Thursday, May 29, 2014

Reminder Of Our Upcoming There Was A Time events

Here's a reminder of our upcoming events to celebrate the second edition release of There Was A Time. Hope to see you there. -There Was A Time book event at the Charlotte Museum Of History. June 12th, 6pm, free admission. Discussion by yours truly about the music featured in the book, and performance by the Mannish Boys. -2nd annual Charlotte '60s Rock & Roll Reunion. With Thee Dirtybeats, the Young Ages, Good Bad & The Ugly, and the Mannish Boys. MC'ed by yours truly. $15. 7pm doors, 8pm show.

May 29, 2014

RIP Maya Angelou

photo 2013 Daniel Coston

Friday, May 23, 2014

There Was A Time Second Edition Is Now Available

It's now available! The second edition of There Was A Time: Rock & Roll In The 1960s In Charlotte, And North Carolina is now ready for purchase. This new edition features a whole new design by Greg Russell, several new interviews, newly found photos, discography, index, and a more complete story of the Rock & Roll scene in North Carolina during that remarkable time. My thanks as always to my co-author Jake Berger, Donny Fletcher, and everyone that's been a part of this project. Please come out to our events at the Charlotte Museum Of History on June 12th, and our big release party/Charlotte 60s Reunion concert at Neighborhood Theatre on June 21st. Until then, safe travels.

May 23, 2014

Spiral And Fade

Spiral And Fade

This is the way
you have chosen
to go. 

Spitting and cursing 
at everyone you thought 
you could hurt, 
without looking
at yourself. 
The others 
will not tell you 
how much of a mess
you have been allowed
to become,
but the result
is on display,
falling away from everyone
one person
one action
one end 
at a time.

This may be quick
or it may take years,
but you are spiraling,
and you are fading,
and when you are gone
I will not pause
to mourn,
because you faded from me
a long time ago.

You are going
You are lost
You are gone. 

-Daniel Coston
May 23, 2014

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Note From My Facebook Page

I got a nasty email from someone that was chastising me (among other things) for sometimes including something in the comments when a photo of mine gets posted. Yes, even I cringe doing that sometimes. The reason is that I fully recognize that when a photo is posted in any social media, it's out there. Things could, and have happened with usage by others that is out of my control. I include the occasional comment so that my name is somewhere in the chain of information. If you posted a song online, would you want your band's name credited with it? This is also a quieter way of doing it than posting watermarks, which I personally just don't prefer to do. The person that wrote me the email will probably never read this, but I wish them well, and I hope for the best. Which is what all of us can hope for, in the long run.
May 21, 2014

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Article On The Closing Of Reflection That Features Some Of My Photos

May 21, 2014

Friday, May 16, 2014

Big Star interviews, 2009, part two

Big Star, Part Two: Thank You Friends
Interviews and commentary by Daniel Coston
Originally published in the Big Takeover Magazine, 2009

BT: Former Box Tops singer Alex Chilton joined guitarist Chris Bell, bassist Andy Hummel and drummer Jody Stephens to form Big Star in 1971, and released their debut, Number One Record, the following year. Now recognized as a classic album, the record sank due to poor distribution, and other issues. Bell left the band in late 1972, while the rest of the band began to put together their second album, Radio City, in 1974. Hummel left the band soon after, and the band continued for a short time with bassist John Lightman.

After playing some shows to promote Radio City, the band returned to Memphis. In September 1974, Alex and Jody began collaborating with producer Jim Dickinson on a collection of songs that dove deeper into Radio City’s darker edges. Recording at Ardent Studios over a period of several months, the album (often referred by collectors as 3rd, but also sometimes titled Sister Lovers, or Beale St. Green) finally garnered an official release a few years later. Bootlegs of the album passed among collectors also helped to build the mythology of the band. 

Jody Stephens: I saw it as Alex and myself going into the studio to record, and Alex taking the lead. Obviously, I was there for a couple of different reasons. One, I wasn’t ready to let the band go. Working up the songs that were Big Star songs over a period of time, again there’s nothing quite as thrilling as that. In terms of being creative, and succeeding at that, which I thought Big Star did. So I wasn’t really ready to let go of that. 

And I don’t think it was ever intended to be an Alex solo record, as evidenced by the fact that Alex thought about calling it Sister Lovers. Alex and I were dating two sisters at the time. It could be that it would be a project that Alex and I would share some billing with, but as it turns out, it became a Big Star record. 

Andy Hummel: I was there at the studio while they were doing [the third album]. I wasn’t actually involved in them. But I was around, doing other stuff. They gave over the A studio to that project for 6 months while they got it all recorded. It was a pretty crazy time, from everything I heard.  

