Perfect Sound Forever

Big Star- Andy Hummel

Interview by Jason Gross (July 2001)

Next to the Velvet Underground, you're not going to find much more of a cult fave among rock scribes and bands than Big Star, where sales are in ass-backwards proportions to their influence. Whenever he's wont to speak leader Alex Chilton is willing to tell his story about the group. Drummer Jody Stephens is much more approachable as witnessed here a few years ago (see Jody's interview). Unless you have a good ouji board, late co-founder Chris Bell isn't going to have much to add nowadays.

That leaves co-founder/bassist/songwriter Andy Hummel. Having written a good deal of material on the group's second album, Radio City, he was much more than just a backing player in the band. However, the uncertainly of the group's prospects led to quit after that record, leaving LX and Jody to carry on for one more record and then reforming the band in the last few years. But wait a minute. You have LX, Jody and the guys from the Posies as Big Star but what about Andy?

Surely, he had a lot of say and was an integral part of this great band's history. As it so happens, he had corresponded with us in response to letter we received from a Chris Bell associate. Now I ask you, how could we just publish his response without also asking him to tell his own story, when in fact we'd never seen it before? How did he see the history of the band? Why did he leave? What had he been doing since then? Would he reunite with LX and Jody? With that in mind...

ED NOTE: Andy Hummel died of cancer on July 19, 2010.

PSF: Who were your musical heroes early on?

I began listening to top 40 singles when I was in grade school. I loved surf music especially. Then along came the Beatles. I can still remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I first heard them. They totally blew me and everyone else away. It's sad that so many of the younger folks interested in music these days missed that experience. The Beatles were all anyone talked about. I mean everyone, old and young, the news media, they were just the main thing happening in the world at the time. After that it was the British invasion and I loved all those bands, bought their records, etc. and just listened to Rock and Roll as much as I could. I had a little 45 record player and lots of singles.

PSF: How did you get started with music yourself?

I began studying classical piano in the third grade and continued through the ninth. I began playing in bands in the seventh. In about the eighth grade I was playing in a band in Memphis called The Chessmen. Our drummer became somewhat unreliable and our lead guitar player brought Jody over as a stand-in. He knew him from his church. That's when I first met Jody. In the tenth grade I transferred to M.U.S., a private prep school in Memphis. Chris was a classmate and had a band called Christmas Future. They played a lot of Hendrix and Cream and stuff and just blew me away. All I had ever done was soul and white-boy punk.

When I got to the seventh grade some guys wanted to start a band. They needed a bass player. I bugged my old man until he bought me one. It was a sunburst Fender Precision bass. I took about 10 lessons at a local music store, broke the code and took off. Already having played the piano for so long once I knew which finger to put where to get the notes the rest was easy. By late in the seventh grade I was playing in the Chessmen as described above. Meanwhile I bought a cheapo creapo Sears Silvertone acoustic 6 string. The strings must be 1/2 inch off the fretboard (I still have it!). I just played it and played it. I picked out all the songs on all the records I could get. I really began to love Simon and Garfunkle a lot, then Joni Mitchell, and the other folksies because the guitar parts were so much fun to play. Finger picking 6-string folk and bluegrass-style is still my favorite kind of music.

After the Chessmen, the lead guitar player and I joined a band called the Swingin Sensations in the late ninth grade or so. It was pretty awful. They talked me into switching to organ. I bought a Farfisa which I hated. We all had to wear BanLon shirts - ugh! But we did play out a lot. The drummer's Dad was our manager and got us lots of gigs. We even toured a little bit. We were a soul band entirely. We even had horns. Then I started at MUS and met Chris and that was that for soul music.

PSF: What changed then when you met up with Chris?

