Alex Chilton (December 28, 1950 - March 17, 2010).
Legendary music icon known for his work in the 1960’s with the chart topping Box Tops and his ground breaking band Big Star is dead from an apparent heart attack in a New Orleans hospital. He was 59.
Highly influential American singer-guitarist Alex Chilton, best known for his membership in the groups The Box Tops and Big Star, as well as his solo work, died earlier today (3/17) in a New Orleans hospital reportedly the result of heart problems. He was 59.
Chilton was only sixteen when he found himself with the number one pop hit in the country in 1967 with the Box Tops' hit single “The Letter.” By the end of the decade the group had broken up and Chilton (whom the Replacements wrote a song about, which is known to a new generation from being playable in Rock Band 2) went on to form the influential (albeit never commercially big) power-pop group Big Star.
The group was to be one of the biggest attractions at this year’s SXSW music festival, happening in Austin, Texas this week. The reunited Big Star (who played the Fillmore in SF three years ago) was scheduled to play this Saturday (3/20) night. Earlier that day both Big Star drummer Jody Stephens and Big Star bassist Andy Hummel (who are already in Austin tonight) were booked to appear on a SxSW music panel (Chilton was not booked on the same panel) all about Big Star and their influence. According to a few sources down in Austin tonight, Chilton's bandmates are considering going ahead with the panel, only now it will become a tribute to the late great Alex Chilton. And as for exactly what will happen in place of the scheduled Big Star concert late Saturday night, it is still uncertain but many are already speculating that it will become a big scale tribute concert with many surprise guests performing in honor of the man.
For years one of my favorite posters in the back hallways at Amoeba SF has been a bright, colorful border surrounding a black and white image of young Alex Chilton, leaning against a wall in an argyle tank top with the number 1970 below. I smiled every time I saw it but for some reason never gave it much thought...
Chilton has always been something of a cult hero with not one but two fine bands, The Box Tops and Big Star, that largely flew under the radar/were forgotten, and he wrote some of my favorite songs of all time while in different mutations of Big Star including "Thirteen" and "The Ballad of El Goodo" (from #1 Record) and "Nighttime" (off Third/Sister Lovers). He's a master of sweet, low-key ballads, but can also turn out pop perfection -- a very satisfying combo since basically it means he is something of a melodic genius.
This week I happened upon a copy of an album by Alex Chilton entitled 1970! I had somehow never bothered to figure out what that poster stood for, and now here it was, right in front of me. As it turns out, the album is a post Box Tops solo record made by Chilton in, of course, 1970, in Memphis, which was promptly forgotten and left untitled by both artist and producer when Chilton moved on to Big Star. The original, unadorned tapes were later discovered and released in 1996 by Chilton's famous Memphis label, Ardent Records.