Let Me Whisper In Your Ear – Big Star’s advocates

CAMILLA AISA surveys, and compiles a playlist of, the ladies and gentlemen who made it all so probable for us to rediscover Chris Bell, Alex Chilton and Big Star









I Am the Cosmos (live) (Chilton, Stephens, Posies)
Recorded live in a Chicago Summer night, back in 1994 when second-era Big Star was made of Alex Chilton, Jody Stephens and Posies Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow. A rousing cover of Chris Bell’s only solo single, with Chilton paying homage to the McCartney to his Lennon (or viceversa, depends on where you’re standing). Consider this, and you’ll find that there’s something intensely moving about hearing him sing “I’d really like to see you again”.









Talking about emotional situations triggered by great songs, for us proud fan(atic)s it rarely gets more gripping than this: cult heroes of reclaimed powerpop glory honouring one another. Here the late Tommy Keene reaches into the Third material and finds ‘Nighttime’. As he proceeds with his earnest cover, he’s gently reminding us all why, deep down, we’ll always stubbornly think of guitar strumming as the most poetic act a human being is capable of.









September Gurls 
The Radio City gem is not only a fan favourite but a peer favourite, too. The Searchers recorded ‘September Gurls’ for the second of their acclaimed comeback albums, 1981’s Love’s Melodies, while five years later The Bangles would welcome the Big Star classic into a world of indebted jangle pop and eager new wave (and the song would also prove irresistible to fellow nostalgics Absolute Grey). Meanwhile, in the UK mod revivalists Squire released it as a single in 1984. Listening back to all these tales of December boys and desired girls a pattern is made clear: all covers are inescapably reverent. And yes, it almost makes you want to complain about lack of imagination. But then think about the original for a moment…who would change a thing of perfection?









Free Again 
This is not the clever rework some might expect. This is, quite simply, what it sounds like to pick up some instruments and play an Alex Chilton song: a blast. Back in 1992, the Teenage Fanclub guys already knew it better than anybody else. Norman Blake would later explain: “I think Alex saw something of himself in us, in our attitude and approach to making music. I think he passed it on to us and we’ve passed it on to another group of musicians. Alex was definitely a kindred spirit of ours.” So much so that Free Again could easily pass for a Fannies original. Read more Let Me Whisper In Your Ear – Big Star’s advocates


Those Pretty Wrongs

Post-Big Star project with the band’s Jody Stephens and a guy that knows what it’s all about (Luther Russell). CARL TWEED meets THOSE PRETTY WRONGS

As the world reflects, 400 years after his passing, upon the achievements and continuing relevance of William Shakespeare, it feels opportune that Jody Stephens and Luther Russell have borrowed from the opening line of Shakespeare’s 41st Sonnet when naming their new project Those Pretty Wrongs.

Jody Stephens surely needs no introduction to Shindig! readers. He was of course the drummer with Big Star on the timeless classics #1 Record, Radio City and Third / Sister Lovers. Until now Stephens’ song-writing has been restricted to the occasional co-writer credit (most notably on ‘Daisy Glaze’) and a solo credit for the innocent, beautifully fragile ballad ‘For You’. That song, one of the highlights from Third / Sister Lovers, had a big impact on the overall feel of the album, as Alex Chilton was so moved by Carl Marsh’s string arrangement he asked him to do the same on some of his own contributions.

Luther Russell also has an impressive musical CV. Back in the early ’90s he was the lead singer with The Freewheelers, a band that harked back nostalgically to the warm, analogue, “Let’s just get together in the studio and bash it out” sound of musical touchstones such as The Band and The Faces. They released a couple of albums on Geffen and American Recordings. Since then he’s worked as a solo artist and also as a producer. Repair, from 2007, is a good entry point. It’s sympathetically produced by Ethan Johns, a man who knows a thing or two about letting songs breathe and resisting the temptation to throw in the kitchen sink.

Stephens and Russell go back a long way. Breaking off from band practice in LA to answer a few questions, Luther explains. “We were introduced back in 1991 or so by Gary Gersh I believe. Gary also introduced Jody to The Posies. We actually never played music together until about three years ago. Until then we were just old friends. That’s probably why it works.”

The catalyst that turned their long-standing friendship into a song-writing partnership was the Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me documentary. Stephens was asked to sing at some promotional events and turned to his friend for support. The musical rapport was self-evident to both of them, so they decided to start writing together. This turned out to be quite a logistical exercise, as Stephens resides in Memphis and Russell is in LA. However, new technology came to the rescue.

Asked whether it was an easy process writing the songs, Luther reflects, “I wouldn’t say it was easy, but it was definitely not stressful and not difficult from my standpoint. We wrote long-distance, so to speak. So, as an example, Jody would leave a melody on my voice-mail. This might end up as a chorus. I also kept the key he sang them in because I figured it was comfortable for him in the first place. What was interesting is that you’d think some of the melodies would end up kind of ‘blah’ or something; but they always seemed to ‘pop’. They were really great with chords behind them! Then once Jody approved it, he’d take a stab at lyrics. On and on it would go until a song was completed. We had to set up a weekly phone meeting – Mondays usually – in order to stay on course for the eight months it took to write these songs.”

Shindig! caught up with Jody Stephens a few days later at Ardent Studios in Memphis. Reiterating how smoothly the songs came together, despite that looming deadline, Jody says, “I would share lyrics and melody lines via voice mails on Luther’s cell. He would fill in pretty, colourful chord arrangements and then contribute lyrics and melodies when needed. It was a true collaboration. Luther is multi-talented. One of those great talents is that of being a cheerleader. He was so enthusiastic about our writing songs together that he made sharing song ideas completely comfortable; well, that, his musical talents and our sharing many of the same influences made it an easy adventure.” Read more Those Pretty Wrongs