Big Star Biography

Formed in Memphis, Tennessee, USA, in 1971, Big Star’s reputation and influence has far outweighed any commercial rewards they have enjoyed during their career. They evolved when ex-Box Tops singer Alex Chilton (William Alexander Chilton, 28 December 1950, Memphis, Tennessee, USA) joined a local act, Ice Water, which included Chris Bell (b. 12 January 1951, Memphis, Tennessee, USA, d. 27 December 1978, Memphis, Tennessee, USA; guitar/vocals), Andy Hummel (b. 26 January 1951, Memphis, Tennessee, USA; bass/vocals) and Jody Stephens (b. 4 October 1952, USA; drums). The realigned quartet, named after a grocery store across the street from the Ardent studio, made an impressive debut in 1972 with #1 Record, which skilfully synthesized UK pop and 60s-styled Los Angeles harmonies into a taut, resonant sound, with stand-out tracks including ‘The Ballad Of El Goodo’, ‘Thirteen’ and ‘When My Baby’s Beside Me’. Its commercial potential was marred by poor distribution, however, while internal friction led to Bell’s departure late in 1972. Some of the tracks he had been working on with Chilton appeared on the next Big Star album, but this talented artist never really recovered from the failure of the band’s debut and was killed in December 1978 as a result of a car crash.

The remaining trio dissolved Big Star in 1973, with Chilton entering the studio with drummer Richard Rosebrough and bass player Danny Jones to work on new material. He reunited with Hummel and Stephens later in the year for a rock writers’ convention, where the resultant reaction inspired a more permanent reunion. A sense of urgency and spontaneity generated a second excellent set, Radio City, of which the anthemic ‘September Gurls’ proved an undoubted highlight, although ‘O My Soul’ and ‘Back Of A Car’ were not far behind. Corporate disinterest once again doomed the project and an embittered Big Star retreated to Memphis following a brief, ill-starred tour on which John Lightman had replaced a disaffected Hummel. Chilton and Stephens then began work on a projected third album with the assistance of Steve Cropper (guitar), Jim Dickinson (piano) and Tommy McLure (bass), but sessions proved more fractured than ever and the band broke up without officially completing the set. 3rd aka Sister Lovers has subsequently appeared in various guises and mixes, yet each betrays Chilton’s vulnerability as a series of bare-nerved compositions show his grasp of structure slipping away and providing a template for the singer’s equally erratic solo career.

In 1993, Chilton and Stephens re-formed Big Star with Ken Stringfellow and Jonathan Auer of the Posies for a one-off gig at Missouri University that was so successful that they stayed together for a brief tour of the UK in the same year. Sporadic reunions followed, and a new track (‘Hot Thing’) was recorded for a compilation released in 2003. Chilton, Stephens, Stringfellow and Auer then entered the recording studio to complete a new Big Star album. In Space, released in 2005, was a much better album than any could have hoped for.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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