Posts Tagged ‘Andy Hummel’

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Originally released in 1972 and 1974, respectively, #1 Record and Radio City can still take your breath away with their bracing guitars, soaring melodies, emotionally-charged lyrics, and song structures that often zag when you’re expecting them to zig. Though the Fab Four are an audible influence on the albums, it’s generally more White Album–era Beatles being drawn upon than A Hard Day’s Night, along with such disparate elements as Led Zeppelin’s swaggering hard rock, Kinks leader Ray Davies’ brooding introspection, and the sweet soul music of Big Star’s Memphis hometown.

In rock and roll, there are moments when bands poised to break barriers and redefine an era are held back from their destiny because of logistics, promotional neglect, bandwidth, or all of the above. In the early 1970s there was no bigger victim of all three than the band Big Star. What began as a Memphis–based quartet soon became a power trio. They were a group who created a pop rock sound that would frame the musical future of bands like R.E.M. and The Replacements (It’s safe to say that Matthew Sweet’s 1991 hit record Girlfriend wouldn’t exist if it hadn’t been for Big Star). Even Paul Stanley of KISS has called them “an early influence.” Their moment was brief but lasting.

The Memphis band was formed in 1971 by singer-songwriters Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, drummer Jody Stephens and bassist Andy Hummel. Working with Ardent Records’ founder and engineer John Fry, Chilton laid down guitar and vocal tracks — often in one take, while Bell added polish with overdubs and harmonies to songs like “The Ballad of El Goodo,” “Thirteen” and “In The Street.” #1 Record was released to wide critical acclaim, yet distribution issues severely limited the album’s availability in stores. It would sell fewer than 10,000 copies. Things didn’t improve with the two releases that followed and the band quickly dissolved.

Since then, awareness of their music has only grown, widening the band’s base and spreading their influence. The music they made was expansive, ambitious and anchored in their love for the British Invasion of the 1960s. The bands that lead that charge can regularly be heard within the seams and between the folds of Big Star’s infectious production. They were never focused on fame or fortune. Instead, Big Star was a creative hot shop with boundless imagination and a drive to make music that aligned strictly to their personal vision.

Now, Craft Recordings is about to reissue Big Star’s first two albums on 180-gram vinyl. It’s a Memphis based affair. Jeff Powell at Memphis’ Take Out Vinyl conducted an all-analogue mastering, and manufacturing is being handled locally at Memphis Record Pressing. This is fitting for a band that is now part of the cultural fabric of Memphis.

Jody Stephens, the last surviving member and the rhythmic heart of Big Star, about this rerelease and what he thinks matters most about the band’s enduring legacy. We continue to build an audience. People continue to be into the music and it gives us a platform to do the “Big Star’s Third Live” performances. [Live performances of Big Star’s 3rd album.] It also gives a platform for Those Pretty Wrongs with Luther Russell. We released a new album in September with Burger Records. We also did seven dates in England and two in Scotland and it was really enabled by having been in Big Star. It’s great to just to continue to play these songs, play them for this community and feel connected. I never attach physical sales or anything to it. It would be awesome if it sold a lot so that Concord (Craft Recordings) will keep doing this and continue to make the music available. That keeps us relevant and maintains our profile.

Big Star's 180-gram vinyl reissues of #1 Record and Radio City via Craft Recordings.

After FIVE solid years of painstaking research and hard work, Rich Tupica’s epic tome on the deep end of the BIG STAR story is ready.

THERE WAS A LIGHT is an oral history containing new and archival interviews with those closest to Chris Bell and the Big Star circle: their friends, family, former bandmates—even some fans, exes, classmates and co-workers.

The varied cast of voices, many from the band’s hometown of Memphis, comprises all the members of Big Star, including: Chris Bell, the iconic Alex Chilton, Andy Hummel and Jody Stephens. In the following decades after its 1975 breakup, the obscure group somehow reached and inspired some of rock’s most important bands, including R.E.M., the Replacements, Yo La Tengo, Teenage Fanclub, Beck, and Wilco.

