Monday, March 11, 2013

Bobby Sutliff and Big Star

I spent a couple of hours this morning finishing a piece on Bobby Sutliff, the once and future Windbreakers songwriter who suffered a near fatal accident last year. Anyway, as you know if you spend much time writing, the structure of the piece kind of took over, and I could not find a way to hammer in a few very intereseting paragraphs about Bobby's fascination with (and later friendship with) Alex Chilton of Big Star. So, while I'm in a bit of a publishing dead spot with Dusted updating occasionally, Blurt off to SXSW and PopMatters...well, who ever knows what's going on at PopMatters, anyway I thought I'd share a bit of the interview and some clips of both Bobby and Mr. Chilton doing what they do (did).

Me: Can you talk about how you got into that jangly, folky, punky kind of music?

Bobby: Well, you’ve got to say, how did I get there? Being from the South. When I learned how to play guitar, I wanted to sound like…I wanted to play the blues. I still do. I’m not kidding. I don’t know how to play the blues very well. But that was the music when I was 14.

Me; You’d think that in Jackson Mississippi, you’d have the opportunity?

Bobby: I know many of them, trust me, they’re friends of mine. I used to go have lunch with Eric Clapton on a fairly regular basis. Tell me I get some kind of points for that? I knew just about everyone. Anyway, I wanted to be a blues player, but then the damnedest thing happened. A friend of mine loaned me this record, from a band north of us. They were called a silly name, Big Star. And he loaned me their second album, and it was right after it came out. I’d read about them in all the rock magazines, but you couldn’t find their records anywhere. The label went out of print almost immediately after they put it out. So I’m listening to the second album and I hear…well, it’s a perfect album. Suddenly I knew that I was not going to plahy the blues as a career. I was going to learn how to play stuff that was as good as the Beatles.

Me: What was it about Big Star?

Bobby: The singer was great. All the singers were great, but their lead singer was great. The lead guitar was better than great. The lead guitar was perfect. The drums were perfect. Everything about the band was perfect. It was the Beatles ten years later. It may have been even better. And that’s a stupid thing to say because the Beatles were like talking about god.

But anyway, this friend of mine loaned me the first two albums. The third one hadn’t come out yet. And I tried finding copies. I ended up ordering them through the mail. It was a lot of money. And by the way, I still have them. But I’ve got to tell you that not too much longer after that, I …even before, very briefly, before I hooked up with Tim Lee. John Thomas and I went to this really good concert, and he had this other friend who said, “Hey there’s this other band you might like.” It wasn’t Big Star. What was the weird band that Alec played with for a while…this after Big Star and another guy from his hometown but they were kind of a rockabilly band, Panther Burns.

But anyway, they played in Jackson, Mississippi and I went to see them. Actually I was playing with a band…I didn’t play with this particular Jackson band, but I knew they needed a bass player. So I said, I’m coming to the show anyway, I’ll play bass for free. So I ended up playing bass for a two-night show and wound up lending my amp to Alex Chilton. And that was the start of it. And Alex became one of my best friends. We would run into each other all over the country,. Whenever he was in Jackson, he would come over and play records. He was a huge Beach Boys fan. He knew them. He knew them well from being in the Box Tops. They used to open for the Beach Boys. And he would show me the chords to some of the songs. And I used to sit in with him in his solo band for years. I don’t get any points for that. He was my friend. And then…we still hung out together. It wasn’t like I was trying to impress him or anything. He was my hero. I’ve got a lot of heros. You can probably figure that out from listening to my music. It’s called copying. Okay, it’s not copying, but it’s similar.

The rest of that interview will run at some point, probably after SXSW, at Blurt.

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