Stephens: I think I have a greater appreciation for the third album now, than I did when it was all going down. Because when it was being recorded, it was a dark period, and while it was fascinating, it wasn’t the most pleasant at times. But in retrospect, I think Alex did a brilliant of recording a particular phase of his life. I was too close to have a proper perspective on it, when we were recording the third album. I felt the emotions in the room more than I heard the quality of the songs.

BT: Throughout the late 1970s, fans began to discover Big Star. A radio play on a small station here, a bootleg recording in other places. Big Star’s fanbase was beginning to grow.

Mitch Easter: I'd met Alex by way of Chris Stamey. As is well-known, the Trouser Press guys hooked Chris up with Alex when Chris [Stamey] moved to NYC, and that association included Chris playing with Alex, Alex producing a single for Chris, etc.. So the first time I saw Alex live, it was in this period, and then Chris arranged a session with Peter Holsapple and me in 1977, I guess, which Alex produced at Trod Nossel Studio in Connecticut. 

BT: What were your plans on visiting Memphis in the summer of 1978?

Easter: I think we figured we'd call on Alex, who had gone back to Memphis, and take it from there. We took Faye Hunter's excellent Pontiac station wagon, and it was me, Will Rigby, and Peter Holsapple. I guess we all drove.  

But we'd also been told that Chris Bell was working at a Danvers Roast Beef outlet, which was his family's business. Chris Stamey must've been the one who knew this, but I can't remember now.  We found this place, asked the girl behind the counter if Chris (Bell) was there, and she let us pass a note back to him. In a few minutes, he came out, seemed a bit puzzled by our interest in him, but he was completely nice and offered to meet us that evening.  We met up with him  and went out someplace and hung out a little.

He knew that Alex was recording at Sam Phillips Recording. The sessions were for what became the Like Flies on Sherbet record. So we all went over there. The meeting between those two might've been significant; I got the impression they hadn't seen each other in a while, and it was maybe a little bit... cool between them, but civil enough. Of course I was thrilled to be in that studio! Jim Dickinson was there, and the studio staff dudes gave us a fantastic tour all over the building. Everybody in Memphis was super nice to us, actually.

BT: During this time, Chris Bell continued writing and recording in Memphis, while also recording during trips to England and France in 1974 and ‘75. Two of those songs, “I Am The Cosmos” and “You And Your Sister” (co-written and recorded with Alex Chilton) would be released as a single in 1978 by Chris Stamey’s Car Records, at the same time that EMI gave the first two Big Star album their first official release in England. Chris was still working on new songs when he died in a car accident in Memphis on December 27, 1978. An album of his songs, entitled I Am The Cosmos, would be released by Rykodisc in 1992, and was reissued by Rhino Handmade last year. 

John Fry (Ardent Studios founder): David Fry told me that the two things that Chris was proudest of was the Car Records 45, and when EMI released the first two Big Star albums, so that it had the label, “EMI Records, Middlesex, England,” just like the Beatles records.

Stephens: He was a nice guy. His music speaks for itself.

Jon Auer: When we asked Alex about playing “I Am The Cosmos,” he had no problem with that. He’s never said much about Chris, but that does lead to believe that there was some level of respect there between him and Chris.  

BT: The legend of Big Star continued to grow throughout the 1980s, during which Alex Chilton released several solo albums. Meanwhile, Jody Stephens returned to Ardent Studios, eventually becoming the public face for the studio, a position he holds to this day.

Stephens: I went back to school,  and got a marketing degree. It was the 14-year program. I started Memphis State in 1970, then I was in Big Star. I’d enroll in school, and then have to drop out from time to time. So I finished in 1984, and actually put John [Fry] down as a reference on a resume. In November of 1986, John said, “We’re creating a position here. Someone to help wave the flag for the studios. It’s a marketing position, but we’d also like to start a production company, and develop talent.” And I wound up getting hired in January of ‘87. 

Interestingly enough, Jim Dickinson was in the studio with the Replacements [recording the album Pleased To Meet Me, which featured the song “Alex Chilton’] when I started here. I didn’t know who they were, and actually, I don’t know if I ever ran into the band while they were here, because I don’t think they starting working until 6pm, or 6:30. 

BT: In the early ‘90s, Rykodisc releasing Big Star’s albums to a waiting audience, including their third album, a live album, Big Star Live, recorded at a radio station in 1974, and Chris Bell’s I Am The Cosmos album. Meanwhile, the band’s first two albums were reissued on CD, while Salvo Records reissued those albums on vinyl. But then, out of the blue came the news that students at Columbia College in Missouri had gotten Alex and Jody to reunite Big Star for one show, with Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of the Posies rounding out the lineup.