Chris and I became best friends in high school and went off to college together at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. We had a pretty good time there but had no wheels, little money, and no way to make music living in a dorm so we transferred to a college back in Memphis after our freshman year. We almost immediately started playing in bands together and eventually decided to start our own. The first thing we needed was a drummer and I remembered Jody and called him. He was game and we began practicing together. We had various folks come in as a fourth from time to time but it was the three of us that were the core of the thing. We played some original stuff, some James Gang, Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, Beatles, whatever. We played a lot of fraternity parties and malls and stuff. Chris, and later I, began trying to get our feet in the door at Ardent Studios, then a small, storefront operation on National Street in Memphis. The owner, John Fry, who had also attended M.U.S., occasionally allowed us "scruffs" to come in late at night when the place was empty and experiment recording stuff. That's where we ran into Alex who Chris and I had previously met the summer before we left for college. He was finishing up recording his first solo LP. We got to jamming around in the studio with him and recording some of his stuff. He and Chris hit it off rather well, especially musically. So we decided he would join the band. We had never had a proper name. One night we were sitting outside the studio. There was a Big Star grocery store across the street. I guess the rest is history.

PSF: When Big Star started out, did you find that it fit into the Memphis music scene at the time?

I never really felt like Big Star was part of the Memphis music scene at all. I just finished reading Robert Gordon's book It Came from Memphis and, quite frankly, that was the first I've ever known of most of the "Memphis music scene." We were kind of the second or even third generation of Memphis rock and roll. Elvis, Jerry Lee, and all those guys were kind of the first, then Lee Baker, Jim Dickenson, and all those folks were maybe the second, then along came Big Star, Cargoe, Hot Dogs, etc. I never hung with any of the "older generation" musicians as I was coming up and I don't believe Chris or Jody did either to speak of. We were just sort of out there on the fringes doing our strange little English music thing. Alex on the other hand was very much involved with all those earlier folks but I guess it has always seemed to me that he was kind of distancing himself from all that during the first 2 BS LP's. I mean he changed the way his voice sounded, the kind of music he wrote/played, etc, etc.

From my standpoint, we were not a part of the traditional Memphis music scene at all. Chris, Jody, and I came from a different background and were younger than most of the folks that I think of as the "Memphis music scene" such as Jim Dickinson, Sid Selvidge, and the rest of those folks you read about in the book "It Came from Memphis". In fact, I believe Chris, Jody, and I were all still going to college during at least the early part of the Big Star experience. I don't think we initially considered ourselves professional musicians like some of the older generation folks. At least in the beginning Big Star was more like something we were doing for fun and glory. I think we all figured we'd sooner or later have to go out in the real world and get real jobs - as I in fact did. Now this changed for Chris and Jody as we moved forward. Chris quit school to do music full-time. I'm not sure if Jody ever got his degree or not but he eventually moved into music full time. I'm sure Alex has a much different perspective on all this, but this is how I saw it.

PSF: What was the circumstance behind the band teaming up with Ardent? How would you describe the relationship you had with the company?

Well, Chris was basically responsible for us connecting with Ardent. I'm not exactly sure what all schmoozing he did to get us into the studio but I know this: Chris and I were both big time into photography in college. Chris met Terry Menning somehow or another and Terry had his own darkroom.

John Fry, Chris, and I all went to the same high school so there was a common thread there. And John Fry was very proactive in giving musicians the opportunity to learn about recording and producing. In fact John taught an audio engineering course that many of us took. And he routinely allowed folks into the studio when it wasn't booked to play and experiment. So we just naturally gravitated to Ardent - as did several other groups and artists. John was/is independently wealthy so he didn't really have to make a profit. I think this kind of helped him be able to approach things this way. As I mentioned above, we were kind of in the same mode - at least initially. We weren't thinking that this was some serious thing we would do the rest of our lives. It was just a fun thing. So there was a lot of synergy there. We were just a bunch of people interested in music and recording.

PSF: What kind of atmosphere did Memphis provide a young musician like yourself?

Well Memphis had (has) an extremely interesting musical scene. I mean you simultaneously had delta blues, rockabilly, rock and roll, folk, soul, just about every kind of music imaginable going on all over the place all at the same time - and lots of it. If you ever want to get the whole story, read It Came from Memphis - very interesting stuff actually. There are a couple of chapters specifically about Big Star in it. So in that sense, it was rather nurturing I guess you'd say.

PSF: What kind of bond did you find with Chris Bell? How would you describe his personality?