With Chris Bell at the center of the Big Star universe, this book carefully reveals the production of Big Star’s masterful 1972 debut LP, #1 Record, for Ardent/Stax Records. Despite stellar reviews in music magazines, the record saw abysmal sales. Soon after, toxic personality conflicts and turmoil tore Big Star apart while Bell battled drug abuse and clinical depression.

There Was A Light then delves into Big Star’s second and third albums, while recounting Bell’s second act as a struggling solo musician and devout born-again Christian. During several trips to Europe, he ambitiously recorded songs and pitched to record labels—even crossing paths with Paul McCartney. From this productive era arose Bell’s lone solo album, the posthumously released I Am the Cosmos LP—his swan song and masterpiece.

There Was A Light details the pop culture phenomenon that made Big Star legends and divulges how its staunch fanbase saved the band from obscurity.

Big Star, the Great Forgotten American Band, Is Bigger Than Ever

Big Star—one of the great and greatly underappreciated American bands of the 20th century, once merely a cult loved band, but now their fame has grown into something closer to a full-blown religion . Interest in the work of the Memphis group has rippled steadily outward since the relatively quiet days when their two studio albums—1972’s No#1 Record and 1974’s Radio City both hailed by critics

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The albums led to a combined release in 1978 by a U.K. imprint to the desires of hungry music fans overseas. In the decades since, word of the band’s genius has filtered its way through bands like R.E.M., Teenage Fanclub and The Replacements, who loudly trumpeted the group.

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A growing reissue market also embraced the band and its unique blend of British psych, Southern rock and radio pop, leading founding members Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens to reunite under the Big Star name in 1993. Two decades later, the Big Star reissue market is something of a cottage industry, and it’s never had a better year than 2017. Fueled by the vinyl revival, the complexities of licensing deals and some buzz stirred up by the 2010 deaths of Alex Chilton and founding member Andy Hummel, record store shelves are now groaning under the weight of fresh reissues.

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We’ve seen the release of the second and third volumes of the Omnivore Recordings’ comprehensive Complete Third series, which gathers all existing work surrounding the group’s aborted 1975 album, Third; a cassette boxed set of the group’s first three albums, issued by Burger Records; “Thank You Friends: Big Star’s Third…Live”, a three-CD set featuring a live recording of Big Star’s Third, Chris Stamey’s all-star tribute to the band, and a documentary about the project; Big Star’s Third Live at the Alex Theatre, Glendale, CA, a limited-edition vinyl release of the live material from that aforementioned set; The Best of Big Star, a single-disc compilation culled from their studio work; an expanded reissue of Chilton’s 1995 album A Man Called Destruction; Take Me Home and Make Me Like It, a vinyl release from Spanish label Munster Records pulling together solo sessions Chilton recorded in 1975; Looking Forward, a CD compilation of Chris Bell’s pre-Big Star work; a deluxe reissue of Bell’s abandoned solo album I Am the Cosmos; The Complete Chris Bell, a vinyl boxed set featuring Looking Forward and the expanded Cosmos material as well as a rare interview with the artist from 1975.

For a long time, there wasn’t any Big Star at all, and now there is, Cheryl Pawelski of Omnivore Recordings. “I believe strongly that the way you preserve music is to get it back out into the culture. Isn’ that good? Do you want it to be over?”

Incredibly, there’s more. On the docket for 2018 is a vinyl release of the 1973 live recording previously only available as part of the 2009 boxed set Keep Your Eye on the Sky, and there are rumors of a reissue of Alex Chilton’s 1979 album, Like Flies on Sherbert.

It’s a head-spinning amount of music to keep up with, especially for fans who were only recently introduced to the band. It can feel like sticking your mouth underneath the never-ending flow of a chocolate fountain, where the delights can give way to bloat. Naturally, the folks behind many of the above releases beg to disagree, to the point that Cheryl Pawelski, co-founder of Omnivore Recordings, the label behind Complete Third, Destruction and all the Bell releases out in 2017, sounds downright incredulous at the suggestion that it’s too much of a good thing.

