Tag Archives: Jody Stephens

Big Star Third, Revisited

SONGS/PERFORMERS

1.  “Kizza Me”                     MATT MCMICHAELS (from Mayflies USA)
2.  “O Dana”                        IRA KAPLAN  (Yo La Tengo)   
3.  “For You”                        JODY STEPHENS (Big Star)
4.  “Nighttime”                     NORMAN BLAKE (Teenage Fanclub)
5.  “Jesus Christ”                MIKE MILLS (R.E.M.)  
6.  “Take Care”                    IRA KAPLAN    (Yo La Tengo)                                
7.  “Big Black Car”               MATTHEW SWEET
8.  “Stroke It, Noel”              NORMAN BLAKE  (Teenage Fanclub)
9.  “Blue Moon”                    JODY STEPHENS  (Big Star)
10. “Femme Fatale”            SINGER NOT CONFIRMED
11. “Downs”                        VARIOUS  
12. “Dream Lover”              TIFT MERRITT  
13. “Holocaust”                    DJANGO HASKINS (The Old Ceremony”     
14. “You Can’t Have Me”     TIFT MERRITT
15. “Kanga Roo”                 MICHAEL STIPE  (R.E.M.)
16. “Thank You, Friends”    VARIOUS

Plus a rich encore list featuring the above plus Brett Harris and Fan Modine…

Um…do I really need to add more? Go, whydoncha?

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Big Star For A Big Cause

 

(Thanks to my buddy Ray Paul for forwarding this info…)

Channeling Chilton

The City Winery in New York City is presenting a night of remembrance and celebration this Wednesday, July 28th, as former members of the Box Tops, Big Star, plus Alex’s longtime friends and other collaborators come together to celebrate the man and the legend that is Alex Chilton.Part proceeds of the evening will benefit families and businesses affected by the Deepwater Horizon Disaster through the Gulf Restoration Network.

Artists so far confirmed include:  Yo La Tengo, Marshall Crenshaw, Jody Stephens, Jon Auer, Doug Garrison, Rene Coman, Alan Vega, Jon Spencer (of the Blues Explosion), Fran Kowalski, Chris Stamey, Lesa Aldridge (Elizabeth Hoehn), Jay Proctor (of Jay & the Techniques), Bill Cunningham, Gary Talley, Terry Manning, Evan Dando, Jesse Malin, Danny Kroha (of The Gories).

Check the City Winery website for updates as more artists are confirmed.

Take Me Home And Make Me Like It

December Boys got it bad. RIP, my friend.

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Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad

 

Prediction-wise, that is. But not happy about it. 

I had a bad feeling that America was going to reject Laurie Kilmartin and James Adomian after last week’s set, and unfortunately those were the first two severed. When Jonathan Thymius and Maronzio Vance came out (what is it with finishing the eliminations with a duo?) I felt sure I was three-for-three even though if I were voting I would have sent Vance packing along with Rachel Feinstein and Felipe Esparza

But somehow, despite a strange and awkward set, Thymius survived. Did America really want to punish Vance for blowing his punch line last week? Because I don’t get how they can dig deep enough to enjoy Thymius’ surreal act yet not see the charm in Adomian’s equally obtuse direction. And god knows what will happen next week, because Thymius had an even stranger set with a really weak close…although he did slip a teabagging reference past the censors. 

Teabagging the toilet water?

I do not understand the fascination with Rachel Feinstein as a stand-up comic. She’s very attractive and leggy and is comfortable on stage and does great voices…but there are no jokes! I agree with some bloggers who suggest a career in voice-over work; she could be a versatile player in the animated world as long as someone else is writing the material. All she did last night was another extended ethnic rant

Myq Kaplan continued to riff strong material (although familiar to anyone who has his album) and once again he tagged a prior comic’s set to good results. And Tommy Johnagin continues to kill, peppering punch lines and adding that little bit extra, like pointing out his sweat stain and mocking the judges. I thought Mike DeStefano was more miss than hit this time around, although the “does it clean shame” line was solid. 

Roy Wood Jr. continues to be consistently good – never great – but always enough to get a few laughs. And while I’m not a Felipe Esparza fan, this was probably his best set; the crowd loves him. I’m starting to believe that it’s going to come down to the ethnic comic and the comic who can’t avoid ethnic schtick. That would be sad, but we are talking about a show that crowned Dat Phan as the funniest comedian. 

The best parts of the show continue to be Craig Robinson’s one-liners coming in or out of commercials. The judges are back, but why? They don’t criticize anyone – everyone is great and their sets are solid? It’s insulting to watch. I enjoy Greg Giraldo’s quips and Andy Kindler is reason enough to watch the show. And I’ve seen Natasha Leggero be funny, but it’s yet to happen on this program. But the bigger issue is that America is voting and they aren’t judging anything anymore – so why the pretense? 

Not certain how many go home next week but I predict the next two voted home are Thymius and Kaplan. Sadly, America will get what it deserves

— 

"Sitting in the back of a car..."

R.I.P. bass player Andy Hummel, leaving only drummer Jody Stephens with us from the late great Big Star (no, I don’t count Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow). I don’t really have to make any special effort to pull a Big Star album out of the racks as they’ve been in rotation for…oh, almost forty years

Hummel had been battling cancer for the last two years. My friend (and Not Lame honcho) Bruce Brodeen posted that he had seen Andy at SXSW in March, where despite his illness he flew in from halfway across the world to participate in the tribute. Bruce said his playing was “a blessing“, and I guess if you’re going to strap in for a last gig that would not be a bad one to go out on. 

Blurt and EW announcements.

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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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My Bucket List

Older than your last car and still going strong

Bucketfull of Brains, that is.

The new issue is out! My reviews include the new efforts from Cheap Trick, Ian Hunter, Cracker and Muck and the Mires. No features from me this time, but check out these gems from my mates:

  • Lucky Soul: ‘It sounds like the Supremes, but inside out. Surely you understand that?!’ Interview by Terry Hermon
  • John Wesley Harding: Then, now, and whenever. Wesley Stace speaks to Nick West
  • ‘I never travel far without a little Big Star’ Simon Wright hears the box set, sees the band in Hyde Park, and converses with John Fry, Jody Stephens and Alex Chilton.
  • ‘We oppose all rock’n’roll’. Phil King hears from Rob Symmons of Subway Sect and Fallen Leaves about 1976, how the Sect formed, and the 100 Club Festival (with unseen pics of the Sex Pistols).
  • Mavericks In Maturity. Jeremy Gluck talks to Peter Holsapple about working with Chris Stamey again

All that plus a ton of news and reviews and some great pictures. So head on over to the Bucketfull of Brains site, nab a subscription (or try a single issue) and enjoy the wonder of a great print magazine – music’s endangered species!

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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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