OffBeat Magazine is celebrating 30 years and will reach that milestone with our November 2017 edition. To mark the anniversary, over the next 12 months OffBeat will re-publish excerpts from features and interviews from the past 30 years.
From our May 1995 edition, Keith Spera, then OffBeat editor, interviews local resident and singer-songwriter Alex Chilton:
TO LEGIONS OF POP GUITAR BANDS, ALEX CHILTON IS INDEED A KIND OF FIRST MAN. He initially gained notoriety as the 16-year-old raspy-voiced singer of the Box Tops, the blue-eyed Memphis soul band that scored a national hit with “The Letter.” After the original Big Star dissolved in 1975, Chilton’s career became erratic. He went through long periods of inactivity, hampered by bouts with alcohol and drugs. When he first came to New Orleans 13 years ago, he worked at menial jobs to support himself.
What first drew you to New Orleans?
I came down and stayed with a friend of mine in ’81 for a while, then came down for Mardi Gras in ’82. When I went back to Memphis that year, it was so damn cold and horrible I just said, ‘This is insane. I’m going back there.’ I’ve been here ever since… don’t really live here, but I stay here a lot.
What have you gotten musically out of being here? Have you picked up anything stylistically?
I guess. There are a lot of really good musicians around this town, and I’ve gotten to know a few of them. I learned a bit about more sophisticated kinds of music. I was a little better than most rock players all along, I think, but since I’ve been down here… I don’t know.
You’ve been digging up a lot of old material to play onstage, such as Otis Rush’s “Homework.” Is that for your own satisfaction? Do you feel your approach adds something to the songs?
I do things that I feel comfortable doing, that feel natural for me. I try to do something that a lot of people haven’t heard a whole lot yet, although I’m no scholar of rare music at all. Something like ‘Homework’ is not really a rare tune; nevertheless a lot of young people—and a lot of older people—have never really heard it. So it’s not exactly the biggest cliché in the world to do. Although in certain circles it is.
Read more at www.offbeat.com/articles/alex-chilton-lets-them-scream/.