As I said, we went to high school and college together. We were basically a couple of neurotics little rich kids and went to private schools and all. In our senior year in high school we became best friends because we were kind of bad guys - we had that in common. We smoked cigarettes and pot and drank and all. Then we went off to college together at U.T. in Knoxville. While there we got heavily in to the anti-war political scene and acid and all and developed our common interest in Rock and Roll - primarily the British invasion type stuff which was getting its second wind at about that time; late Beatles, Led Zeppelin, etc. Then when we came back to Memphis that continued and we started being in bands together and stuff.

Chris actually was a very bright, seemingly happy, guy with a total dedication to his music and musicianship when I first met him. In fact his compulsiveness about it is one thing that ultimately drove us apart. He became so intolerant and demanding that I just couldn't handle him any more. Of course I was to far the other way. I just wanted to raise hell and party. Then of course because he was so intense about it, the failure of Ardent and Stax Records to get the first record, which we felt was good and saleable, into the stores and it's resulting failure totally freaked him out. That along with the emotional turmoil going on in his love life at the time just broke him down and he became what we would now call clinically depressed.

PSF: How did things change when Alex originally entered the picture?

Alex just made everything better of course. He was just what we needed. He had the name, the voice, and best of all you could get studio time easily if he was with you. Plus the combined talent of the two of them just seemed unstoppable. But even early on you could see that dark side to him which has been so well documented in the media subsequently.

PSF: How would you describe the atmosphere for the recording of #1 Record? How much was Alex or Chris in charge? Where did you fit in?

Well, Chris WAS in charge. I would pretty well credit him with recording and producing that LP. Of course, he had a lot of artistic help from Alex but Chris was the technical brains behind it. He was the only one of us at that time who new how to record. Early on, I was just trying to play bass and keep up with the rest. But later on, after I had taken the audio engineering course and become more comfortable with the bass, I began to play the guitar and piano and write music a lot more and to just generally expand musically. After we moved to Madison Ave., I began to go into the studio alone at night and record my own music which is where "India Song" came from. I engineered a little of the later No. 1 stuff, but Chris was the main force. I don't think I really began contributing heavily until Radio City.

PSF: How would you describe Chris' songwriting technique (from what you saw)?

On the first LP, Alex and Chris pretty well just brought completed songs into the studio to record with a guitar part and lyrics. Then we played them together to learn them and developed the bass, drum, and other parts. The songs may have been tweaked a bit here and there during this process but for the most part they were a done deal when they were brought into the studio. So I don't know a whole lot about Chris's writing technique at this point other than to point out that he was a guitarist first and foremost and I think most of his songs began life as guitar riffs of one sort or another. His producing was agonizing, very meticulous, and quite frankly a bit overdone in my opinion. He spent hours and hours in the studio alone, with Alex, or with the whole band overdubbing, adding special effects, and just generally looking for every conceivable way to jazz up the tunes. He got MUCH worse about this after he went solo too.

PSF: What kind of fond memories do you have of the recording of the first record?

Not too many actually, at least in the early days. It was a very trying time in my life. Chris and I were both still living at home and going to college while trying to do the Big Star thing, there were a lot of drugs floating around, and I was just kind of trying to figure out where I fit into everything that was going on. Later on, as I began to learn how to record, and got my musical chops back on other instruments and stuff I began to really enjoy. I would spend hours and hours in the middle of the night in the B studio on Madison recording just anything and everything I could think of - sometimes with friends, sometimes with Alex and/or Richard, and sometimes just by myself.

PSF: What did the group think of the first album when it was completed?

I don't know about the others but I was sick and tired of most of it by then other than some of the acoustic tunes which I've always really liked.

PSF: What was the circumstance of Chris leaving the band? How did everyone else feel about it?

As I said, Chris leaving was an extremely complex affair involving disappointment with the way the release, promotion, and sales of the record had gone plus a lot of personal problems he was having at the time. I won't comment further on the latter but on the former, look at it from our point of view. We had produced, as time has proven, a superb product using very limited resources. We had done our job. We had taken care of the artistic part. Now the business end should have kicked in and taken care of their part - Stax, Ardent, et al. Would you say they did their part? Why didn't the record sell? It was/is a great record, right? It wasn't/isn't fair. Big Star did our part of the deal superbly then the business folks completely dropped the ball. At least that's how I look at it.

