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Tributes to rock 'genius' Chilton

Primal Scream and Teenage Fanclub hail the influence of Big Star's Alex Chilton

  • 18/03/2010
Big Star with Alex Chilton far right

Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie and Teenage Fanclub's Norman Blake have paid tribute to Big Star singer and guitarist Alex Chilton, who has died aged 59.

Gillespie described Chilton, who started with the group The Box Tops and produced US punk pioneers The Cramps, as a "genius of rock 'n' roll".

His work was "as good The Byrds or The Beatles", Gillespie told 6 Music news.

"When we started Primal Scream, Alex was a huge influence on us, and he still is. Even if he’d only ever produced the first Cramps album he’d still be one of my rock 'n' roll heroes. But he did a lot more than that.

"He just made so many great records, and they were crazy rock ‘n’ roll records. But they were also art records and beautiful records, mournful records, sad records, joyous records. What I’m trying to say is that Alex Chilton was one of the greats."

The cult hero died in hospital in New Orleans after experiencing what appeared to be heart problems, a friend said.

As a teenage singer with the pop-soul outfit The Box Tops, Chilton topped the charts with The Letter in 1967.

He formed Big Star in 1971 and the band's three 1970s albums - 1 Record, Radio City and Third/Sister Lovers - all earned places on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest records of all time.

"Guys like Alex Chilton are too far out, they’re too hip, too advanced for most people to recognise."

Bobby Gillespie

Gillespie said Primal Scream travelled to Arden Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, early in their careers because that was where Big Star had recorded.

"We made records there because of Alex Chilton and Big Star," Gillespie said. "Get Your Rocks Off was recorded at Arden.

"It was like a pilgrimage to go there and record in the same studio that Alex Chilton and Big Star had made Sister Lovers with [producer] Jim Dickinson, which was a huge inspiration to Primal Scream when we started."

Chilton did not get the recognition he deserved, Gillespie believes.

"He never did, and he never would, because guys like Alex Chilton are too far out, they’re too hip, too advanced for most people to recognise.

"I think he made far out rock 'n' roll records – real mad crazy art punk rock 'n' roll."

Norman Blake told 6 Music news that Chilton "didn’t think much of the Big Star legacy".

"He saw himself foremost as a musician," the Teenage Fanclub star said. "And he was an incredible guitar player – I think people often miss that."

The band's signature song was 1974's September Gurls, "a beautiful two-and-a-half minutes of glorious pop", Blake said.

"You ask any contemporary band and they’ll be aware of Big Star and Alex Chilton."

He compared their influence to the Velvet Underground, explaining that their records "didn’t initially sell all that well but were popular with musicians and all those people went on and eventually the records became legends".

Chilton had been due to perform with Big Star at the South by Southwest music festival in Texas on Saturday.

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