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The Box Tops with Alex Chilton

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Alex Chilton

Born December 28, 1950, Memphis Tennessee. Prior to the Box Tops Alex sang in various Memphis groups. One of these groups included Bill Cunningham and Chris Bell (of Big Star), although Alex only briefly worked with them at the time. After the Box Tops disbanded, Alex returned to Memphis where he joined Chris Bell's power trio, Ice Water. They changed their name to Big Star and recorded two albums which, while unsuccessful at the time, had a huge influence. After Chris' departure from Big Star in 1974, Alex pieced together the unfinished second Big Star LP Radio City. Big Star's 3rd Album (aka Sister Lovers) essentially marked the beginning of his solo career. With songs such as Holocaust, which was about pre-suicidal numbness, and Kangaroo, with feedback of representing the nervous electricity of a first touch of a new love, Big Star's label, Ardent, was dumbfounded and withheld the album's release until 1978.

Meanwhile, Alex recorded several tracks with Jon Tiven in Memphis, which emerged in various guises (notably the 1980 album Bach's Bottom). In 1979, Alex, Chris Stamey and Richard Lloyd briefly formed Alex Chilton & The Cossacks and relocated to New York, where they played the rounds with the Ramones, Television and The Cramps.

That same year Alex recorded Bangkok in London. Everything was drenched in slap echo, with guitars, machine guns and madcap laughs jutting in at Batman angles as Alex sang of "living on Chinese rocks." It was a pre-emptive distillation of what was to come on his album, Like Flies On Sherbet (1979), featuring four original songs and some chaotically creative covers. Never has a record sounded so electric, with even the piano sounding as if powered by fusing neon, and rarely has so much human soul come over (even with warts and fluffed entrances). His UK label, Aura, shipped him over to London to promote it, playing to an awed audience at Dingwalls, backed by two Soft Boys and a Vibrator.

Alex was having a burst of creative energy at this point, producing the first CRAMPS records (after they stole a car and drove south to Memphis to find him), and teaming up with rock'n'roll showman Gustav Falco, under the name Panther Burns. With his razor-creased pants, Little Richard pompadour and 'showbiz Hitler' moustache, Falco was an inspired striking partner for Alex, and their collaboration gleefully transformed tracks like Bourgeois Blues, Brazil and Goldfinger into gorgeous slabs of warped, ardent cabaret. An EP, Tav Falco & The Panther Burns (1980) was followed up by the album Behind The Magnolia Curtain (1981), on which Alex also played drums. Despite sporadic touring in the early 80s, Alex all but vanished until the release of the Panther Burns' Sugar Ditch Revisited (1985). His solo rehabilitation began in earnest when he climbed on stage with The Replacements in 1986 (the band had released a single entitled Alex Chilton in his honor), following up with the solo album High Priest (1987), and some stunning work on another Panther Burns outing the following year, The World We Knew.

Since then Alex has gigged and recorded on a pretty regular basis, reverting to his 'roots' in (fairly restrained) classy soul on record, while emitting flashes of his uncontrollable anarchic spark on stage. In 1993, he re-formed Big Star, whose influence on young bands on both sides of the Atlantic (notably Teenage Fanclub) was by now explicit. And in 1995 Alex recorded and released a solo album, A Man Called Destruction. Like much of his more recent output, its collection of R&B covers and quasi-rock'n'roll is enjoyable.

In late 1996 and early 1997, Alex and the other four founding members of The Box Tops began to record an album that reflects early influences on the group. The album, Tear Off was released in March 1998. Since 1997, in addition to his solo performances, Alex has toured with the other original Box Tops.

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