Stephens: It was pretty surprising. Those guys were operating under the line of, “It never hurts to ask.” I was pretty easy to access, as I was working here, but I was shocked that they were able to locate Alex and his phone number. Both of us said yes just to do it, they were just going to cover our expenses. 

Their idea was that they were going to find a couple of other people to play with us, and we were going to do Big Star songs. They tried several different people, and that didn’t work out. I think just prior to that, I had met Jon and Ken, and had been given this single of the Posies doing “Feel,” and “I Am The Cosmos.” And those versions were just amazing versions of those songs, so I gave [them] Jon Auer’s phone number. And he did, and Jon agreed to it. Then Ken said, “Wait a minute, I’ll play bass.”  

Ken Stringfellow: Our manager got the call, and they were asking about Jon. But there was no way that I was gonna let that one slide.

Jon Auer: I seem to recall that we were on tour with the Replacements, of all people, and that a writer named Rick Clark brought Jody Stephens to see us at a show in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I remember Jody talking to me at that point, and saying how impressed he was with the single. And he also was super-impressed with the version of “Cosmos,” and he said he eerily similar the inflections were in the voice. Of course, being a 21 year-old kid in a rock band, I was thrilled to hear about this from him, of all people. 

I hadn’t even heard of Big Star when the Posies formed. I remember playing our first demo tape for a record store manager, and he said,”Wow, if you’re into this, you’ve got to check this record out.” And he bought me a vinyl reissue of Radio City. He said, “When you go home, the first thing I want you to do is drop the needle on this song called ‘September Gurls.’” At the risk of sounding cliched, it sounded so familiar to me. It reminded me of meeting someone for the first time, and you feel like you’ve always known them. 

Stephens: After we’d agreed to do this, there’s a guy named Jim Rondinelli, a producer out of New York, somehow got wind of it, and said that someone should record this. He and Bud Scoppa got the blessings of [Zoo Records], and came up with a little bit of a budget to record [the show]. The good thing about it was it allowed some money for me and Alex to go to Seattle and do a couple days worth of practicing with Jon and Ken. 

Auer: We rehearsed for like six hours over two days. Jim Rondinelli came along and recorded the rehearsals. I have DATs of it. It’s just us bullshitting. There’s even a point where Alex jumps on drums and we start playing some Small Faces songs. It’s pretty ridiculous.  

Stringfellow: We rehearsed again in Columbia, Missouri the night before the show with just Jody, Jon and myself, which was pretty cool. We were rehearsing in this metal shed, and all of a sudden there was a big storm. It had been raining all day, but this storm suddenly roused up and blew the door open. And at that point, Jody was like, “Hey Chris!” Which was weird, because we had been playing “I Am The Cosmos,” and Jody assumed it was a message from beyond.

Stephens: If it had rained during the show, it would’ve ruined the recording, because we were under a tent. There are a lot of things that could’ve wrecked that, but they didn’t. Sometimes things are just meant to happen, and work, and I guess Big Star is one of them.

Hummel: When all that [the reunion] was starting up, I had a few conversations with Jody about the fact that they were going to do it, but infrequent conversations. And before I knew what had happened, they had settled on the Posies, which was probably a real good way for them to go do it. They could pick up two guys who were already gigging professionals, and were into the same kind of music they were in, to help round out the group. And it would have been very difficult for me to go do it with them, because of my career, and everything. I thought it was a great thing. We were going a have a little resurgence. It was pretty cool.

I knew [the resurgence] was going on, and there came a point where people at Universal Music found me, and apparently had been looking for me for a long time. And they sent me a royalty check,  and I said, “Wow! You mean I’ll actually get paid for having done that? And was kind of cool (laughs). 

Stringfellow: That gig was destined in our minds to be a one-off. I wasn’t sure that Alex would have any sustaining interest in doing more. It was already shocking that he was willing to do one. But then the live album got released, and then we had offers to play. It got kind of busy, that first year, 1993, 1994. But then, after that, there would be things here and there, now and then.  

Auer: It’s been misreported that Alex requested that we do certain songs, and all this kind of stuff. He cared what songs we didn’t do. 

Stringfellow: The songs we play are the ones that he feels comfortable playing. There’s a lot of songs that he’s like, “You know, this was a me that was a long time ago, and that’s not me anymore.” And he’s moved on from that viewpoint. 

BT: How did The In Space record, released in 2005, come about?