PSF: With regard to Chris leaving, did anything of it have to do with his reluctance to tour or his discomfort that Alex was receiving undue attention by the press? For this last point, Jody told me that this was part of the reason that Chris quit.

I wasn't aware that Chris was reluctant to tour. For us, touring was fraught with difficulty because we really didn't have adequate equipment or staff to do it, but I wasn't aware of Chris not wanting to. Of course me not being aware doesn't make it not so. Similarly I was not aware of any concern on his part about attention but Jody was probably closer to that than I. I was kind of off in my own little creative world much of the time during that period - frequently with Alex and Richard as I explained earlier.

PSF: Did the group do trio gigs between the first and second record?

Ths only trio gigs I can specifically recall at all are the two nights we did at Max's (Kansas City) in New York and the gigs associated with the Rock Writers convention (in Memphis). I have very fond memories of the Rock Writers gigs. That was the only time I felt like we could really become a viable band outside the studio. We weren't great but we were pretty good and had a lot of energy. With some more experience I think we could have improved into a decent road act. I would say we did pretty much come out of that experience as a cohesive trio able to move on to finishing up the next LP.

PSF: Was there an actual break-up (even briefly)? I've heard that Alex briefly was looking into a solo career at this point?

I'm afraid I have little, if any, memory of all the details of any break-ups. What I know now is just what I read in articles and interviews with others. My perception of all that is that the period between the first and second LP's was pretty seamless for me. I just wasn't all that aware of what band I was or wasn't in. I was too busy playing with lots of different people and recording and stuff and as long as I was doing that everything was O.K. And that attitude is reflected in the next record, Radio City. There are songs on it I had nothing to do with whatsoever and others that I was intimately involved with, writing, producing, playing, and recording - some I recorded but didn't play on.

PSF: Which songs in particular were you involved and not involved with?

You're getting to about the limit of my memory. I'd have to go sit down and listen to RC song by song to get it all right. I had nothing to do with "I'm in Love with a Girl". Then there's that song they brought in the other bass player for. I recorded part of "Morpha Too" but Alex played all the tracks. I did not play on "Don't Lie to Me" at all.

PSF: With Radio City, how would you describe the atmosphere for recording it? How was it different from doing the first record?

My recollection of specific non-musical events and milestones during the period after No.1 was released is rather vague. I can ramble about the musical events some. Musically this period, initially, was the most interesting for the group and we were certainly functioning more together as a band that we ever did before or after. We started Radio City when we were still a foursome. We had four songs, a couple that we all three co-wrote at Alex's house one night. If memory serves they were "Back of a Car", "Got Kinda Lost," "There was a Life," and I'm not sure of the other but it was one of Alex's songs from RC - maybe "You Get What You Deserve." Plus we got John Fry to agree to engineer the band tracks which we had done ourselves on the first LP. We were looking for new, different things to do so we decided to record in mono. We had Fry set one big Microphone in the middle of the B studio and recorded all four with reference vocals in about 3 takes each. It was the tightest, hottest music we'd ever done.

Unfortunately those tapes were subsequently lost or stolen so we had to re-record the ones we used later as a threesome. And of course we didn't use much of Chris's stuff because he subsequently left the group. But that environment of experimenting and looking for new sounds and working together initially pervaded our activities.

With Chris gone and no money coming in towards the end I began to become more than a little disillusioned. Plus, I was getting very nervous about finishing school and getting on with life instead of continuing with what was more and more becoming a LOSER activity. Also Alex was getting frustrated looking for material to fill our the LP and began venturing into more radical solo-type stuff like "Morpha 2," "I'm in Love with a Girl," "Mod Lang," etc.. By the time they were mixing the LP I was pretty well out of the picture.

PSF: You talked about 'environment of experimenting… and working together' in relation to the post-Bell recordings for Radio City. Could you give some details about this?

