Last week on St. Patrick's Day I was playing soul 45s on the Blackbird patio when a sad text from my sister came across the wire. She said her friend Laura's husband Alex had suddenly died and that everyone in New Orleans was shattered. I told her I was sorry and to give Laura my condolences, then got back to playing records. It wasn't until the next day that I realized what Alex she was talking about: Alex Chilton—guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer, king of cult power-pop.
Chilton, who grew up in Memphis, was 16 in 1967 when his soul-slanted sunshine pop act The Box Tops made hits (now omnipresent oldies) "The Letter" and "Cry Like a Baby." Beginning in 1971, Chilton fronted Memphis-based power-pop band Big Star, a less commercially successful endeavor that over the years gained an exponentially growing cult following. Nearly four decades later, songs like "
Chilton was somewhat blasé about the cult of Big Star. He had a prolific solo career that explored realms of jazz and classical guitar, beginning with '79's oddball masterwork Like Flies on Sherbert. Chilton was also a producer for garage trash notables like The Cramps and The Gories.
Alex Chilton died of a heart attack on March 17 in New Orleans, where he'd resided since the early ’80s. He was 59.
R.I.P. Alex Chilton, and thank you for all of the incredible songs.