Stringfellow: First, in 2001, when we were playing, in London, I can’t remember which song we were playing, Alex [told the crowd], “This is a song that we’re going to put on our next record. We’re going to be working it pretty soon.” And the rest of us were like, “Oh, how interesting.” And then, somewhere else in there, we did get together in Memphis to rehearse, and once again brought up the idea of trying some other vintage Big Star songs that we hadn’t played, and Alex said, “All of this is interesting, but we don’t we just make a new record? It’d be much more interesting for me.” And we said, “That’s a great idea.” And so we did. 

Stephens: The mission was to write and record a song a day. I think we had 15 days to do 15 songs. And then we were going to weed it down to 12 songs, and mix those. So some days, we’d come in and Alex would introduce an idea, and we’d all sit down in the studio and work it out. Things went pretty well. It’s interesting how pressure sometimes works in one’s benefit, because you just get out and start doing stuff.

Stringfellow: We didn’t write anything in advance. We just showed up, and decided to see what happened. We set up live in the big room, and whoever had the idea, we’d start running it up. Pretty much, about three run-throughs before we were all ready, we would’ve already recorded it by then. 

Stephens: I know people think that “Love Revolution” is pretty silly, but it is. It’s supposed to be a song with a sense of humor. You listen to it with headphones, and there’s some wacky cool parts that Alex and Jon are playing. When they were overdubbing the horn parts, a guy named Nokie Taylor, and maybe Jim Spake did them. They were running through it, and got to the end of it, and Nokie said, “Hey, I think I got it now. Let’s do this again.” And Alex said, “No, it’s fine. We’ll use that.” That was kind of the spirit of it. It worked well, because it just sounds fresh.  

Auer: Here’s my take on Big Star. I think it was always a very collaborative affair. Certainly Alex has gotten the lion’s share of credit for Big Star, and he has this whole other myth surrounding him, and the lore about Alex Chilton. It’s always the question I get asked, “What’s Alex really like?” But if you look at all of the Big Star records that have been made, they all have been really different. And after working on a Big Star record, with Big Star, for me, it’ll never be as good as any of those other records, of course, but I can say that working on that record was a very collaborative affair. Alex was ultimately the captain of the ship, but he definitely let people take turns steering that ship. He didn’t always want to be holding the wheel. It kind of implied to me to look at those records, and realizing who was involved with them, it depended on who was involved with them. 

I think initially for Alex, this might have been just a gig. But I don’t think he would keep on doing it, and doing it as well as he’s been doing it if he didn’t enjoy it. I’ve seen him have a lot of fun with it. And I know that he does a lot of other stuff. We all do other stuff. But there’s a good feeling surrounding it. And not every gig is amazing, but when it does happen, it still feels like its still vital. Even if they won’t let on, there’s still some meaning in there.  

Stephens: I continue to be amazed at how well things come together on stage. It sometimes seems like its a mystery. It’s always a mystery as to how things are going to turn out, it seems. But Alex is a really talented, and resourceful, and a creative guy with a little bit of a twist on things. It’s always fun to hear his performances unfold, as well as Jon and Ken. We all have this chemistry on stage that seems to work pretty well. 

Stringfellow: One of the nice things about Big Star is that they’re unburdened with being identifiable with 1971, in that sense. It’s not hearing “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” and going, “Ah, Woodstock.” Nobody cared about them then, so they didn’t get imprinted on all of this as part of that year. So that’s one of the special things about Big Star. They were like buried treasure. 

Auer: Playing with Big Star is a dream gig. I’m certainly professional and capable enough that I know how to get down to business, and really enjoy playing with the band, but there was a time where it really freaked me out that it was all occurring. And I just happen to be good at utilizing denial (laughs). The truth is, it’s not very often that you get to join one of your favorite bands, and it’s a complete honor to be a part of it.

Hummel: Still to this day, I think the second one, Radio City, was absolutely outstanding. When people say that its their favorite record, or how much they love it, I’m not overly surprised. I’m surprised they ever heard it, or found out about it, to begin with. Because it was so obscure, and so there were few copies to begin with. But I’m not at all surprised from a standpoint of the quality of music, because I always thought it was great stuff.

Stephens: If they were just about to dive into [Big Star] songs, I wouldn’t say anything. I’d hate to color how they hear those songs for the first time. It’s much like how I’d rather not have someone describe a novel to me, or a movie. But outside of that, Big Star’s music always seemed to be a discovery, because people either heard it by chance, or they would read about it. But there wasn’t a tremendous amount of information, so when they sat down to listen, I don’t think they had any preconceived ideas, it was a real fresh discovery. 

