Ken Stringfellow on Big Star's Alex Chilton
Posies & REM instrumentalist Ken Stringfellow on what made Alex Chilton special
Classic Rock 210 features the story of Alex Chilton's Big Star, one of the archetypal underground bands. In this previously unpublished interview, recorded in the week following Chilton's death in 2010, The Posies' Ken Stringfellow — whose own band were heavily influenced by Big Star, and who joined the reformed group in 1993 — remembers his old boss.
Having worked with him in the reformed Big Star, what was your take on Alex Chilton?
In his later life, Alex spent a lot of time living in contrast to the reputation that he either earned or didn’t. I didn’t know him back in the years which were supposed to be his ‘difficult’ ones. I found him to be all of the things that people said he wasn’t back in those days: very affable, charming, professional, consistent and reliable. Alex admitted that he went through a drinking and drugging period that was pretty pronounced, and it was clear to me that he was making sure to at least go on a different track, if not actually make amends. He was aware that he’d probably burned a few bridges and wasn’t interested in burning any more. He was very clear about what he would and wouldn’t do when I knew him.
When did you first hear Big Star?
When The Posies began, three of the four of us worked in record stores. And the older employees told us that ‘hey, Big Star is something you need to discover – right now’. So listening to them for the first time was a pretty profound eureka moment. I wondered how this music could be languishing outside of the consciousness of the mainstream. It had everything in place. The bass player in The Posies brought home a German import CD of the first two Big Star albums. The audio was so pristine and such an amazing recording achievement. That was another mystery: How could this music not have worked? And that changed everything for me from there.
The reformed Big Star in 1995. L-R Jon Auer (The Posies), Alex Chilton, Jody Stephens, Ken Stringfellow (The Posies)