John Stirratt remembers Alex Chilton
As a college kid in Oxford, Mississippi, New Orleans native John Stirratt met the then somewhat obscure singer-songwriter Alex Chilton. Later, while living in New Orleans, he briefly played in a cover band with him—also featuring former Cowsills bassist Barry Cowsill. Stirratt (of Chicago's own the Autumn Defense and bassist in Wilco) is on vacation with his family this week but was kind enough to e-mail me with his thoughts and memories of Alex Chilton—the Memphis-raised musical legend of Big Star and Box Tops fame, who passed away Wednesday at age 59.
“The band I was in had a house that was frequented by out-of-town musicians and was often the site of parties. I met him at my house—I came in from an out-of-town gig to a party that was raging and there was Alex in my living room. I got him to sign my records—and never mentioned Big Star again.
The cover band had 2 gigs, this was later in New Orleans. I think he was doing it for our friend, the late Keith Keller, who was in the band (and Barry Cowsill—great singers in that band). I was lucky to be involved.
Alex never lost that exuberance for making music when I knew him—even after all he had been through with Big Star and the ’80s solo period, two wildly different periods that showed such range and how forward thinking he was as an artist.
He had the demeanor of an urbane jazz cat, but I still remember him belting out Jackie Wilson's “Higher and Higher” at pickup shows in the ’90s like it was the Box Tops in ’67. [He was] an uncompromising guy and a kind man. It was so great to be able to spend time with a guy in your neighborhood that was, in your mind, like a Beatle.”
Wednesday night, Stirratt's Autumn Defense/Wilco bandmate Pat Sansone joined the Clientele on stage at Lincoln Hall for a Chilton tribute with Big Star's "Nighttime."