John Fry: People have asked me when I am going to write my memoirs, like I needed to leave behind some sort of legacy. If you put the Big Star boxset together with Chris’ I Am The Cosmos reissue, that could be my legacy. Those two came closest to my heart.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Big Star interviews, 2009, part one

Big Star: What’s Going Ahn
Interviews and introduction by Daniel Coston

There are many legends within the story of Big Star, but the truth still lies within their records. Despite distribution issues, personnel changes and a sometimes indifferent public, the music of Big Star has overshadowed initial perceptions to become timeless. The release this past September of a Big Star boxset, Keep An Eye On The Sky, comes hot on the heels of reissues of all their records, as well as the posthumous album by band co-founder Chris Bell, I Am The Cosmos. There is even a reported movie of the band’s story in the works. 

While not all Big Star myths may be addressed in my conversations with the band members, what emerges is an honest discussion about the history of a fantastic rock band.

BT: When did you both first meet the other members of Big Star?

Andy Hummel [bass, keyboards, vocals]: Chris and I went to high school together. Actually, going back further than that, I knew Jody from some friends of mine when I was in junior high school. He went to church with some other guys that I played music with in my first band. We played a little bit with Jody, but a whole lot. He would stand in when our regular drummer wasn’t available. 

Jody Stephens [drums, vocals]: [Andy] was a grade above me. I was introduced to him by a guy named Mike Fleming. Mike and Andy were in a band together, and I think my brother Jimmy joined that band, at some point. Jimmy was playing bass, and Andy, I think was playing keyboards.

I think Jimmy and Andy and Mike’s band had a gig the night the Beatles played Memphis, August 19th. They had a gig that night, so had we to trade our [evening] tickets for matinee tickets. And we got into trouble because we snuck backstage, and they took our tickets away from us. 

Three or four years later, a band I was in had auditioned to be the band for the first college production of Hair, at what was then Memphis State University. I was still in high school, but  we passed the audition. We did a two-week run in March of 1970, and Andy Hummel came to one of the shows, and came up on stage for the big finale. He reintroduced himself, and invited me to come out and play with some folks. And I said sure, and wound up at Chris Bell’s back house, with Andy and Steve Rea. Tom Eubanks may have been there, and that was the beginnings of what became Big Star. 

Hummel: It was an old frame house out behind his parents’ very nice house, and they had said we could use. We went out there and tried to convert that into a sort of practice facility.

BT: How much did that lineup record, or play? I know that some shows were played as Icewater, some under other names.

Hummel: There was some playing that happened under all that guise, and who went and played the gig was seldom the same group of people. It was just who managed to be in on the thing on any particular gig. But it wasn’t a whole lot. You could count it on two hands, easily (laughs). 

Stephens: Steve [Rhea] played drums with Andy and Chris prior to my joining. Steve had to go away to college, so that created the opening for me. Later on, when Tom Eubanks left, it became more of a three-piece, which really formed up the cohesive group. 

BT: Were already recording at Ardent by this point?

Stephens: We were. Chris and Andy were friends of John Fry, Ardent’s owner and founding father. John saw us as responsible kids, and gave us a key to the studio. We’d come in and record on our own after hours. Chris and Andy had gone through the John Fry school of recording, so we kind of could do it ourselves. Having access to the studio was a pretty incredible opportunity, especially for Chris, who was able to experiment with guitar sounds, and different tones, and a lot of things without anybody looking over his shoulder, without the clock ticking and having to pay for studio time.

BT: The story I’ve heard is that Alex [Chilton]  and Chris had been in touch, and that Chris invited Alex to an Icewater show at a local VFW...

Stephens: I don’t think that was an Icewater show. I’m not sure what we were called [laughs]. Yeah, Alex came to see us at a VFW, and he joined the band shortly thereafter. 

BT: Had you met Alex before that?

Stephens: I don’t think so. That’s interesting, because Chris, and Andy and Steve Rhea and John Dando and I all went to New York to shop our demos that we recorded. We stayed at the Chelsea [Hotel], which is where Alex was living, if I’m remembering things correctly. But I don’t remember meeting Alex during that trip, oddly enough. Andy got to New York, and he had to turn around and go back home. So Dando and Steve Rhea and I all shared a room. But I think that Chris was staying with Alex. But it’s just curious that I don’t remember meeting Alex until he came to the VFW performance. 

Hummel: We were “Ardent scruffs,” if you will. We hung around the studio a lot, so obviously we were aware that Alex was there recording that solo LP that he recorded with Terry [Manning]. He and Chris got together and talked about it, apparently. It was just a little serendipity there, I think. Alex was probably looking for a new musical direction, and we were kind of needing a fourth player to push us over the top, so it just made sense. It was a symbiotic thing. And it worked out.

BT: How soon after Alex joined did you start working on what became No# 1 Record?