We actually had sessions where all three of us wrote music together, each bringing their own ideas, riffs they had come up with, words, etc. and we'd put it all together into a song. For example, Jody, Alex, and I actually wrote the music to almost all of Dazy Glaze like this in the studio based on a few lines from one of Handel's "Concerti Grossi" that Alex was into at the time. Then he went home and wrote the words a couple of nights later. there was another song we wrote together, it may have been "Back of a Car," where we were all four together at Alex's. Chris had the basic song down but needed additional lyrics and a bridge and some stuff. So we just sat around throwing out ideas until we had an entire song.

Experimentation: On "Dazy Glaze" for example we actually used an oscillator to vary the speed of the tape recorder on the guitar track - just looking for something different. In those days we normally recorded the bass parts with the bass wired direct through the console - no amplifier. But Alex was tired of that so we pushed everything out of the way in the studio then went into the equipment room and found a real old Fender Showman amp. I would never ordinarily use such a thing because they don't have nearly enough power or speakers so they distort badly. But we set it up all by itself in the middle of the room, put a microphone about six feet away, hooked up the bass, and blasted away. That was "So Wild" I think.

PSF: Could you talk about your song 'Way Out West'? Where did inspiration come for that song?

I had a girlfriend, Linda, who had gone to school in Denver. "Way Out West" was about her. She eventually returned and we had a long relationship. I almost married her once upon a time.

PSF: You were much more involved in songwriting on the second album. How did that change?

Well, like I said, I sort of musically "came of age" towards the latter stages of doing the first LP. Up to that point I was just sort of trying to keep up with Chris and Alex. Plus a big part of it was that I didn't yet know how to operate the studio equipment. But after I took Fry's engineering course and got permission to use the studio at will, I became much more active and varied musically just because I had the opportunity. You have no idea how much difference it makes in your ability to create when you have the advantage of all the equipment and instruments available in a high caliber studio like Ardent. I would come into the studio late at night with a song I had written some basic lines for and just overdub one thing after another until I had something resembling a song.

PSF: Why was it that you didn't appear on a couple of the Radio City songs?

Well a couple of them were solo performances by Alex so obviously no one else was on them. If memory serves the other was "Mod Lang"? I think that's the right name. It's the one with "howlin dog" in it where Alex rattles his gin at the beginning. I think that was one of the songs that Richard and Alex recorded as the "Dolby Fuckers". That's the name they gave themselves when they stayed up all night at the studio getting high and recording. I have no idea why they brought that other guy in for the bass. Maybe he was just around. Or maybe they were looking for a fresh sound. No big deal to me one way or the other.

PSF: When Radio City was finished and came out, what did you think of the final result?

Oh I thought it was a tour de force - much better than the first because there was so much revolutionary, avant garde sounding stuff on it. Plus I had been more integrally involved in creating it. And it wasn't so over-produced as the first. Plus the graphics were so cool, with the Bill Eggleston photos and all.

PSF: You had said that Radio City had 'so much revolutionary, avant garde sounding stuff on it.' What do you have in mind when you say that?

Well, I just thought then, and still do, that some of the songs on RC were very different than anything that had been done before. Some of the songs, like "O My Soul," "You Get What You Deserve," and "September Gurls," were just really excellent sort of traditional rock and roll ("September Girls" by the way is probably the best song BS ever did as well as being one of the top 10 all time rock and roll songs in my humble opinion). But some of the others, like "Mod Lang," "Dazy Glaze," and "She's a Mover," however were just very different than anything I had ever heard before - as Alex very much intended I think. That was exactly what he was trying to do. And he succeeded.

PSF: The graphics were indeed special- what was with the cover and that ceiling light fixture (if that's what it was)?

Alex knew Bill Eggleston through his parents I believe. His mother was an art dealer and Bill, of course was a very gifted local photographer. Bill was a major hell raiser, as were Alex and me at the time. We drank a lot, stayed out all night, and took all manner of drugs. Somehow we got hooked up with him and Alex talked him into doing the cover. I could go on and on about Bill's techniques and all, which were truly innovative and brilliant, and which I kind of made note of, being very much into photography myself, but I'm sure there are lots of books available that deal with all that now that he's world famous and all. But we wound up at the TGI Friday's on Overton square one Monday night which was "Rock and Roll Night." It was a major hell-raising scene in those days. A DJ would play old 45's and just everyone came and stuffed the place. That was the back cover. Then we went over to Bill's later on and he suggested the light on the ceiling pic, which he had previously taken. We all loved it and I thought it fit perfectly with the sort of avant garde nature of the LP.

