Remembering Alex Chilton, or Oh My (Big) Stars and Garters

There are few performers who leave me gob smacked and slack-jawed in a  really fan-boy way. I can usually maintain an intelligent conversation with a singer/songwriter that I admire, but there are some that just leave me babbling like a fool, I’m such a fan. Alex Chilton was one of those performers.

During the last gasp of Scorgies, I had a little band by the name of Invisible Party. I think we headlined only once, making a grand total of $80.00. Personal Effects/New Math we were not.  The most popular band of our “paisley underground” scene was Absolute Grey. Of course, they had Beth Brown as a front person (formerly of Hit & Run). Last I checked, I’m no Beth Brown (my wife Lynne is all the happier for that).

However, we did have a nice run as an opener for some of the national bands that came into town; Willie Alexander & the Boom Boom Band, 10.000 Maniacs, Dogmatics, The Neats as well as Personal Effects. All in all, we had a tight circle of friends, jamming together at our house on Boardman Street or at the Farm, site of many parties. You could say that music filled my life back then… I was a “happy” employee of the Record Archive, I was a dee-jay on WRUR and lived in the craziest music house on Boardman near the end of Richard St. The house was essentially a 24/7 practice house… we must have drove the neighbors crazy back then, rehearsing & jamming at all hours of the night.

So what, you might say… Stan, what’s your Alex Chilton Connection? Well you see, I was a huge fan of Big Star and bands that were influenced by them. I touted them constantly on WRUR FM and also played whatever I could lay my hands on by Alex, produced by Alex or even sounding like Alex… Sneakers, DBs, Tommy Keene. You get the picture. So when Don Scorgie told me that he was looking into booking Alex for an appearance @ Scorgies I leapt at the opportunity to somehow finagle my way as an opener. The only problem? Invisible Party was not that much of a draw. 

I was aware enough to realize that Alex Chilton needed an opening band that would draw in more people than the +Invisible Party could muster. That did weigh heavily on my mind, until the idea popped into my head that we all pull together in a sorta supergroupish way. Thus the band Pet Casket was born, squealing and squirming like a newly whelped puppy.

What happened next? I’ll let Pat Thomas do the talking:

“The crowd at Scorgies that night was a small but devoted group of Chilton fans, many of whom played that night in the form of Pet Casket, featuring members of Invisible Party, Absolute Grey, Personal Effects and their friends and family.

Chilton was in unbelievable fine form, playing guitar and singing along with a bass and drum backup (also great musicians). Chilton played all his hits as it were; Bangkok, Can’t Seem to Make You Mine,  Soul Deep, Back Of A Car, September Gurls, In The Street, and Kizza Me (featuring local guitar hero Chaz on bass).”

I’d like to say that the gig was as successful financially as it was artistically. I think the problem was that Alex’s draw was essentially the Pet Casket, their family members plus a smattering of other Chilton Devotees. Suffice to say it was not a good night for Don and he wasn’t pleased… at one point he gave me a funny look, then smashed an ashtray on the bar and walked away. Looking back, this was one of the latter period gigs at the club that presaged Scorgie’s morphing into Yuk Yuk’s comedy club as competing DJ oriented clubs (Idols, Backstreets, Heaven) emerged in the mid to late 80’s.

As the night proceeded, the paisley crowd moved off into the night, with Chilton as our honored guest. We all wound up at the legendary Gitsi’s restaurant on Monroe Avenue where we treated Alex with a steak dinner. Alex seemed to enjoy spending time with us… and afterwards we all helped Alex, Rene and Doug pack up their 1972 Chevy and watched them drive off to their next gig.

Years later, after Alex’s passing, a few of us got together with a different set  of Chilton acolytes and put on a tribute at Monty’s Krown (now the Rosen Krown).  I caught up with Ashley Black (a member of our paisley entourage back then) and we both remembered that Alex complimented Ashley that night… he said she reminded him of Jean Shrimpton. Wasn’t that surprised, then, to find out that Alex and Ashley had kept in touch over the years. The Rochester connection…

Here’s the Notebook article in it’s entirety:

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  1. Charles Lockwood’s avatar

    First time I got exposed to the Alex Chilton phenomenon was when I was n World Wide News. (Rochester’s oldest and best print news stand, a space for men. lol I only say that because Ive never seen a woman in there. ). There was a coffee table book of “great Underground Albums” or else “great Album Covers” and I flipped to a page with: Like Flies on Sherbert. The photo, a bunch of dolls on a candy colored Cadillac Hood by William Eggleston. Around the same time, like 2 ships passing in the night, a high school pal, Greg Townson, passed be a cassette of Big Star when we were kitchen workers at a Nursing Home. Greg has a kind of scary Harry Potter level knowledge of music. Anyway, I was at that show with my BFF Stan the Man Merrell. <3 Listening to Alex today

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