Big Star's Jody Stephens Remembers Andy Hummel, Ponders Band's Future
In the wake of Big Star bassist Andy Hummel's death earlier this week, the surviving members in the current incarnation of the legendary cult band are pondering an appropriate way to continue performing the group's music.
"It's music we all really love to play, and we love to play it together, so we're trying to figure out a way forward where we can keep doing it," drummer Jody Stephens, the lone surviving original member of the band, tells Billboard.com. In 1993, Stephens and the late Alex Chilton resurrected Big Star with Posies members Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer, and since Chilton passed away on March 17 the trio has played a pair of tribute concerts, in Austin at the South By Southwest Music + Media Conference and in Memphis, both with a variety of guests.
"Jon and Ken especially are incredibly sensitive to not wanting to step on anyone's legacy," Stephens explains. "So maybe in the future it will be under much the same circumstances as we played the South By Southwest show and the Memphis show. It's such a good time, and it's such a great way to keep Chris [Bell's] and Alex's and Andy's music alive.
"It's just been such a sad time, getting through one, Alex, and then...now with Andy. It's tough."
Funeral services have been scheduled for Wednesday for Hummel, who died at home on Monday in Weatherford, Texas, at the age of 59 from cancer. Hummel had been receiving cancer treatments for at least two years, according to reports, but it wasn't until a recent hip replacement surgery that doctors found the cancer had spread and that his condition was terminal -- after which Hummel went into home hospice care.
"I don't know that any of us found out about [Hummel's cancer] until about six months ago or so, maybe a little longer," Stephens says. "There would be periods of silence that would concern us, but the last report was that Andy had gone in for a hip replacement and he was recovering from that and that was good news at the time. Maybe a week ago or so we found out things had taken a turn for the worse."
Stephens says he met Hummel when he was 13 and started playing music with him four years later. "Andy was always a classicist about things in figuring stuff out with music and everything," the drummer notes. "Andy always meant a lot to me and has been such an inspiration. He always had fascinating ideas and was pretty creative in his own right. I know he didn't do as much writing as Chris and Alex, but his contributions helped make the band what it was, musically."
Hummel was the oldest of three children born in Valley Forge, Pa., to a Navy physician, while his mother, Barbara Walker, was Miss America in 1947. The family moved to Memphis when Hummel's father started a private practice, and Hummel played in a variety of bands before Big Star formed in 1971. Hummel played on all three of the group's studio albums before the group split in 1974 (Bell died in a 1978 auto accident), but he was ensconced in a new career with Lockheed Martin Aeronautical when Big Star relaunched, and he chose to continue on that path rather than return to the band.
"He grew to kind of love to work on cars and renovate houses and things like that," Stephens recalls. "His dad was always putzing around the house, doing something, whether converting an old oil lamp into a light fixture or working on this old Rolls Royce he had...Andy was very much like that, with music and other things."
Hummel's last public music appearance was in March at the South By Southwest Music + Media Conference, where he sat on a Big Star panel and then joined the group on stage that night for renditions of "Way Out West" and "September Gurls."
Hummel is survived by his wife, Patti, and their three children -- sons Drew and Walker and daughter, Cady Hummel-Thomas -- a granddaughter, Eleanor Thomas, a sister, Sally Hummel-Chumley, and a brother, Robert. The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Hummel's name to the American Cancer Society or the American Liver Foundation.