PSF: Where there more problems with Stax/Ardent in terms of distribution?

Yes - Stax/Ardent dropped the ball again obviously. No different than the first LP. Although Ardent did, in Fry's defense, set up its own promotion department, headed up by John King, to try and solve the problem. But it didn't work. They would get us air-play in a given market but then Stax and whoever was actually doing the distribution wouldn't get any records into the store - so no sales.

PSF: What led you to leave the band?

It was late summer 1973, I think. The band was going on tour in the Northeast to try and promote the record. It was time for me to register for my senior year in college. I couldn't do both. I could either finish college and go lead a more or less normal life or I could drop out and go on tour with a band I'd been in several years that had yet to make a red cent. Tough choice! I was tired of being broke.

PSF: Do you regret doing so at the time now, looking back?

I don't regret leaving BS at all. I have some slight regrets that I didn't diligently continue making music and recording in the studio afterwards though. I think I could have come up with some interesting, even important material even while leading a normal, gainfully employed life the rest of the time. And I enjoyed it. In fact I did continue to hang around Ardent for a while. I recorded and produced a few odd things. But eventually I drifted away and here I am deep in the heart of Texas making lots of money, raising kids, partying with friends, riding my Harley, collecting antiques, etc. It ain't a bad life.

I have a friend I met at Christmas who is a great guitar player. He has a friend who can really sing well. I bought a Taylor guitar the other day and already had a Yamaha C-3. I even have an old Guild D-25 left over from the BS days. They want to start a band. We're gong to meet on the 10th. I may go out and buy a bass - or even a drum kit - now that would be fun. I always loved drums ...

PSF: Could you give some details about the music? What were the bands you were in, what kind of music were you doing?

I brought a group into Ardent called "Voice of Cheeze." They were a bunch of kids from Centre College in Kentucky. My little brother went to college there. They were sort of country folksy. I recorded several demos on them. They were great. I still have a lot of tapes of them. The two really talented people in the group were Joe Hardy and Billy Spencer. Fry always loved their original demo but did nothing with it. Joe and Billy moved to Memphis for a while and recorded some amazing stuff. Billy eventually moved back to his family's tobacco farm, I believe, but Joe became a big-time producer of Christian rock and married Trish the Dish, a very sweet girl who was one of the groupies who hung around mid-town Memphis in those days. In fact I'm told Joe bought a house on the same street my parents lived on before they passed away.

PSF: Have you been in touch with Alex or Jody after that?

I have spoken with Jody several times over the years. I hung with Alex occasionally immediately after I left but haven't run across him in at least 25 years.

PSF: What did you think of the third (Big Star) record when it came out?

Although I had nothing whatsoever to do with 3rd, I got a test pressing right after it was recorded and have thought ever since then that it's one of the great LP's of all time. Alex was very self destructive, but absolutely brilliant mode at the time. It would probably have been even better if that fat slob dolt Jim Dickenson hadn't been involved.

PSF: Why do you think Jim had a negative effect on Alex's work?

I think Jim Dickenson has a generally negative effect on the world at large - and Alex is a part of that world - I guess. Don't get me started on Jim Dickenson/Dick-in-son, whatever.

PSF: What was it about the third record that really struck you and made it so special? As someone who spent time working with Alex, what made it sound so unique from the work that you had been doing with him before?

Well, although I wasn't intimately involved with it, I think there were two things that were the genesis of Alex's brilliance on the third LP. The first was that he had already began experimenting heavily on RC with trying real hard to do innovative things, come up with sounds no one had ever done before, etc. But, unlike so many other artists who just try to make different sounds to make different sounds, Alex had an innate musical genius which, combined with this compulsion to be different and new, resulted in some truly great music. Now if you add to that the totally insane, intense emotional relationship he and Lesa were having at the time... well intense emotion is always conducive to producing art - whatever the media may be.

PSF: What did you think of Alex's solo work?

