Alex Chilton - Biography
Alex Chilton was an American songwriter, guitarist, singer and producer, best known as the lead singer of The Box Tops and Big Star. After the cult popularity of the later grew steadily In the decades following their disbandment, he re-formed them with a new line-up in 1993. He also released numerous solo recordings over the decades which were afforded a wide variety of critical reception.
William Alexander Chilton was born on December 28th, 1950 in Memphis, Tennessee. His father, Sidney Chilton, was a jazz musician. Chilton first began playing in multiple high school bands, including Chris Bell's The Jynx. In 1966, along with The Jynx's bassist, Bill Cunningham, Chilton joined The Devilles, who were later re-named The Box Tops. Their track, "The Letter," reached number one. More hits, like "Cry like a Baby," "Soul Deep," and "Sweet Cream Ladies" all followed, as did line-up changes. By 1969, only Chilton and guitarist Gary Talley remained from the original group and they decided to pursue solo careers in 1970.
Chilton continued his relationship with Dan Penn that he'd begun with The Box Tops and recorded some demos at Ardent Studios with producer Terry Manning and drummer Richard Rosebrough. Decades passed before this early material surfaced as Lost Decade (1986 New Rose Records) and 1970 (1996 Ardent Records). After a pilgrimage to New York where he met Roger McGuinn, he returned to Memphis in 1971. He tried to convince his old friend Bell to form a Simon & Garfunkle-styled folk-pop duo. Bell, instead, convinced him to join his rock band, Icewater, who became with Chilton's addition, Big Star. Despite having negligible commercial, they became one of the most acclaimed and influential rock bands ever.
During his time with Big Star, Chilton also occasionally recorded with Rosebrough as The Dolby Fuckers. Rosebrough (along with Tommy Hoehn, Andy Hummel and others) collaborated on Chilton's debut, 1975's Bach's Bottom (Line), which was eventually released in 1981. He moved back to New York in 1977, where he performed as Alex Chilton and the Cossacks. The line-up included Chris Stamey and Richard Lloyd and they released one single, "Bangkok" b/w "Can't Seem to Make You Mine" in 1978. Having made acquaintances with The Cramps, he brought them to Memphis and produced their Gravest Hits EP.
Chilton returned as a solo artist for One Day in New York (1978 Trio) which was followed by pioneering lo-fi masterpiece or disaster (depending on your tastes), Like Flies on Sherbert (1979 Peabody Records), released in a limited edition of 500 copies. That year he co-founded another band, Tav Falco's Panther Burns. He played both with them and solo. A live performance on which he was joined by members of The Soft Boys, The Vibrators and The Psychedelic Furs was released as Live in London (1982 Aura).
In 1983, he moved to New Orleans where he found work as a tree-trimmer and dishwasher. He revived the Panther Burns and they released Sugar Ditch Revisited (1984 New Rose Records). The following year, he and the group's bassist, Rene Coman, formed a trio with jazz drummer Doug Garrison. In 1985, they released the Feudalist Tarts EP (1985 New Rose Records). No Sex (1986 New Rose Records) followed after which Coman and Garrison left to form The Iguanas. As Chilton continued in obscurity, his cult reputation grew and in 1987 he was paid homage by The Replacements with their song, "Alex Chilton." The attendant album, Pleased to Meet Me, featured Chilton as a guest musician. High Priest (1987 New Rose Records) included material from his Panther Burns years, a song by Penn, and several originals. It was followed by the Black List EP (1990 New Rose Records), which consisted of half originals and half blues covers.
Big Star fans' dreams came true when Chilton and Big Star's Jody Stephens formed a new line-up of Big Star with The Posies' Jonathan Auer and Ken Stringfellow for a performance at Columbia, Missouri's University of Missouri. The performance was released as Columbia- Live at Missouri University 4/25/93 (1993 Volcano). Chilton returned to his solo career after, releasing the all-covers (his first) Clichés (1994 Ardent). A Man Called Destruction (1995 Ardent) was half covers, half originals. In 1997, Chilton and ex-Box Tops Danny Smythe, John Evans, Cunningham and Gary Talley regrouped in Memphis at Easley Studios to record Tear Off (1998 Last Call), after which the reunited band toured. As Vega Chilton Vaughn, Ben Vaughn and Alan Vega Chilton released Cubist Blues (1997 Discovery) [reissued in 1997 with an extra live disc]. Yet another all-covers album, Loose Shoes and Tight Pussy (1999 Last Call) followed. Chilton didn't return for half a decade, finally releasing Live in Anvers (2004 Last Call). Another Big Star album was released in 2005, In Space (Rykodisc).
In August, 2009 Chilton married his girlfriend, Laura. On March 17th, 2010, on the eve of 2010's SXSW festival, Chilton died of a heart attack. He'd previously complained of shortness of breath and chills but, not having health insurance, did nothing about it. On March 20, Curt Kirkwood, Stamey, M. Ward, Mike Mills, John Doe, Sondre Lerche, Chuck Prophet, Evan Dando and Andy Hummel paid tribute to their recently departed idol.