Stephens: It doesn’t seem like much time passed at all. Alex joined in, and Chris had some songs. A couple of songs had already been recorded, one of which was “Life Is Right.” I think Alex added some parts to it, or something. And Alex had some songs, and they wound up sitting down together and just making suggestions, exchanging suggestions here and there. 

Hummel: Once we got Alex under our wing, we gained a lot of credibility, obviously. Since he was already kind of a star and everything. So we got to the point where we could get the studio time when we needed it. It slowed down a bit once we got to producing it, and actually figuring out what sorts of overdubs we needed.

BT: Listening to that record, it’s amazing how fully realized that sound was, especially considering that you essentially producing yourselves.

Hummel: We were, but we kind of had no choice. (laughs) It was not like there was someone else around there to do it. And it was not like we could afford to bring in a lot of session musicians. It was born out of necessity.

BT: How did “The India Song” come about?

Hummel: I was just fiddling with some stuff. I was going through a real Joni Mitchell period at the time, and that one song that I had sitting in the back of my mind, and I actually did a little demo just for myself. There wasn’t anybody else but me in the studio, and left it laying around, and Alex heard it and said, “We’re going to put this on the LP.” I said, “Oh, that doesn’t go on the LP,” and he said, “Sure it does. It’ll be fine.” I laid down a vocal track, then Alex reinforced it with doubles. [Ardent founder John Fry also notes that Chris Bell added additional harmonies on this song.]

BT: What happened after the release of No#1 Record, in early 1972?

Stephens: The problem with Big Star was we never had a proper manager, nor did we ever have a proper booking agent. I just don’t think anybody was interested. So we didn’t play much. There were certain doors that were never opened to us because we didn’t have a proper manager. But having said that, Ardent seemed to perform its role extremely well. Press was part of Ardent’s job, and John King did a pretty incredible job of that. But once it got to actually putting records in the stores, the process failed. 

I’m not quite sure what happened there. It could have been a lot of different things. The story I heard recently was that Al Bell had negotiated the distribution deal with Clive Davis, and shortly after that, Clive left Columbia. So the champion for distributing Stax left, and it could be was that Clive’s vision was never realized because he wasn’t there. And then whoever came on board next didn’t have the same interest that Clive had. 

Hummel: Leading up to the release of the first album, Ardent had the notion that “Well, we need to set these guys up so they can tour, so they promote the album.” They went out and bought and set up a PA system for us. Some of us needed new equipment, so they got us new equipment. And got ourselves all ready to play. They also hired a couple of guys to help us. John Dando, who was our equipment manager. And another guy, Vince, whose last name I can’t remember, whose job was to book the dates and make sure that the gigs happen. Vince never did a whole lot, I’m not quite sure what happened with Vince. Part of it was probably him just having difficulty in getting us to go play. Because we would rather play around in the studio. But also, he never really dominoed with any real gigs.

One gig was in a shell, an outdoor amphitheater up in Mountain View, Arkansas. I think maybe 25 people came to it, if that. Another was at the auditorium at the University of Mississippi, so went and played that, and it was about the same. And this was both bands, 
this was Big Star and Cargoe. The idea was to promote them both at the same time, at the same gigs. And that was pretty much it. Now admittedly, in that second one, at Oxford, Mississippi, after the gig several of us got busted and had to spend the night in jail.
The gigs get pretty fuzzy in my mind after that, on the gigs we did as a three-piece, or a four-piece. 

The police in rural Mississippi in those days were pretty nasty guys. We weren’t really doing anything odd, as far our behavior. We just played the gig, and then got in our cars and heading home, and we had two or three sheriff’s cars drive up from behind us and stop us and search our cars. Nobody had anything to speak of. We had a little bit of pot, that was about it. But they apparently had pre-determined that they weren’t going to have us hippie musicians in their town. They wanted to hassle us a little bit, so they did. It was pretty disgusting, actually. John and Chris’ father, Mr. Bell, and my parents arranged to get us bailed out the next morning, and they took us back to Memphis.

BT: What happened leading up to Chris leaving the band? Andy, I know that there was a fight between you and Chris, and some guitars got damaged in the process. 

Hummel: Those two were very separate incidents. The guitar damage was just a fight that Chris got in because Chris was kind of being a dick during practice one day, and popped him in the nose. Which I thought he richly deserved. Him leaving the band was a much deeper seeded set of problems that he was reacting to there, and he was primarily very disappointed in the fact that the first album hadn’t sold, and there was nothing he could do about it. If it had been something wrong with the music, he could have fixed it, right? Because he knew how to do that. He knew how to operate the studio, he knew how to write music, he knew how to produce music. But it wasn’t. It was about the business end of the thing, and the fact that there were people who weren’t promoting it very good, and that they weren’t getting it into the stores, therefore it wasn’t it. There wasn’t a lot that any of us could do about that. It was very frustrating for him, extremely frustrating, and I think that probably contributed more than anything else to him deciding to go his own way.

