Alex Chilton was born December 28th, 1950 in Memphis Tennessee. His father was a Jazz musician and Alex played the guitar & sang too. After winning a local talent show with his singing, he was recruited by a local high school band called the Devilles. They blew the small town high scholars away with their sound. The band changed their name to the Box Tops and went into Muscle Shoals Studios to record a record with Chips Moman (who had worked with Elvis & Aretha Franklin) and songwriter Dan Penn. The group was told to pick from a bunch of songs on the demo tapes, but told they had to do "The Letter”.
"The Letter": Released in July 1967, The Letter hit #1 in September and stayed there for four weeks. It was one of the biggest singles of the year and was a success around the world. Young Alex Chilton was only 16 years old at the time of its success. He will probably be most remembered for the way he sang the opening line “Buy me a ticket for an aero-plane...” Joe Cocker would also have a top ten hit with "The Letter", in 1970 with his signature sound.
The Box Tops released three albums, over the next nine months into 1968 enjoying a few other minor hits "Neon Rainbow", "Choo Choo Train", "Soul Deep" & another huge smash "Cry Like A Baby", which reached number two on the US charts. The teenage musicians never got any respect from managers, producers or promoters and certainly didn’t make it rich. After three years of being the Box Tops, Chilton & lead guitarist Gary Talley were the only originals that remained. By 1970 the band broke up.
Chilton moved to New York and formed the band Big Star, a power pop group from 1971-1974. They got good reviews but never enjoyed much success, possibly because of poor promotion. In the 1980s & 1990s there was a new interest into their music and they were credited for inspiring many bands of the time, like R.E.M. In 1993 Big Star reunited and continued to play until Chilton’s death this past week. Their song "In the Street" was used as the theme song from the sitcom, That 70’s Show in 1998. Chilton & the Box Tops also had reunions in the late 1990’s & 2000’s. In 2003 they sold out shows in Germany & the concerts were aired on German radio.
Chilton had various other musical projects in his lifetime and produced the punk band The Cramps, for a pair of albums. Last week on St. Patrick’s Day, Chilton died in New Orleans of a heart attack, he was just 59.