Big Star is an American rock band formed in 1971 in Memphis, Tennessee. The band evolved from two previous bands directed by Chris Bell, Icewater and Rock City. The name Big Star is borrowed from Big Star Markets, a grocery store which the band frequented during rehearsals and recording sessions for snacks.
Bell knew Chilton from having both lived in Memphis and recorded music at Ardent Studios. Bell and Chilton also shared an affinity for the Beatles. Although he declined to join Chilton in a duo modeled after Simon & Garfunkel, Bell invited Chilton to join a performance by his existing band Icewater, already including Hummel and Stephens.
Once Chilton joined the band, most of the songs were written by Bell and Chilton and were heavily influenced by the music from the British Invasion bands, most notably The Beatles and The Kinks. They were also influenced by US acts such as The Byrds and The Beach Boys. It is perhaps this influence that resulted in the band being classified as "Powerpop."
In 1972, Bell left Big Star because of depression and heroin addiction, although some believe he left the band because he felt over shadowed by the more famous and charismatic Chilton. He continued to struggle with depression despite working on numerous other musical projects. On December 27, 1978 Chris Bell died in a car accident at the age of 27, earning him a place in the infamous 27 Club. All members of this "club" died at the age of 27 from problems relating to drug addiction. Members include Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin and Amy Winehouse.
The journalist Jon Tiven
met Alex Chilton after writing a review of Big Star's 1972 record for Fusion
magazine. John King introduced Tiven to Chilton and they became good friends. After Bell's departure, the band almost broke up but reformed in 1973. Big Star owes some of their success to Tive,n who convinced John King to include Big Star in the Rock Writers Convention of 1973. It was Tiven who persuaded Big Star to reform and play on that occasion, giving the group a showcase for at least 100 music journalists, many of which wrote glowing reviews of the band.
Big Star continued to perform with Chilton leading the band until 1974, after which the band members went their separate ways for almost twenty years, pursuing other musical endeavors. Chilton moved to New Orleans and pursued his career in jazz, recording several solo albums and performing with Panther Burns. Chilton was still in New Orleans in 2005 at the time of Hurricane Katrina and was eventually evacuated on September 4.
In 1993 Jon Auer and Kenneth Stringfellow of the band The Posies, joined Chilton and Stephens to reform Big Star. The new formed band made its resurrection debut at the 1993 spring music festival at the University of Missouri. For seventeen years the band toured extensively with stops across Europe and even in Japan. They recorded only one more studio album, In Space. In Space however, failed to deliver the signature American Beatles style fans associated with Big Star, show casing instead the more eclectic musical tastes of the band including elements of jazz, R&B and glam rock.
In declining health, Alex Chilton died of a heart attack in 2010. His death saw the final dissolution of the band. Original member Andy Hummel joined a number of other artists including Mike Mills, Chuck Prophet and The Watson Twins for a tribute concert held in Texas on March 20. Hummel died three months after performing in the tribute concert.
Despite the checkered history of the band, Big Star left an indelible mark on the musical world, acquiring a cult following amongst fans as well as the respect of other musicians such as Peter Buck from R.E.M.