BT: Was Big Star already writing for Radio City before Chris left the band in late 1972?

Hummel: There was the famous monaural session that we recorded the four [new] songs all in monaural. We got John [Fry] to record them all with just the one microphone sitting out in the studio. The tape of what was a really wonderful performance that subsequently mysteriously disappeared. When Chris finally said, “I’m gonna leave the band,” there was some sort of a transaction went on between Alex and Chris where they said, “Well, you take this one, and I’ll take this one,” and they just split them up. Roughly in accordance with who had written the most of each one, that sort of thing. 

BT: Legend was it that four songs on Radio City were co-written by Chris?

Hummel: That sounds about right. And there probably another four that Chris took off with him, which Big Star had some hand in. Because I don’t recall it as being an uneven deal. He got as much as he took.  

What was the status of the band around the Rock Writers convention in May, 1973?

Hummel: We may have been kind of dormant there for a while, but I don’t recall any big decision that we had quit playing. Right around that time, there was a group decision that “Well, let’s go ahead and finish up the LP that we started.” We got John [Fry] to start back engineering some sessions for us, and we started doing some stuff. 

The rock writers convention was the first time that we had what I would call a real, no kidding gig. We really had a stage, we were to get out and get on, and we were gonna play, and we were the main feature that one night. We practiced for it, worked up for it, came up with some songs for it, because we couldn’t do the whole Big Star catalog. We had to stick to certain ones, away from ones that we’d agreed we wouldn’t play anymore, and we had some cover songs that we added in there to help. We got to wear nice clothes, and the place was packed, who were there ostensibly to hear us. I don’t know how much they really did (laughs). There were a lot of drunk rock writers out there. 

Stephens: John King, who was the marketing guy for Ardent Records, was putting this rock writers convention, and asked us to play because writers requested it. For me, it was kind of an underdog situation. There were other bands on the bill that were the spotlight of the evening, and the spotlight of Stax’s marketing efforts. So I figured we could just have a good time with it, and while they were rock writers and critics, I felt like we wouldn’t be performing under the critical eye of these folks. It was just to have a good time. We thought, “Wow.” It was encouraging. I think that helped get the band together again, and working on Radio City. 

Hummel: There was a subset of songs on that record that were recorded in a collaborative way. In some cases, Alex would already have something already partially written, and he’d bring it in, and we’d write a bridge for it, or a turnaround, and stick that in there, or maybe a few extra words that it needed, and complete the song. There were a couple like that. Then, “Daizy Glaze” came from this weird idea that Alex had in his mind from some Handel, classical music,  and he started playing that, and we just jammed with that for a while, and fiddled with that until we had a song. Then went off and wrote some words one night, and came back and sang them, and we had a song.

So that was going on with the mainstream band, then you had what was called the Dolby Fuckers, who were a bunch of guys what would get together in the studio in the middle of the night when they were drunk, and put stuff down. And some material emerged from that. 
Stephens: There were versions of “What’s Going Ahn,” “Mod Lang,” and She’s A Mover” that Alex cut with Richard Rosebrough. A guy named Danny Jones played bass, but I’m not sure on which of those three. Richard played drums on those three. When it came time to record those, we did, and we demoed them, I think. At least “She’s A Mover.” Maybe we tried “Mod Lang”, too, but they didn’t work as well as Alex’s version with Richard. They just had a better feel, or something. So at any rate, we wound up using those. We couldn’t top them. There were other things. I just heard a version of “O My Soul” with Richard playing drums on it. It’s kind of a fragment of it. So they must have gotten into it, at some point.

Hummel: And then Alex did a couple of solo songs, and I did “Way Out West,” which was originally a solo song that I brought in, and we just all electrified it and played it one night, and we said, “Let’s put that on there.” So it came from a variety of sources. The various activities that we were involved in. The music emanated from those activities, and we’d put it on the record.

BT: Jody, did Andy give you “Way Out West” to sing?

Stephens: He wrote the song and he didn’t want to sing it. So I seemed to be the choice to sing it. Alex basically would sing the songs he was the primary writer of, and Chris would sing his. So Andy writes a song, and it as like, “Well, let’s give the drummer a song to sing,” I guess.

BT: You sort of got the Ringo song on the album, as it were.

Stephens: That’s exactly what it was. That’s the way I took it, anyway. 

