‘Thank You Friends:’ All-star Tribute to Alex Chilton
Alex Chilton never became a household name, except in the households of hip musicians.
Chilton, who passed away on St. Patrick’s Day at the age of 59, was revered by peers, but never quite found an audience as large as his talent. He was just 16 years old when he fronted the Box Tops, who scored a number 1 hit with “The Letter” in 1967. But it was downhill commercially from there.
When that group broke up three years later, Chilton formed the ill-fated, but much admired Big Star with Jody Stephens, Chris Bell and Andy Hummel. They ironically called their first album, #1 Record, but nothing they did, or that Chilton did subsequently as a solo artist, ever came close to topping the charts.
There is however no question of the profound impact Chilton made on generations of pop and indie acts that followed. Carrie Brownstien, formerly of Sleater-Kinney spoke of Chilton’s influence soon after his death recently on NPR. “Musicians and fans have always passed around Big Star songs and albums like a secret handshake. When you found out someone hadn’t heard #1 Record or Radio City, you were so excited to provide that missing link, to pass on all the glimmer, the jangly guitar, the big chords, the melodies, the American anthems that let you keep your teenage self — for some of us long since faded — close, etched upon your skin. And suddenly, you realized that every great band or musician you love also loved Alex Chilton and Big Star.”
On Saturday, April 24th at the Iron Horse, a group of local musicians will share one large group handshake when they pay tribute to Alex Chilton.
Brian Marchese, who drums for just about every band in the Pioneer Valley and fronts his own Sitting Next To Brian, got the secret Chilton handshake back in 1994 from musician-journalist Ken Maiuri. “He lent me #1/Radio City, and I was expecting the second coming after reading band after hip new band just pouring superlatives all over them. But … I was underwhelmed. The first half of the first album had too many of those falsetto-sung guitar rockers that have just never been my thing. And I didn’t even listen all the way through. Three years later, I found a cassette copy of Third/Sister Lovers in a thrift shop. I listened to it non-stop for about three months. It’s insane, disassociating, 3:30 a.m., where/who-am-I type music.”
Fancy Trash frontman, Dave Houghton, was also drawn to Chilton’s darker material. “Big Star wrote songs for those who weren’t very happy. They were heavy with a lot of clean sounds — way ahead of their time.”
Group DeVille’s, Rick Murnane took to Chilton’s magic right off the bat, at the age of 10. “I remember being a music-obsessed kid in 1967 when the Box Tops hit the charts and learning that the singer was 16, despite the very grown-up sound of his voice … it was then that it hit me that all this Rock ‘n’ Roll stuff really was for the kids. It was ours and it always made me smile whenever I’d meet someone else who knew of them”
Thane Thomsen of The Figments was turned onto Chilton through the Replacements’ song named after the singer. “I first heard it when I was in my early 20′s. Not knowing of Big Star, I checked out a few Chilton solo records which I liked quite a bit. It wasn’t until some years later (in the early ’90s) that I heard Big Star’s album Third/Sister Lovers and was completely blown away. In particular I loved the slow haunting songs where Chilton captures the feeling of the world falling apart from a psychological perspective. I’ve since turned a whole bunch of people on to Big Star.”
Thank You Friends: A Celebration of Alex Chilton of Big Star and the Box Tops featuring: Chris Collingwood of Fountains of Wayne, Mark Mulcahy, Winterpills, Henning Ohlenbusch, Rick Murname, Thane Thomsen, Dave Houghton, Lesa Bezo, Sitting Next to Brian, Matt Silberstein, & Paper Piano
Iron Horse, April 24th, 7 p.m.