Tag Archives: Ardent Studios

R.I.P. Tommy Hoehn

This is turning into a depressing weekend.

I was so startled by the loss of Pete Quaife yesterday that I didn’t even realize it was Friday and therefore time for my weekly TGIF feature. By the time it dawned on me, I didn’t really care to go back and rectify the oversight; I spent a few hours last night reading tributes and thoughts from other Kinks fans who were also saddened by his passing.

Now just a day later, more bad news. Memphis takes another kick in the nuts with the loss of Tommy Hoehn who died late Thursday night. You might not recognize his name right off the bat, but he was an integral part of the powerpop scene in Memphis and a contemporary of Big Star and other Ardent Studios artists who were plowing a different field than corporate radio in the 1970s.

Memphis is still reeling from the loss of Alex Chilton in March; now this. Besides the obvious thoughts and prayers to friends and family, my heart goes out to John Fry, Jody Stephens, Van Duren and other musicians and associates who knew and worked with Tommy for so many years.

Back in the day, it was Creem Magazine that first tipped me to Big Star and I wanted to gobble up as much of that type of music as I could find. During that expedition I discovered Losing You To Sleep, Tommy’s second album. It was on London Records and sure, with his beard and opened white shirt, he looked more like J. D. Souther or Andrew Gold than your typical powerpopper. But “Hey Polarity” and the title song knocked me out, and another track (“She Might Look My Way”) was a Chilton co-write. 

Hoehn had his hand in the jelly jar for Sister Lovers and also did some work with The Scruffs, but he slid to the melodic Paul McCartney and Emitt Rhodes side of the fence more than he did the crunchy sound of The Raspberries or Badfinger. Reportedly his musical hero was Todd Rundgren, but listening to his beautiful melodies and delicate style, you realize that his doppelgänger might have been his friend from Big Star,  Chris Bell.

Coincidentally, another album I picked up at that time was Are You Serious by Van Duren; Van would later record with Tommy as the Hoehn-Duren Band during the powerpop rebirth of the 90s,  releasing Hailstone Holiday and Blue OrangeNothing disappears on the Internet, so I can give you this link from an eleven year old blog post that sums up how they got back together after years apart. (Van has a new album out, but more about that very soon.)

The anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death is sucking all the oxygen out of the atmosphere this weekend and no doubt both Quaife and Hoehn are getting lost in the shuffle. Maybe that’s par for the course, since both were underrated and undervalued in the commercial scheme of things. But for those of us who get it, these are sad and painful goodbyes to people who have contributed far more to the music of our lives than Jacko ever could.

R.I.P., Tommy. Ironically, we’re losing you to sleep.

Scott Homewood’s 2007 essay on Tommy from Lost In The Grooves

Amy Nyman’s 2007 blog post about that Memphis scene.

Ardent Studios

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R.I.P. Jim Dickinson

"As a producer, it really is all about taste."

"As a producer, it really is all about taste."

Damnnot a good week for Memphis.

If you’re reading the title of this post and thinking “who’s that?“…let me help you out: The Rolling StonesBig Star. Aretha Franklin. Bob Dylan. Flamin’ Groovies. Ry Cooder. Green On Red. Muscle Shoals. The Replacements. Delaney And Bonnie. Alex Chilton. Jason and the Scorchers. Willy DeVille. Sun Studios. The North Mississippi All Stars. Ardent Studios. And so on…

Accolades will pour in from the four corners of the Earth, but I hope a Memphis restaurant simply whips up a new dish and names it after the man. Call it “Dining with Dickinson”, a/k/a greasy, gutbucket, generational gumbo.

He lived, breathed and died Memphis soul and everything he put his producer’s ear, his piano playing or his veteran gut instincts on had that indelible fingerprint as well. Despite failing health, he continued to nurture artists and music that needed and deserved that veteran nudge. He had triple-bypass surgery in June, and when a recent benefit was announced to help defray the medical bills, people like John Hiatt signed on in a heartbeat.

Forty plus years of influence that will live on long past you and I…no sweeping exits or offstage lines.

A nice feature from Pop Culture Press by my pal Kent Benjamin.

“Down In Mississippi”

Wikipedia and All Music Guide entries.

Memphis Commercial Appeal obituary.

Even the babies must learn somehow.

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September, Gurls!

I Wanna witness...I wanna testify.

I wanna witness...I wanna testify.

We all know the joke…if  everyone who claimed to be a Big Star fan during their original run actually bought an album, they would have literally been big stars and not a cult band that has repeatedly risen from the ashes. Fortunately the bands who now claim them as an influence aren’t just trying to sound cool; the release of their material in digital form has allowed another generation and then some to see what all the fuss was about.

I believe I can thank Creem Magazine for tipping me back in the day, although the 70s is one of my foggydecades. I was as much into prog, glam, hard rock and twang as the next impressionable youth, and it was as likely that I was spacing out to an entire side of Close To The Edge as I was insisting to anyone who would listen that The Faces and The Kinks were way better than Wings would ever be, Macca be damned. But when albums like Something/Anything and #1 Record came along, these were eye-opening moments to musical genius that stood out from the pack.