Hummel: Alex and I were hanging around together a lot in those days. He was going through a lot of different girls that he was having relationships with, kind of simultaneously, and a lot of what’s in those songs is him really just telling about his experiences with them, and how he felt about them.

BT: Andy, how long did you play with Big Star before you moved on?

Hummel: I actually left the band before they released the album [in 1974]. My last memory of being involved in it was when they were mixing it. I went in there a few times to see if I could help, but Alex and John were just buried in the details, and had the whole thing going. And anybody else in there was a distraction to them, so I backed off and left them alone. It wasn’t too long after that they started planning their trip to the northeast. They did a little tour up there, and they said, “Okay, you need to decide whether you’re gonna go back to college, or whether you were gonna come tour with us.” Because it was time to sign up for my courses for my senior year. So I thought about that for about ten seconds (laughs), and I said, “I think I’m gonna go get my degree.” 

BT: Had you stayed in college throughout Big Star?

Hummel: Yeah, I never quit going to school the whole time. Which was kind of stressful, keeping up with school in the daytime, and recording all night. But I got through it.

Stephens: After Andy quit, John [Lightman] played with us a lot, and John is the bass player that appears on the WLIR broadcast.  

BT: What shows with other bands that Big Star played with that stand out in your mind?

Stephens: (laughs) Our performance opening for Archie Bell & The Drells is part of the boxset, at Lafayette’s here in Memphis, and that’s kind of an interesting show, because we weren’t playing to our audience. We were obviously playing to Archie Bell & The Drells fans. We’d finish a song, and there might be be one person clapping. So that kind of stood out.

Next issue: The rest of the rest of the Big Star story, with Jody Stephens, Andy Hummel, Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

John Mayall pic

John Mayall
Romare Bearden Park
Charlotte, NC
May 3, 2014
photo copyright 2014 Daniel Coston

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Facebook Event Pages For Upcoming There Was A Time Events

Hello All-

Here's the event pages for the release of the second edition of There Was A Time. The June 12th event will feature a talk by yours truly, and is free to all. Afterwards, you'll be good and ready for our big blow-out release party at Neighborhood Theatre on June 21st, with the Mannish Boys, Young Ages, Good Bad & The Ugly (GBU), and Thee Dirtybeats. Spread the word, and see you there.

May 7, 2014

RIP Joe Young of AntiSEEN

Joe Young and Jeff Clayton
Jeff's house, early 1997
photo 1997 Daniel Coston

Al Feldstein

I met Al Feldstein several years ago, at the Heroes Convention in Charlotte, NC. Obviously, I was a big fan of his work with Mad Magazine, but I also knew that he had several other interests. We talked a while, and I had him pose for some photos. I promised to send him some photos. I was still shooting film at the time, so there was an extra layer of scanning and editing the negatives, but I was excited to show him what I'd gotten.

A few days later, I got an email back. "Your photos are great," Al said, "and you actually did what you promised to do. You promised to send photos, and you did! No one ever does that! You're a one-percenter!" Looking back, I think that was one of the best emails I've ever gotten.

In retrospect, I wish I had stayed in better touch with Al. He was a good guy, and very funny. He reminded me of the people that my grandparents knew, but much funnier. But I didn't want to bother him, and he was still busy. Al worked on his paintings up until his recent passing. To the end, Al Feldstein was thinking, and creating, which is something that all of us can hope to do.

Safe travels, Al,
May 7, 2014

Monday, May 5, 2014

My Public Event Schedule For June. See You On The Road

June 12th. Charlotte Museum Of History, 6pm. Free event where I'll speak about the music scene in North Carolina during the 1960s. June 20th. Mast General Store, Boone, NC. 1 to 3pm. North Carolina Musicians book signing. June 21st. Neighborhood Theatre. NC 1960s book second edition release party. MC'ed by yours truly. With the Mannish Boys, Good Bad & The Ugly (GBU), Young Ages, and Thee Dirtybeats. $15. June 29th. Bearing Witness event, 3 to 5pm. Mint Museum Randolph. Rescheduled from last week. I'll be exhibiting photos, and presenting a short speech about the photos.

May 5, 2014

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Happy 98th birthday, George King

Here's one for Throwback Thursday. This is my grandfather George King, taken at the Associated Press building in New York City, probably summer of 1941. There is so much ahead of him as he posed for this photo, both bad, and good. Both George and my grandmother Mary had a profound influence on my life, and I will continue to carry their voices with me until I cannot carry my own. Sometimes I wonder what they would have made of my topsy-turvy life, but I hope that they still are proud of me, wherever they are.

Today would've been George's 98th birthday. Happy birthday, ol' kid. 
May 1, 2014