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Hear a new, unreleased version of Big Star's 'September Gurls': EXCLUSIVE

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Last year, the endlessly influential but often under-appreciated Big Star got a much-deserved rock-doc treatment when Nothing Can Hurt Me hit the festival circuit. And though the documentary won’t see its official release until July 3, the movie’s soundtrack — loaded with unreleased demos and unheard versions of the Memphis band’s most beloved songs — hits streets today.

The 22-track collection includes a new mix of a “September Gurls,” which you can hear exclusively here. Written and sung by the late Alex Chilton, the 1974 Radio City cut is considered by fans as one of Big Star’s best, and this unissued version proves them right.

Listen the alternate mix of “September Gurls” below:

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Big Star bassist Andy Hummel dies at 59

Big-Star-Andy-HummelImage Credit: Tony Nelson/Retna Ltd.Andy Hummel, who played bass guitar in power-pop icons Big Star’s original line-up, has died of cancer at age 59. A representative for Rhino Records, which recently released a superlative box set of Big Star’s work, confirmed the sad news to EW.

Hummel’s passing comes just four months after Big Star leader Alex Chilton‘s life was claimed at the same far too young age of 59. Singer-songwriter Chris Bell died in a 1978 car crash, several years after leaving Big Star. Drummer Jody Stephens is now the only surviving member of the foursome that recorded 1972’s note-perfect debut #1 Record.

Hummel played bass on that album and 1974’s equally classic Radio City before departing the band. I saw him join Stephens and others on a Big Star panel at SXSW this March, days after Chilton’s sudden loss. He also helped perform several tunes at a tribute show for Chilton that weekend (pictured). It’s awful to think that now he, too, is gone too soon.

Please join the Music Mix in sending our sincerest condolences to Andy Hummel’s friends and family.

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

More from EW.com’s Music Mix:
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Katy Perry says 'California Gurls' title is indeed a Big Star reference: Whoa!

katy-perry-big-starImage Credit: Emma Summerton; Mike O'Brien/Courtesy of RykodiscKaty Perry is already rockin’ the airwaves with her Snoop-driven new single, “California Gurls,” which sings the praises of Daisy Dukes and gin n’ juice in the most straightforward pop fashion. But those of us still mourning the death of Alex Chilton couldn’t help but wonder… is it possible, could it be, oh say yes please gods of all that is good in the world, that the unconventional spelling is a reference to Big Star’s “September Gurls”?

Yep.

Perry confirms the cool tip o’ the hat. “My manager, Bradford, he’s from Mississippi, and he’s a huge Big Star fan,” she recently told EW. “And with the death of one of their members, I had just written that song, and he’s like, ‘Katy, just for me, will you please title it ‘California Gurls,’ with a ‘u’? People won’t even know!’ I don’t know the whole catalog of Big Star, but I did it because Bradford is one of my best friends, and I thought it was cool, and you know, the kids like those variations.”

What do you think, Mixers? 10 bonus points to Perry? Or just to Bradford?

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

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Alex Chilton remembered as Big Star SXSW showcase becomes joyous tribute

big-starImage Credit: Andy Sheppard/Getty ImagesUnlike this afternoon’s panel, the participants in the SXSW Big Star showcase — turned tribute since the sudden death of lead singer Alex Chilton from a heart attack on Wednesday, reportedly during his preparations for this week’s trip to Austin — didn’t spend a lot of time telling stories. Music was the vehicle used to celebrate Chilton’s life, and the dozen-plus artists who gathered at Antone’s did it with a level of ease and familiarity that honored the man’s talent in a way no freshly-composed words could: They played his songs, because they knew them by heart.

The night began with the reading of a revealing letter written by Chilton’s wife, Laura. She told of his love for “old rickety houses” and homeless people; of the way he gave time and money with no strings attached; of his listening skills and compassion. He was a fan of classical baroque music, Scott Joplin, Petula Clark, and Teenage Fanclub. He loved riding his bike. While old friend Heather West read Laura’s words aloud t0 the hushed room, her voice cracked. Reggaeton came blasting through the walls — SXSW doesn’t stop, even for grieving. “He had a blase attitude towards death,” West read. “It didn’t interest him. Same goes for sleep. Life was too interesting and he didn’t want to spend it sleeping.” Safe to say the memorial gathering at Antone’s, as it pushed close to the 2 a.m. hour, was in full agreement with that sentiment.

