscure covers that divided fans and critics. Chilton also began performing with local roots-punk deconstructionists the Panther Burns.
In the early '80s, Chilton left Memphis for New Orleans, where he worked a variety of jobs and stopped performing for several years. But interest in his music from a new generation of alternative bands, including R.E.M. and the Replacements, brought him back to the stage in the mid-'80s.
He continued to record and tour as a solo act throughout the decade. Finally, in the early '90s, the underground cult based around Big Star had become so huge that the group was enticed to reunite with a reconfigured lineup.
The band, featuring original member Stephens plus Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of the Posies, continued to perform regularly over the next 16 years. Big Star became the subject of various articles, books and CD reissue campaigns, including the release of widely hailed box set,, released last year by Rhino Records.
Chilton is survived by his wife, Laura, and a son Timothy.