Andy Hummel, founding bassist of Big Star, longtime employee of Lockheed Martin and Weatherford resident, died yesterday at age 59.
His death, after two years of cancer treatment, comes four months after the death of Big Star singer Alex Chilton turned a South By Southwest panel discussion and subsequent performance--it would have been the first reunion by the three surviving founding members of Big Star since the band's initial breakup (Chris Bell died in 1978)--into an impromptu memorial.
Hummel was profiled in a November 2009 Dallas Observer feature after the release of the comprehensive Big Star Box set Keep an Eye on the Sky. To hear him and his friends tell it, he never looked back on his decision to leave the band in 1974 for the stability of a career that eventually led him to settle down in Weatherford, a rural suburb of Fort Worth.
Though he remained proud of his days in Big Star, and while he continued to play on the side, music took a backseat to family and career. He didn't pursue opportunities to play live or record until the last five years or so, when he began playing with neighborhood and work friends. Songs the eclectic group--which never settled on a permanent name, as Hummel hated the original moniker, Rocket 211--ranged from classic rock covers to Scissor Sisters covers to originals written by Hummel's friend and Lockheed Martin coworker Mike Terry. One of Hummel's sons, Drew, played drums with the group for a spell.
"It's just kind of fun, a way to keep your chops up and get the opportunity to play with other people," Hummel said at the time of the profile, just eight months ago.
Among the songs the band played was Big Star's "September Gurls," which Hummel believed to be one of the best pop songs ever written.
"To me, it's just a phenomenally good pop song," he said during our interview. "If you listen to all the old original Big Star stuff, it's just the one that really reaches out and grabs you. At least it does me... It's just so melodic and full of all that teen angst and all the things Alex was doing in those days... That may have been his best."
John Fry, a longtime friend and founder of Memphis' Ardent Studios, where Big Star recorded, confirmed the news to the Observer and shared memories of both Hummel and one of the most influential yet unheard powerpop bands in the world.
During our interview in 2009, Hummel said the whole band was a bunch of studio rats, obsessed with the pursuit of technical perfection. That fascination with technology may have been a factor that nudged him toward his Lockheed career. So too the hours spent in small airplanes with Fry, who along with owning Ardent, was the flight instructor that taught Hummel to fly.
Fry says Hummel didn't tell him about his condition until last fall, and continued to work in between radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
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"That was Andy," Fry says. "He didn't want to worry people with his problems. Shortly after the Big Star box set came out, he just sort of blurted it out in an e-mail."
As sorry as Fry was to hear of the death, he said he is glad Hummel had the chance to perform one final time with Big Star drummer Jody Stephens at SXSW, though Hummel was too ill to perform at a follow-up memorial show in Memphis, where Stephens was presented with an inscribed "Brass Note" for the Beale Street Walk of Fame.
"I'm terribly glad he got to live long enough to see his granddaughter and the box set and see one more chapter in this very unlikely story of 40 years of people discovering this music that he had a big hand in making," Fry says. "Andy was just a beautiful guy."
A memorial service will be held Wednesday at United Methodist Church of Weatherford (301 S. Main St.).