The wonderfully endless parade of singers who stopped by the club to pay tribute was the expected who’s who: Curt Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets, M. Ward, Chris Stamey of the dB’s, John Doe of X. Chuck Prophet stepped in on “Thank You Friends,” Mike Mills of R.E.M. plastered “Jesus Christ” with happiness, Evan Dando of the Lemonheads lent pathos to “Nightime” and the harmonies of “Try Again,” alongside folkie Amy Speace. Sondre Lerche was the night’s biggest hit — he had maybe the best song in “Ballad of El Goodo,” and delivered a vocal befitting the material. The house band was anchored by original Big Star member Jody Stephens behind the drum kit, with occasional appearances from initial bassist Andy Hummel; replacement frontman Jon Auer  — who declared the night to be “really hard” — and bassist Ken Stringfellow (both of the Posies) held down the rest of the fort as they had ever since Big Star reformed in the ’90s, with Auer’s reedy voice fitting into Chilton’s lines in sometimes eerily similar ways. Song after song, the music radiated joy, and despite the conspicuous lack of Chilton solo material, it served as both a starter kit and a trip down memory lane for the capacity crowd.

Susan Cowsill and the Watson Twins — alongside Auer, Stringfellow, Stephens, Mills, and Hummel — closed out the night on “September Gurls,” after which Stephens took the mic for the first and only time. “You’ve wrapped your arms around us, and we appreciate it,” he said. It may not have been the ideal ending for SXSW 2010, but coming after a showcase spent focused on music over hype, and history over buzz, it was perhaps the most welcome. R.I.P., Alex.

More on Alex Chilton:
Alex Chilton: Friends, bandmates remember the late Big Star singer at SXSW panel
Big Star drummer Jody Stephens says he is ‘just feeling numb’ about Alex Chilton’s death
Alex Chilton: The House of Representatives pays tribute
Alex Chilton, R.I.P.: Paul Westerberg, Patterson Hood, and Craig Finn share their thoughts
Alex Chilton: SXSW mourns Big Star singer
Alex Chilton: An appreciation
Alex Chilton dies at 59

Alex Chilton: Friends, bandmates remember the late Big Star singer at SXSW panel

“I Never Travel Far Without a Little Big Star,” the SXSW panel that just ended at the Austin Convention Center, was blurbed as follows on the festival’s website: “Celebrating last year’s phenomenal box set Keep Your Eye On The Sky, Big Star band members, friends and admirers gather for discussion and performance.” That sentence is still posted at SXSW.com, a testament to how Big Star frontman Alex Chilton’s death on Wednesday took everyone by surprise. And so today, instead of celebrating Keep an Eye on the Sky (which is indeed phenomenal), eight Chilton friends and Big Star experts shifted their focus to a 90-minute-plus wake of sorts for the late genius. I don’t think anyone would have blamed them for canceling the panel, but as a fan I’m glad they decided to go ahead with it despite the circumstances.

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Alex Chilton: Big Star drummer Jody Stephens says he is 'just feeling numb' about bandmate's death

big-starImage Credit: Chilton: Jay Blakesberg / Retna Ltd., Stephens: Ch Drummer Jody Stephens should be preparing to play a show with Big Star this Saturday at the SXSW music festival. Instead, he is mourning his friend and bandmate Alex Chilton, who died yesterday. “It took me completely by surprise,” Stephens said this afternoon, over the phone from Austin, Texas. “I saw Alex in November and he looked great. Good shape. Great spirit. Alex was doing wonderfully. Yesterday, I get a call from his wife and, you know, he’s passed away. I spent the rest of the day and this morning just feeling numb. It’s a shocker. You really have to bare yourself emotionally to be in a band. And when you do that, it opens up stronger bonds. There’s a profound relationship.”

The drummer said he was finding at least a measure of solace in the fact that so many people at SXSW have been expressing their love for Big Star’s music in the wake of Chilton’s unexpected death. “There has been this outpouring,” he revealed. “I just spoke to somebody and he said, ‘I’ve seen three different bands already today that have done Big Star songs.’ It means a lot.”

Stephens also confirmed that Saturday’s Big Star show will go ahead in some form or other.  “We still plan to play but we will turn it into a musical way of honoring Alex,” he said. “And that, to me. is the important thing. I had this great sibling feel with Alex. It’s not like we talked a lot, but we had this wonderful connection onstage.”

More on Alex Chilton:
Alex Chilton: The House of Representatives pays tribute
Alex Chilton, R.I.P.: Paul Westerberg, Patterson Hood, and Craig Finn share their thoughts
Alex Chilton: SXSW mourns Big Star singer
Alex Chilton: An appreciation
Alex Chilton dies at 59

Alex Chilton, R.I.P: Paul Westerberg of the Replacements, Craig Finn of the Hold Steady, and Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers share their thoughts

Alex Chilton’s death yesterday immediately made many people think of the Replacements, who gloriously paid tribute to the Big Star/Box Tops singer in “Alex Chilton”: “Children by the millions / sing for Alex Chilton… I’m in love / What’s that song / I’m in love / With that song.” Replacements frontman Paul Westerberg released the following statement today: “In my opinion, Alex was the most talented triple threat musician out of Memphis — and that’s saying a ton. His versatility at soulful singing, pop rock songwriting, master of the folk idiom, and his delving into the avant garde, goes without equal. He was also a hell of a guitar player and a great guy.”

