Yesterday Alex Chilton, the Memphis-raised singer, songwriter, performer, and producer, died in New Orleans. He was 59. It’s impossible to express how much Chilton’s work has meant to music in the last 40 or so years, particularly underground and independent rock. Though it represented just a few years from a long and varied career that included work with the Box Tops and many solo albums, Big Star, the group Chilton started in the early 1970s with Chris Bell, Andy Hummel, and Jody Stephens, is for so many young bands the template for how to make personal, joyous, and heartfelt music.
Below are thoughts from some of the artists touched by Chilton’s music, in addition to words from other friends and admirers. We’ll continue to add to this as more come in.
Ardent Studios owner John Fry: “It’s obvious to anybody that listens to his live performances or his body of recorded work, his tremendous talent as a vocalist and songwriter and instrumentalist.”
Big Star’s Andy Hummel: “I hope people really understand and appreciate what a brilliant musician the guy was…. He should be remembered in that way. He was really a creative genius, always testing the limits.”
R.E.M.’s Mike Mills: “Alex Chilton’s music was a big part of my life and a huge influence on R.E.M. He will live on for us through all the great music he made.”
Kristin Hersh: “baby wyatt used to dance to big star in the french quarter…r.i.p. alex chilton”
The Flaming Lips’ Steve Drozd: “I’ll always have “Blue Moon” by Big Star to warm my heart and make me cry. RIP Alex Chilton”
Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie: “He just made so many great records, and they were crazy rock ‘n’ roll records. But they were also art records and beautiful records, mournful records, sad records, joyous records. What I’m trying to say is that Alex Chilton was one of the greats.”
Sleater-Kinney/NPR’s Carrie Brownstein: “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.”
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) on the House floor: “He wanted to play music, and he did it. And he did it his own way: independent. Iconoclastic. Innovative.”
SXSW creative director Brent Gulke: “Alex Chilton always messed with your head, charming and amazing you while doing so. His gift for melody was second to none, yet he frequently seemed in disdain of that gift.”
Former owner of Antenna club Steve McGehee: “He changed music. There’s no other way to say it. It’s just true.”