News of Alex Chilton's death came as a horrible shock to Andy Hummel, Chilton's friend and former Big Star bassist profiled in the Dallas Observer after the release of the Rhino box set Keep An Eye On The Sky.
Hummel and Big Star's Jody Stephens were scheduled to speak and perform Saturday at 12:30 p.m. on the SXSW panel "I Never Travel Far Without A Little Big Star," about the legacy of one of America's most influential cult bands. There was also the possibility that he would play a few songs with Big Star at its 12:30 a.m. Saturday-night set at Antone's, which would have been the first time for him to play with the band since parting ways in 1974.
Chilton died yesterday of a suspected heart attack in a New Orleans hospital, after collapsing while mowing his lawn.
"We're all still in shock about the whole thing," Hummel says. "It was completely unexpected."
Obviously, Hummel says, the death will significantly change the nature of the panel discussion. But he still plans to participate and pay tribute to one of his dear friends and someone he considers a musical genius.
"We're just trying to pull together what all that's going to look like now, without Alex," he says.
The panel would have been a 90-minute discussion of the legacy of Big Star, focusing on the years from the release of Third/Sister Lovers to the present, as a continuation of a previous SXSW panel that focused on the beginning years of the band. Stephens and Hummel would also give an acoustic performance.
Now, Hummel says, Stephens is reaching out to Cheap Trick singer Robin Zander and R.E.M.'s Mike Mills to join Big Star's surviving members at the Antone's show. (Members of R.E.M. have long championed Big Star, and Cheap Trick's cover of "In The Streets" was the theme song for That '70s Show.)
"I don't know how successful he's going to be trying to pull all that together in this short a period of time, but he's trying to get something together," Hummel says. "If nothing else, the panel is still on. ... I think he's having trouble dealing with this, as we all are. So he's trying to focus in on what he needs to do, as opposed to just sitting around and getting too immersed in the tragedy of the situation."
Hummel said he last spoke to Chilton last summer on a visit to New Orleans, where Chilton showed them areas of the city that were affected by Hurricane Katrina--and had spirited political discussions with Hummel's wife.
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"My wife and I made what used to be our standard annual trip to New Orleans, and spent most of the time hanging around with Alex," he says. "He was a real fan of New Orleans, and was like a walking encyclopedia of New Orleans, so it was a lot of fun to hang with him when you went there. This was our first time since Katrina."
Along with remembering Chilton as a friend, Hummel champions his artistic brilliance.
"I hope people really understand and appreciate what a brilliant musician the guy was," he says. "He should be remembered in that way. He was really a creative genius, always testing the limits."