At SXSW in Austin, artists spoke about the influence of Chilton’s work on their music and careers. Two of his most passionate fans — Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers and Craig Finn of the Hold Steady — share their memories with EW.com after the jump.

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Alex Chilton: An appreciation

Alex-ChiltonImage Credit: Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty ImagesWith the passing of singer-songwriter Alex Chilton, rock music has lost one of its great cult figures and touchstones of influence. Chilton, who died at the age of 59 in New Orleans on Wednesday from what appears to have been a heart problem, achieved teen stardom in the ’60s with the Box Tops. Then, in the following decade, he played with Big Star, whose track “In The Street” would ultimately become famous as the theme song for That ’70s Show. But Chilton’s limited commercial success offers no indication as to his influence on rock. He was a musical figure—like Nick Drake or Gram Parsons—whose importance lay not with his chart placings, but in the place his music found in the record collections of subsequent generations of stars.

At the start of his career, Chilton had a string of pop-soul hits with the Box Tops, including 1967’s chart-topping “The Letter” and the following year’s “Cry Like a Baby.” But in 1970, Chilton disbanded the group and joined the then nascent Big Star. The latter power pop outfit is regarded in many quarters as one of the greatest rock acts of all time, thanks in large part to Chilton’s skilled songwriting. Unfortunately, there is little doubt it was also one of the more luckless and, during its brief lifetime, underappreciated.

Big Star’s debut album, #1 Record, was well reviewed—and featured the beautiful, heartbreaking ballad, “Thirteen,” which you can hear below—but its release was poorly managed by the band’s label. A second album, Radio City, also failed to break through, while Big Star’s third collection, which was produced by the legendary Jim Dickinson, was initially regarded as too uncommercial to be released at all (it would finally be issued to stores in 1978 under the title Third/Sister Lovers). In 1974, Big Star broke up.

The mercurial Chilton would continue to perform and record over the next 35 years, and his 1987 album, High Priest, is just one of several releases worth checking out. However, it was the three Big Star albums that rippled through the collective rock consciousness and whose influence was acknowledged by countless bands, from R.E.M. to Wilco to Britain’s Teenage Fanclub. The Replacements even included a song called “Alex Chilton” on their 1987 album Pleased To Meet Me. “Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes ’round,” claimed the Minneapolis rockers, “They sing ‘I’m in love. What’s that song?/I’m in love with that song.'”

Chilton himself may now be sadly gone. But I suspect many more will fall in love with his songs in the years to come. Please feel free to leave your own thoughts on the great man’s passing below.

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

More from EW.com’s Music Mix:
Alex Chilton: Paul Westerberg, the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, and others pay tribute
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony: Eyewitness report
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The Specials: Terry Hall and Lynval Golding on the ska-rock legends’ reunion shows—and why their absent keyboard player is a ‘Scrooge’

Alex Chilton: SXSW mourns late Big Star singer

One of the biggest names at this year’s SXSW music festival in Austin, Tex. was reunited ’70s power-pop pioneers Big Star, who had a gig scheduled for late this Saturday night. The festival was hit hard by tonight’s sad news that Big Star frontman Alex Chilton has passed away at age 59.

Big Star drummer Jody Stephens and bassist Andy Hummel were also scheduled to appear at a Saturday afternoon panel devoted to Big Star’s legacy. Chilton had not been expected to participate at that event; a rep for SXSW says that his bandmates are considering going ahead with the panel, recast as a tribute to their late friend. The rep adds that the status of the band’s Saturday night performance is “still up in the air” at this time.

“Alex Chilton always messed with your head, charming and amazing you while doing so,” SXSW Creative Director Brent Grulke said in a statement. “His gift for melody was second to none, yet he frequently seemed in disdain of that gift. He seemed as troubled by neglect as he did by fame. He wrote the most accessible pop songs that turned into something quite sour on closer reflection. It was impossible to know what he was thinking. But it was always worth pondering, because that’s what a truly great artist makes us do. And make no mistake: Alex Chilton was an artist of the very highest caliber. It’s too early to do much but cry about our loss right now, but he’ll be missed, and missed more as the ages pass and his myth continues to expand — that music isn’t going anywhere. R.I.P. and thank you, friend.”

The Music Mix extends its sincerest condolences to Alex Chilton’s friends, fans, and family. We’ll have more on this tragic loss soon. Share your thoughts and memories of Chilton in the comments below.

–Additional reporting by Whitney Pastorek

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

More from EW.com’s Music Mix:
Ludacris battles to the top of the charts
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony: Eyewitness report
The Lonely Island and Julian Casablancas’ “Boombox” comes to SNL (finally!)
The Specials: Terry Hall and Lynval Golding on the ska-rock legends’ reunion shows—and why their absent keyboard player is a ‘Scrooge’

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