I loved the Box Tops and could not believe that the same guttural voice behind “The Letter” and “Cry Like A Baby” was now warbling the fragile “Thirteen”, but how many Alex Chiltons could there be? I still argue (politely) with others whether the debut was better than the follow-up Radio City, but I’ve always held both in higher esteem than Third/Sister Lovers (which sounded like the historical documentation of a nervous breakdown). But like all fast burning candles, Big Star was soon gone and relegated to “you should have been there” status until the rediscovery and rebirth many years later. And now this, the public validation, in the form of a (long overdue) box set.

Whether or not this will awaken a new group of fans is up for debate, but at least Rhino is smart enough not to alienate those among us who already own pretty much everything available. Keep an Eye on the Sky is thankfully loaded with live cuts, outtakes and sidebars from related projects like Icewater and Rock City. There’s certain to be a boatload of great information in the liner notes as Jody Stephens is deeply involved with the project; he’ll bring both the band’s perspective as well as a good look at Ardent Records and the Memphis scene.

Of course, Big Star still exists in the 21st century. There was a new record (the disappointingly uneven In Space) and the band even plays occasionally with  Stephens and Chilton now backed by Posies Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer. But the current configuration will never capture the juxtaposition of innocence and magic that happened the first time around. But in fairness, what band can?

Whether you are new to the band or a lifelong fan excitedly awaiting the rarities, this box set is certain to be a classic retrospective. Rhino will release Keep An Eye On The Sky on September 15th as well as an expanded edition of Chris Bell’s solo album I Am The Cosmos. Here’s the complete track list for the skeptical, or those too lazy to link to Rhino! (But do follow that link to hear one of the previously unreleased songs.)

Tracklist:

Disc 1
1. Chris Bell: “Psychedelic Stuff”
2. Icewater: “All I See Is You”
3. Alex Chilton: “Every Day as We Grow Closer” (Original Mix)
4. Rock City: “Try Again” (Early Version)
5. Rock City: “The Preacher”
6. Feel
7. The Ballad of El Goodo (Alternate Mix) *
8. In the Street
9. Thirteen (Alternate Mix) *
10. The India Song
11. When My Baby’s Beside Me (Alternate Mix) *
12. My Life Is Right (Alternate Mix) *
13. Give Me Another Chance (Alternate Mix) *
14. Try Again
15. Chris Bell: “Gone With the Light” *
16. Watch the Sunrise
17. ST 100/6 (Alternate Mix) *
18. In the Street (Second Recorded Version)
19. Feel (Early Mix) *
20. The Ballad of El Goodo (Alternate Lyrics)
21. The India Song (Alternate Version) *
22. Country Morn
23. I Got Kinda Lost (Demo)
24. Motel Blues (Demo) *

Disc 2
1. There Was a Light (Demo) *
2. Life Is White (Demo) *
3. What’s Going Ahn (Demo) *
4. O My Soul
5. Life Is White
6. Way Out West (Alternate Mix) *
7. What’s Going Ahn
8. You Get What You Deserve (Alternate Mix) *
9. Mod Lang (Alternate Mix)
10. Back of a Car (Alternate Mix) *
11. Daisy Glaze
12. She’s A Mover
13. September Gurls
14. Morpha Too (Alternate Mix) *
15. I’m in Love With a Girl
16. O My Soul (Alternate Version) *
17. Back of a Car (Demo)
18. Daisy Glaze (Alternate Take) *
19. She’s a Mover (Alternate Version)
20. Chris Bell: “I Am the Cosmos”
21. Chris Bell: “You and Your Sister”
22. Alex Chilton: “Blue Moon” (Demo) *
23. Alex Chilton: “Femme Fatale” (Demo) *
24. Alex Chilton: Thank You Friends” (Demo) *
25. Alex Chilton: “You Get What You Deserve” (Demo) *

Disc 3
1. Alex Chilton: “Lovely Day (aka Stroke It Noel)” (Demo)
2. Alex Chilton: “Downs” (Demo)
3. Alex Chilton: “Nightime” (Demo) *
4. Alex Chilton: “Jesus Christ” (Demo) *
5. Alex Chilton: “Holocaust” (Demo) *
6. Alex Chilton: “Take Care” (Demo) *
7. Alex Chilton: “Big Black Car” (Alternate Demo) *
8. Manana *
9. Jesus Christ
10. Femme Fatale
11. O, Dana
12. Kizza Me
14. You Can’t Have Me
15. Nightime
16. Dream Lover
17. Blue Moon
18. Take Care
19. Stroke It Noel
20. For You
21. Downs
22. Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On
23. Big Black Car
24. Holocaust
25. Kanga Roo
26. Thank You Friends
27. Till The End of the Day
28. Lovely Day *
29. Nature Boy

Disc 4 (Live at Lafayette’s Music Room, Memphis, Tenn.)
1. When My Baby’s Beside Me *
2. My Life Is Right *
3. She’s a Mover *
4. Way Out West *
5. The Ballad of El Goodo *
6. In the Street *
7. Back of a Car *
8. Thirteen *
9. The India Song *
10. Try Again *
11. Watch the Sunrise *
12. Don’t Lie to Me *
13. Hot Burrito #2 *
14. I Got Kinda Lost *
15. Baby Strange *
16. Slut *
17. There Was a Light *
18. ST 100/6 *
19. Come On Now *
20. O My Soul *

* previously unreleased

They'll get what they deserve

You get what you deserve

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