As a fan, I most certainly don’t. All of the above releases are the kind of deep dives that I adore amid the current reissue craze. It’s opening doors into Big Star’s working relationship and creativity that I could never get when I was a budding music obsessive poring over my copy of “Third/Sister Lovers” that Rykodisc first issued on CD in 1992.

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Take, for example, “I Am the Cosmos”. While the material on this album was recorded in the ‘70s, it wasn’t pulled together for commercial release until Rykodisc got the rights to do so in 1992. The album was brought out by Rhino Records again in 2009 with a bonus disc of material, but issued in limited numbers through their mail-order only imprint,

Five years later, the label put out a mass-market version of the same two-CD set. Three years later, after leaving Rhino, Pawelski brought the album to Omnivore to once again re-release it on CD and now in the boxed set.

So how did the release dates for all of this music happen to land in one 12-month stretch? The process actually began about a decade ago, when Rhino started looking for the material that would make up Keep Your Eye on the Sky, much of it stored in the archives of the Memphis recording studio Ardent.

Big Star literally had the keys to the studio,” says Bob Mehr, music critic for the Commercial Appeal in Memphis. “For them, the studio was a laboratory and a playground and a place to experiment. Relative to their output, there’s actually a lot more material than meets the eye. So all the stuff that ended up on [Keep Your Eye on the Sky], all the unreleased material and alternate takes of Third and live recordings, that was what kicked things off. Now you’re seeing the results of that, but it’s been in the making for a long time.”

Another factor is that Pawelski, who helped shepherd Keep Your Eye on the Sky and the 2009 Bell reissue into existence, did all that work before leaving her post as Senior VP at Rhino. So when she started up Omnivore, she was able to strike new licensing deals with Ardent and its owners Jody Stephens and producer John Fry. The wrinkle here is that those agreements didn’t include the material found on #1 Record and Radio City. The rights to those songs originally belonged to Stax Records, which helped release the first two Big Star albums, and were purchased—along with the catalog of famed R&B stars like King Curtis and Shirley Thomas—by Concord Music Group. That’s the label behind this year’s Best of Big Star compilation and the Big Star’s Third live set.

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There will always be a supply of new listeners ready to swoon over the band’s dark poetry, gritty guitar work and the winsome vocals of Chilton, Bell, Hummel and Stephens.

Every year, there’s more record buyers who get into Big Star because it has a certain level of hipness. This band isn’t a nostalgia act. While there’s a big romantic myth attached to it, the music doesn’t age. It stays hip and it stays valid for new audiences.”

Big Star- Radio City, cherry red & white split vinyl, Ltd to 500 Pieces, Out 2/16

Big Star have the tagline of “cult band” following them wherever they go. It’s tragic considering their world conquering ambitions – embedded in their album titles like #1 Record-and how they wanted to be the first and final word on Beatlesque pop. The challenge with Radio City was to see if guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Alex Chilton could prove he could carry on without songwriting foil Chris Bell, who left after the commercial failure of #1 Record. The relief with hearing Radio City is how Chilton not only rose to the occasion but arguably superseded #1 Record in the process. It’s a looser, sparser affair in parts yet his (and the rest of his bandmates’) grasp on melody and songwriting hadn’t regressed: the track sequence “You Get What You Deserve” to “Morpha Too” has some of Big Star’s best pop writing on record.

Chilton had his best ballad yet in the chiming “September Gurls,” with its guitar arpeggios straight from the Byrds’ songbook while the drums push it along with a peppy stride. It’s an approach that’s been tried many a time by imitator bands looking for some of Big Star’s magic but none seem to have nailed that idyllic yet angsty feeling that Chilton does here.

An exclusive version of Big Star’s classic second album ‘Radio City’! After Chris Bell’s departure, Alex Chilton, Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel dug in to produce this urtext of power pop, with alternate universe hits like “September Gurls” and “Back of a Car”.

‘Radio City’ is pressed on Cherry Red and White Split Vinyl in a limited edition of 500 pieces.