Well, first of all, I personally would classify the 3rd BS album as a solo Chilton effort. I mean it was basically all Alex. He wrote all the material (except the cover obviously) and my impression is that he and Dickenson created the thing. And as I've said before, I've always thought it was a brilliant effort on Alex's part, probably the best music he ever created. As for the rest, I've listened to some of the stuff but I can't say any of it just bowled me over.

PSF: Were you asked to participate in their reunions?

 That reunion deal is something of a mystery. Jody called me before hand and I was initially very interested. Then my recollection is that the next I heard about the whole deal was after it happened, which I recall being a little pissed about. But later Jody said that he had tried to contact me and was told I wasn't interested or something like that. And that is certainly possible. My career was in very high gear at the time and it may have just been a mis-communication, what with secretaries taking messages and all. Actually, as a practical matter I don't know how I would have done it anyway. I mean I was/am totally absorbed in making money and that requires pretty much all of one's resources.

PSF: What do you think Big Star's legacy is?

Well I don't know about legacies, but if all the stuff other subsequent acts have said about us is true, the I guess we kind of laid the ground for the revitalization of Rock and Roll which eventually emerged as Alternative Rock. More realistically, we were probably just one of the many fairly good acts in this world that, for whatever reason (and I believe I previously went into some detail on that), never hit.

PSF: Have you heard any of the material of the version of 'Big Star' that Alex and Jody have put together in the '90's? What do you think of this new band?

From the very rough tapes and stuff I've heard, I think the Big Star/Posies combo is/was a pretty good mimic of the original group (that's both good and bad I suppose). They actually are probably better vocally due to the Posies contingent. But there's sort of a difference. I think Alex still had a kind of passion for what he was doing back in the original Big Star days. I certainly don't see/hear that in the videos and stuff I've heard of the new band. Not that I blame him at all. Life can be a bitch. Or maybe he's just into some new dimension I don't understand - wouldn't be the first time that ever happened.

PSF: We've talked a lot about your musical activities. How about your work and your life otherwise? Could you talk about what you've been doing since leaving the band?

After leaving Big Star I went on to earn a B.A. in English Literature from Rhodes College in Memphis in 1974, planning on a career in teaching. I wandered through a couple of jobs in the Nixon recession years of the mid '70's before, strongly influenced by the writings of Ayn Rand, I returned to school and earned an associate degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology from State Technical Institute at Memphis in 1978.

I was immediately recruited by General Dynamics, Fort Worth Division, the company that invented and built the F-16 Fighter. I have held a variety of positions here in the fields of Logistics, Business/Program Management, and Engineering and on both the F-16 and F-22 programs. Our company subsequently merged with legacy Lockheed operations in Marietta, Georgia and Palmdale, California and is now known as Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company. We design and build a variety of products, primarily military aircraft.

I am currently Senior Manager of Engineering Operations. Simply stated, our department is responsible for ensuring the smooth operation of a roughly 7000-person engineering organization. I earned my MBA in Finance in 1999 from the University of Dallas.

I have a wife, Patti, who is a CPA and Manager of Tax for TNP Enterprises here in Fort Worth. I have three children: Cady, 16; Drew, 11: and Walker, 5. We live in a restored (by us) Victorian house a couple of blocks off the courthouse square in Weatherford, Texas - about 25 miles west of Fort Worth. My wife and I spend much of our leisure time obsessing over our house and garden. I also own a restored, very hot 1987 Harley Davidson Softail which I obsess over equally.

PSF: Would you consider joining Alex and Jody for any shows or recording if they did ask you again now?

I think it would be very interesting to get the three of us back together somehow. I'm not sure how we'd do it. I'm certainly not going to move to Memphis or anything. I'm making too much money and having a neat family and other relationships and whatever here. Plus my parents both died over the past two years so I don't even have a bed there anymore. But just maybe, if we were all on the same page, and everyone was a little excited about it, and was willing to work real hard at home, and we could get together to practice once a month or so, and we had a few months to get ready, and the actual event we were getting ready for was really cool, and if, and if, and if ... hey, I'm game.

Also see our other Big Star articles:
Jody Stephens interview
Alex Chilton tribute
Chris Bell tribute
Big Star 2019 reissues

Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER