Page last updated at 15:18 GMT, Thursday, 18 March 2010

Big Star singer Alex Chilton dies aged 59

Alex Chilton performing in 2004
Alex Chilton released three acclaimed albums with Big Star in the 1970s

Influential singer and guitarist Alex Chilton, who enjoyed a cult following with rock band Big Star, has died.

Chilton, 59, died in hospital in New Orleans after experiencing apparent heart problems, a friend said.

He topped the charts as a teenager with the Box Tops before fronting Big Star in the 1970s. He also produced punk band The Cramps and had a solo career.

Primal Scream singer Bobby Gillespie said his work was "as good as The Byrds or The Beatles".

Bands including REM, Wilco and Teenage Fanclub also credited Chilton as an influence.

Guys like Alex Chilton are too far out, they're too hip, too advanced for most people to recognise
Bobby Gillespie pays tribute to Alex Chilton

Chilton was a major inspiration when Primal Scream were starting out, Gillespie told BBC 6 Music.

"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."

As a 16-year-old singer for the pop-soul outfit the Box Tops, Chilton topped the charts with the band's song The Letter in 1967. Their other hits were Soul Deep and Cry Like a Baby.

Big Star, which he formed in 1971 with guitarist/co-songwriter Chris Bell, drummer Jody Stephens and bassist Andy Hummel, brought less mainstream success but made him a cult hero.

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.

His gift for melody was second to none, yet he frequently seemed in disdain of that gift
Brent Gulke, South by Southwest festival

In an interview with the Associated Press in 1987, Chilton said he did not mind the lack of commercial success with Big Star and later as a solo artist.

"What would be ideal would be to make a ton of money and have nobody know about you," he said.

"Fame has a lot of baggage to carry around. I wouldn't want to be like Bruce Springsteen. I don't need that much money and wouldn't want to have 20 bodyguards following me."

Big Star reformed in 1993 and released a fourth studio album, In Space, in 2005. Chilton had been due to perform with them at the South by Southwest music festival in Texas on Saturday.

'Amazingly talented'

Brent Gulke, the festival's creative director, paid tribute to Chilton.

"[He] always messed with your head, charming and amazing you while doing so," he said.

"His gift for melody was second to none, yet he frequently seemed in disdain of that gift."

John Fry, the owner of Memphis-based Ardent Studios and a long-time friend of Chilton's, said he was taken to hospital on Wednesday after complaining of feeling unwell.

He said: "Alex was an amazingly talented person, not just as a musician and vocalist and a songwriter, but he was intelligent and well read and interested in a wide number of music genres."

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Alex Chilton: Rock's unsung hero
18 Mar 10 |  Entertainment


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