Tag Archives: Chris Bell

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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T.G.I.F. – Ten Chilton Classics

Not in sales, no - but in impact? Oh, yes.

“Thinking ’bout what to say / and I can’t find the lines…”   

Alex Chilton died the other day, and so did a piece of me. I first heard Alex when his booming gravel voice launched out of my transistor radio with “The Letter”, the brilliant Box Tops single that didn’t waste a second of it’s not quite two minutes. I was still buying singles then, and follow-ups like “Cry Like A Baby” and “Soul Deep” made it all the way from Memphis to my ears. 

From The Box Tops to Big Star

But most singles bands from the 60s had their moment and hit the wall when music turned towards FM radio and longer, more sophisticated album cuts. And although I was getting into progressive rock and glam and the beginnings of heavy metal with Black Sabbath, I retained my passion for short sharp pop songs. I wouldn’t realize until years later that the Box Tops weren’t a group of friends hanging out and writing songs like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were, but rather they were a staunchly controlled vehicle for a group of writers and producers and that a disillusioned sixteen year old was in fact that singer who sounded like he had already lived a hard life. I was half right. 

Thanks to someone’s insight in a rock magazine – I’ll wager that it was Creem – I was tipped that this new band was aces and I was able to grab a copy of the first Big Star album called #1 Record. What an audacious title, I thought, but dropping the needle on that album was an electrifying experience. Here was an album of impeccable chestnuts, from the rocking “Don’t Lie To Me” and “In The Street” to the sweet and fragile “Try Again” and  “Give Me Another Chance” (and when that crescendo of angelic vocals comes crashing in…oh, my God!). The fist fight between the tambourine and ringing guitar chords in “When My Baby’s Beside Me”. And that dagger-through-the-heart, “Thirteen”, which dripped with teenage angst. 

December Boys got it bad

The second album, sans Chris Bell, was almost as good, a little sloppier and esoteric with absolute standouts like “Back of A Car”, “September Gurls” and “O My Soul”. Meanwhile “What’s Going Ahn” and “Daisy Glaze” and “Morpha Too” hinted at the fragility that was to come in Third / Sister Lovers. Despite some genuinely upbeat sounding moments in “Thank You Friends” and “Jesus Christ”, it was painful to listen to “Holocaust” and “Big Black Car”, almost the soundtrack of a man falling apart. 

A perfect album title; he could have used it twice.

The post-Big Star years were a mixed bag; there were moments of pure joy and fun and others of witnessing painfully inept performances. I remember being in a club with my friend Bill waiting for a band to come onstage, and the most horrific atonal version of “The Letter” came over the sound system. As we cringed, the bartender informed us that it was a tape of a recent Alex Chilton performance; I remember thinking that he sounded like he would die mid-set. 

But in the coming years he regrouped and rebounded, issuing some solid EPs before getting talked into reforming Big Star with Jody Stephens and a pair of Posies in Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer. When The Replacements blasted out the dynamic single “Alex Chilton” the legend was reborn; more indie bands started to admit the influence and at long last Chilton was getting the popular response to match the critical hurrahs. 

 

But Alex took it full circle and reunited The Box Tops, for as esoteric and varied as his playlists had been over the years – from soul to powerpop to MOR standards – the New Orleans via Memphis vibe never left. He seemed to enjoy the Box Tops shows more than the Big Star ones, and perhaps that’s why their reunion album In Space was a disappointment – his heart wasn’t in it anymore. 

But his soul and his heart and his pen and his voice came together often enough to leave behind an incredible legacy. So here are ten tunes that are a huge part of my life, songs that hit me like a ton of bricks or dovetailed with the emotions I was going through when I first heard them. They are fresh and timeless and will resonate with me no matter how old I am. I’m in love…with that song. 

And now the show for SXSW will go on as a tribute.

Icewater

 * September Gurls. December boys got it bad, I know, Alex, I know. Me too. 

* Cry Like A Baby. “Today we passed on the street/and you just walked on by/my heart just fell to my feet…” 

* The Ballad of El Goodo. “I’ve been trying hard against unbelievable odds” 

* Take Me Home and Make Me Like It. Is that the best pick up line ever? Hilarious and sloppy. 

* Soul Deep. Pop Soul Perfection. Neil Diamond shat himself when he heard this. 

* I’m In Love With A Girl. I can’t help but smile every time I hear this simple, fragile love song. There’s so much angst and pain in Alex’s catalogue; this is a nice exception. 

* No Sex. More for the fact that the EP signaled his return than the song itself. 

* Back of a Car. Thinking about what to say, and I can’t find the lines

* The Letter. The two minutes that started it all. 

* Thirteen Maybe the most poignant song about fumbling adolescence ever written. This one went through my heart like a spear, even though I was eighteen when I heard it. 

Rest In Peace, Alex.

All Music Guide tribute from Steven Thomas Erlewine 

Memphis Commercial Appeal says goodbye 

Some thoughts from pop critic Mike Bennett

Alex Chilton wiki with links to multiple discographies

The tribute at Popdose

Auditeer and music columnist John Micek remembers

Ed Ward from NPR chimes in

Anthony Lombardi talked to John Fry about Alex.

Others pay tribute from SXSW.

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New Album! Bobby Emmett

My #5 album from 2009

I’ll forgive you if you think you somehow slipped a Raspberries album in your player when the familiar staccato power chords come blasting out of your speakers on the opening track; I sure did. But quickly the bridge will reassure you that this is a different journey…and then the high octave harmony vocals sell the chorus, and the Todd-like guitar solo stutters and rips across the melodic ribbon…and your jaw, like mine, has dropped.

Bobby Emmett – you know him from The Sights – has stitched together a Frankenstein monster of a record that splashes the DNA of just about every powerpop touchstone you can name into an infectious, joyous blast. That he recorded it in a bedroom and played and sang the vast majority of it himself just makes it that much more amazing. Many albums start strong, an obvious single in the leadoff slot, but four, five tracks in you will find yourself hard pressed to settle upon a favorite.

“Still Wanna Be With You” borrows a line from “1-2-3 Red Light” for the chorus but dunks it into a modern framework not unlike Silver Sun or Farrah (and that vocal flourish at the end is spine-tingling). Sure, the haunted vocal in “Moving Ahn” suggests John Lennon, and the spelling of the song title correctly suggests a mix of Billy Joel and Big Star (think Chris Bell singing “Moving Out”) before the coda drifts into a mash-up of Pink Floyd‘s “Great Gig In The Sky” with “I Want You” (either The Beatles or the Elvis Costello song – your pick).

I say all this with reverence and a straight face. There are enough copycat bands of all genres exhuming the work of their predecessors and passing it off as their own sound, but Emmett has assembled a ten-track killer of a solo album here. Whether it’s the soulful mid-tempo “November” (a hipper “Everything I Own”), the sweet Harrison slide of “Never Waited So Long”, the psychedelic “Love Is Real” or the straight-ahead pop majesty of “Broken Hearted” and “Queen of Hearts”, Emmett is all hooks and harmonies and ear candy. Learning Love is a joyous and stunning effort. 

This review is from the brand spanking new issue of Bucketfull of Brains. Use the link on their page and sign up for a sweet three issue subscription.

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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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