If Boston can win the World Series, then Big Star can release their first studio record in 30 (!) years. MemphisÕ most influential, beloved, and long-running cult band came together at Ardent Studios for sessions in March and April (with now-permanent members Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer of the Posies) to create twelve new songs for an August, 2005, release on Rykodisc. Drummer Jody Stephens said, ÒAlex (Chilton) was way into it. He was there for the whole thing. We recorded 15 songs and came back a month later, picked the best 12, and overdubbed those.Ó
Each of the current members of Big Star brought their own tunes to the studio, which they quickly formed into songs by the whole band. The record leans toward a return to a Ô60s pop sound with amazing background vocals (the kind you just donÕt hear any more) and generally very short ditties. The sampling I tasted sounds closer to ChiltonÕs Box Tops then Big Star, but, then again, expectations are something Chilton relishes in obliterating. In fact one track very different from others on the record strolls down ÒShakedown StreetÓ with fantastic Memphis horns from stalwarts Nokie Taylor and Jim Spake.
Jeff Powell, who engineered the sessions, took the record to Los Angeles to master at Ocean Way. The buzz created by various musicians coming in and out of the mastering session peaked the curiosity of Beatle Paul McCartney, who popped in for a moment to bless the record, completing the full-circle for the Ô60s Anglo-rock inspired Memphians. Indeed, Chris Bell would have been proud.
2005 should be a huge year for Big Star and Big Star fans, who include amongst the most popular of the rock cognescenti from REM to Belle and Sebastian. In addition to the current release of the biography Big Star, The Story of RockÕs Forgotten Band (out in the U.K. on Harper Collins), the band will be playing festivals in Europe in August with a few other dates in the U.S. Tentatively scheduled to headline a Memphis Music festival at Barbican in London in early April, Big Star has been offered an ÒArdent NightÓ with the North Mississippi All-Stars as well as a host of other Memphis talent.
Not to be topped, Sam Phillips Recording saw the recent return of The Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis, along with top-shelf mega-superstar caliber talent helping him along for the rideÑKeith Richards, Willie Nelson, Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger, and last but not least Kid Rock himself! The Killer meets the KidÑonly in Memphis! Produced by guitarist Jimmy Ripp, this one should be out in early 2005.
The Soulsville sound is also back by popular demand as Al Green revisited Willie MitchellÕs Royal Recording on the recently re-christened Willie Mitchell Blvd. this summer. The follow-up to last yearÕs well-received I CanÕt Stop will come out March of next year on Blue Note again and will be titled EverythingÕs OK. Engineer Boo Mitchell says to watch out for this one as it has more of Òthe old feel but with a modern sound taking it up a notch.Ó The record features eleven more Pops Mitchell/Al Green collaborations plus a cover of ÒYou Are So Beautiful.Ó
Archer Records will release a Sid Selvidge DVD(winner of last yearÕs Best Memphis Record, according to Bill Ellis) called Live at Otherlands as well as a new Gamble Brothers record. MemphisÕ hottest country punks Lucero, who recorded in North Mississippi with Jim Dickinson this summer, also plans to release their new batch in early spring 2005 on an as yet undetermined label. The North Mississippi All-Stars just finished a new record at Ardent as well. And the Glass, currently at Easley-McCain, will follow-up Concorde with a new record, possibly on Makeshift. Memphis continues to be a recording capital of the South, making things sound bright for the next 50 years of Memphis musicÉ.