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One year ago: Alex Chilton of the Box Tops and Big Star

March 17, 2011 |  6:00 am

It's been a year since Alex Chilton died suddenly in New Orleans at 59, only days before he was to play a reunion concert with his old band Big Star at the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas.

The show went on as planned with his surviving bandmates (see a snippet from YouTube above), and a panel discussion turned into a tribute to to the mercurial singer who was probably better known to the masses for his lead vocals on the Box Tops' 1967 hit "The Letter."

Times pop music critic Ann Powers covered last year's SXSW panel discussion featuring John Frye, the owner of Ardent Studios in Memphis, Tenn.; Big Star drummer Jody Stephens and original bassist Andy Hummel; and Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, musicians who helped flesh out the Big Star reunion band. In reflecting on the discussion, Powers wrote:

Chilton’s early success as the teenage singer for the Box Tops could have resulted in a career like that of Kinks leader Ray Davies, with ups and downs but more commercial success than Chilton enjoyed. Instead, Chilton responded to typical music-industry banality and narrow-mindedness by constantly testing himself and his audience, going further into tricky spaces.... Chilton remained uniquely baffling until the end. He apparently loved performing with his oldies act the Box Tops at events like the Italian Fair in Memphis; though he sometimes scoffed at the cult of Big Star, he enjoyed the reunion, and Auer and Stringfellow heard through the grapevine -- Chilton wasn’t much for direct compliments – how much he appreciated them. Auer smiled, remembering a time he’d asked Chilton to chose between several songs during a rehearsal."Amongst," Chilton replied. Auer wasn’t sure how to respond."It’s 'amongst,' when there is more than one choice," the stickler said. "Not 'between.'"Alex Chilton lived a life "amongst," and those gathered to honor his memory gave full voice to that variation.


Obituary: Alex Chilton dies at 59; mercurial leader of the Box Tops, Big Star

RIP Alex Chilton, American Music Man

Photos: Alex Chilton, 1950-2010

Alex Chilton and the Replacements

--Claire Noland