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Thursday, March 18, 2010

RIP Alex Chilton

The world lost a trail blazer in two influential rock genres: blue-eyed Memphis soul and power-pop.

Alex Chilton died in New Orleans at the age of 59 after an apparent heart attack. He was scheduled to play South By Southwest on Saturday.

Most likely Alex didn't have the money for the upkeep of the old ticker. Such is a cult musician's life. As we even say sometimes in public radio, "If praise paid the bills...."

And praise Alex had in spades. As the teen leader of the R&B flavored rock band The Box Tops, he brought the kind of urgency to "The Letter" that made you want to cough up the very hard earned dough in the day for a plane ticket. And though he didn't write that, and songs like, "Cry Like a Baby" himself, he sold it so well, he just made you believe what he was singing was pouring out of his gut.

Later, as the front guy for Big Star, he co-wrote "In the Street," which later became the theme to That 70's Show. Records like #1 Album and Radio City (produced by the late great Jim Dickinson) were on a lot of top LP's of all time lists. Bands like R.E.M. and the Gin Blossoms have cited Big Star as an influence. And so profound was Alex Chilton musicianship in the mind of Paul Westerberg, that he named a song after him on The Replacements "Pleased to Meet Me."

Chilton's solo career was hit and miss, but I kind of liked his 90's release, A Man Called Destruction. I got a bang out of "Devil Girl" and "Sick and Tired" from it.

Alex Chilton is survived by his wife Laura and son Timothy.

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