In Memphis, like everywhere else, the 1970's have left their toll of lost dreams and endless disillusions. A 'Lost Decade' according to the title of this album, now available for the first time on a digital format. Originally released in 1986, this double album evidences the outstanding route of one of Memphis' prodigal son, during a decade in which he would go from universal teenage acclaim with the Box Tops to the fucked up New York hipness of the late Seventies. Being an introduction to a body of work whose legend then outreached its reality, 'Lost Decade' is a fascinating insight of a unique artist and producer's career.
Recorded right after he left the Box Tops at 1457 National, Ardent Studio's second location, « Free Again », « Come On Honey », « I Can Dig It » and « Just To See You » should have been released on Alex's first solo album.This record should have come out on Atlantic or Brother, The Beach Boys' own record label. Eventually, this album never saw the light of day on vinyl. These four tracks are now part of « 1970 », the famed 'lost album' published in 1996, a transition record between the Box Tops' blue-eyed soul/pop and Big Star's transcendent rock'n'roll. A former Lawson & Four More band member as well as a solo artist and a producer of certain Box Tops sessions, Terry Manning helps out Alex on those tracks, playing the piano and bass. Richard Rosebrough, another Ardent regular, once drummer with the garage band Four Jokers and later part of Memphis 'supergroup' Alamo, also plays on those sessions from 1969 and 1970, as well as an uncredited Chris Bell, Alex's future alter ego in Big Star. « Free Again » already demonstrates a remoteness from the music industry world. It's almost a freedom chant from Alex, already fed up with the great music circus, after he understood the whole thing when he reached the heights of the charts at age sixteen with the irresistible smash-hit « The Letter ».
In a less classic vein, « Bangkok », where Thailand's capital becomes a small Indonesian city, should have been an immediate staple of the New York punk scene. « It was a fun and spontaneous session. I conceived this piece in one day with my upstairs neighbour, Lenny Lincoln, a CBGB's bartender. And later that week I recorded that tune at Big Apple Studio, playing all the instruments by myself except for the maracas which were courtesy of Chris Stamey » remembers Alex. Following a London Cramps post-production session, he recorded « Can't Seem To Make You Mine ». This brilliant cover of the Seeds' garage anthem is still a highlight of teenage love anxiety. « I doubt that session ever got paid » soberly comments Alex. Raw and shaky, « Walking Dead » sums up the dark and troubled road followed by Alex in mid-70s Memphis, in the wake of Big Star's 1974 chaotic and moody recordings, resulting in the « Third » album. «Take Me Home And Make Me Like It », presented here in its third version, was recorded by Alex at Ardent Studio in 1975. The song supposedly finds its title in a pick-up line used by Danny Graflund, then Alex's body-guard. Legend has it that Dan Penn also wanted to use this line as a title for one of his song.
Well known for his Cramps, Tav Falco or Gories' productions, Alex Chilton had an immoderate use of Ardent Recordings facilities since 1972, a time when Big Star was recording a music too beautiful and uncompromised for the 1970's. Its in this Madison Avenue studio, often used by Stax as a studio B that Alex became producer, almost in spite of himself.
Coming from Mississippi, Sugar Blues was a white band under contract with Steve Cropper. After his departure from Stax in 1970, Booker T. & The MG's guitar player had teamed up with ex-Gentrys manager Jerry Williams in order to launch the TMI, short for Trans-Maximus, record label and recording studio. Sugar Blues probably spent hours and hours recording tapes at TMI, before this studio called it a day like Stax and most of other Memphis recording studio of the 1970's. « I was living right by Danny Jones. He used to write songs and played bass with other Memphis musicians. At that time, I had unlimited access to Ardent. That's how we ended up jamming in the studio one night. This track, my favourite one on 'Lost Decade', it was improvised on the spot » remembers Alex. The presence of incendiary guitar player Glen Cammack, the former leader of local garage band The Coachmen, might explain the incandescence of this hallucinated and almost jazzy jam. Maybe someday, unheard TMI material will surface, with bands as obscure as Acrobat, Edgewood, Washrag or Watchpocket, a band in which Danny Jones would play after the Sugar Blues episod, before he became an engineer and producer for the likes of The Neville Brothers, James Carr or Johnny Adams.
All the more informal was the recording of Larry Davis' 'Special Friend', done at the same period, circa 1973. Hailing from West Memphis, on the other side of the Mississippi River, Larry Davis was at the right place in the right time when he recorded this track at Ardent's Madison Avenue location. A Procapé Café regular, a place known for being the hub of an anachronistic mid-1970's folk-boom, Larry Davis played wiht other regulars like Sid Selvidge, Lee Baker or Alex Chilton. It was during one of those Memphis endless nights that Alex took Larry over to Ardent in order to record him in a state of the art facility. This intimist track leads us to Memphis' heart of darkness, Alex also holding back the night behind his recording deck, for want of closing up the opening door at the beginning of the song.
A mandolin player, né Weißrot, Graddy Whitehead is certainly the most exotic of these four artists. Alex met him in 1970 as a bluegrass player in Washington Square when he was still considering possible a folk career in New York City. Older than him, Alex gave Graddy his contact in Memphis. Visiting the South, Graddy called up Alex, who decided to give a try at recording him. « He could never really play in rhythm altough he was artisticcally inclined » according to Alex. None of these two tracks being released at that time, Graddy, like the other artists here, soon went back to the limbo he came from. Later, he happened to live in New Orleans, four blocks down the road from his one-time ephemeral producer, where he died in the most complete anonymity a few years ago.
A Memphis native, Scott Adams is probably the most conventional of those four artists, giving way to a good but unspectacular southern blues rock. Joined by Richard Rosebrough, a Ardent Studio veteran and John Lightman, who was at that time Andy Hummel's sub in Big Star, these recordings convey the feelings of Memphis debauchery nights. Prolific songwriter and guitar player Michael Elliott, will later make himself a name in Christian rock, playing with Whitecross in the mid-80's, years away from the intoxicated and noxious atmosphere of those four tracks. Scott Adams' honesty with lines as poignant as « the trouble is nobody cares » might also somehow have been an influence on Big Star's « Third », almost an Alex solo lp, whose sessions took place around the same time, with the same players, led by an om inevitable Jim Dickinson.
It's another page of Memphis music secret history that is written with « Lost Decade », a decade not lost for everyone, Alex Chilton reaching here a rare apex as an artist and a producer.
Florent Mazzoleni
Bordeaux 26/08/2003

high priest /black list

  lost decade

  cliches/loose shoes

  top 30

live in antwerp

 cubist blues

 take it off
dalai lama

little gto

 Can't seem to make you mine
Free again
Sugar Blue ( Toe Jam)
Bus Trip ( Grady White bread)

  my baby just cares for me
all of you
let's get lost
there will never be another you

My Rival
Alligator Man

 Ah Ti Ta Ti Ta Ta
In the Street
Il Ribelle
Claim to Fame

  Fat City
Fly Away
Lover of Love