Just days before he was scheduled to perform at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas with his reunited band, Big Star, Memphis musician Alex Chilton died of what may have been a heart attack. Chilton had been complaining about his health Wednesday morning, and was taken to a New Orleans hospital, where he later died. He was 59.
Chilton first emerged in the 1960s with a band he formed with high school friends called the Box Tops. His signature gruff voice helped propel their single “The Letter” to the top of the charts. The band broke up in the ‘70s and Chilton formed a new group, Big Star. The group put out three pop albums that were critically acclaimed but never sold well. Chilton also released some solo material, including a strange album called Like Flies on Sherbet.
Although Big Star never had much success during its time, the band gained a cult following throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, influencing big-name bands like R.E.M. and The Replacements. The band reunited, with Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of the Posies joining Chilton and original drummer Jody Stephens. The re-formed group has toured regularly since the ‘90s, and had shows scheduled at both SXSW as well a May date in Memphis. The future of Big Star is uncertain, since Chilton was the driving creative force behind the band.
Chilton was “one of the all-time great rock & roll songwriters, and the ultimate indie cult hero,” Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield says, and he leaves behind a vast legacy. He is survived by his wife and a son. Watch The Box Tops’ “The Letter” Big Star’s “September Gurls” below.