Big Star Reaches For 'Sky' With Box Set
Four discs worth of unreleased demos, alternate takes, rarities, and live cuts are on tap for cult-rock act Big Star this fall when Rhino releases "Keep An Eye On The Sky" on September 15. The 98 tracks cull from 1968 – 1975, and include pre-Big Star bands Rock City and Icewater, solo work from Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, and unreleased material from the "#1 Record," "Radio City" and "Third/Sister Lover" sessions.
While Big Star struggled with success commercially, their early 70's, power-pop sound is often cited as directly influencing bands like Cheap Trick, R.E.M. and the Replacements. Big Star's music is undergoing a resurgence, with a film is reportedly in the works - based on Rob Jovanovic's biography, "Big Star: The Story of Rock's Forgotten Band" - and songs have been used in several TV shows, including the Cheap Trick version of "In The Street" as the theme song to "That ‘70s Show."
"Just when you're thinking everything has been released, apparently it hasn't," Big Star drummer Jody Stephens tells Billboard.com. "Adam Hill is an engineer here at Ardent [Studios] – and the Big Star tape vault aficionado. He's the guy who's been digging through stuff, figuring out when stuff was done."
While there are numerous demos unearthed on the first two discs, Stephens doesn't recall the band utilizing a demo process that often. "With the first album, ["#1 Record] I don't really remember "demoing" things per se," he says. "I do remember sitting down with the material for the first album, and have the material unfold as the rehearsal went on. It was a pretty remarkable time."
While Big Star gigs were that of a rare thing, the fourth disc culls live material from three nights the band performed in January 1973. They were booked as the opening act for soul pioneers Archie Bell & The Drells at the Lafayette Music Room in Memphis. Stephens recalls those performances being rather difficult. "Not exactly our crowd," Stephens says. "After our performances you can hear one person clap. Not a lot of energy coming back from the audience. The good thing about that particular recording is that there were mics set up in the room. It wasn't a board feed, where those can be kind of dry."
Aside from Big Star material from "#1 Record," the band tackles The Flying Burrito Brothers' "Hot Burrito # 2," The Kinks' "Come On Now," and T.Rex's "Baby Strange." "It's an interesting snapshot of what we were doing while we were trying to make out way," he says of the live material.
In related news, Rhino will rerelease Chris Bell's solo record, "I Am The Cosmos," as a deluxe edition this fall. Big Star still plays the occasional gig and will join Tindersticks on July 1 at London's Hyde Park.
"I'm always glad people are interested," Stephens says of the band's work. "It'll be fun to sit down and drive around Memphis with this. There's much I haven't heard."