Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me Documentary

Hanspostcard is hosting a movie draft from 12 different genres…this is my musical entry and final pick.

Such a great band but such a frustrating story. Robyn Hitchcock remarked, “Big Star is like a letter that was mailed in 1972 but didn’t arrive until 1985.” That is a great way to explain them. They made three of the best albums of the decade that were not heard until much later. When they were finally discovered they influenced many artists such as The Replacements, REM, Cheap Trick, Matthew Sweet, and more. The last time I checked it was on Netflix…watch this documentary.

When these musicians and critics talk about Big Star…they talk about them like people talk about The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, and The Kinks. In this documentary you have Cheap Trick, REM, Mitch Easter, Robyn Hitchcock, and others talking about the band.

The first album got great reviews…you couldn’t ask for better. When the label called radio stations trying to get them to play it…the stations would say it’s not selling. When someone actually heard the songs on the radio, they couldn’t find the record to buy it. This was basically the same story with all of the albums.

Distribution problems and just bad timing. Stax didn’t do a good job of distribution…they made a deal with Columbia before the second album to distribute the album…problem solved right? Nope, Clive Davis who made the deal was then fired at Columbia. The deal fell through and then Stax disintegrated.

Chris Bell who was key in creating the sound the band had quit after the first album. He came back but then quit again. Chris had depression problems and wanted badly to do something on his own. Alex Chilton continued and finished the second and third album with a new bass player on the third album.

After that, it follows Chris and Alex’s career to the end of both. It also covers Jim Dickinson’s role on the third experimental album. Family members, fans, and rock writers also share their love of Big Star and memories of the band members.

In May of 1973 Ardent Studios where Big Star recorded invited 100 rock writers down to Memphis to hear Big Star live. They all loved Big Star and it went over great…but that wasn’t the band’s problem…it was the business side. What would have happened if they would have signed with a label more suited to them?

Before watching this documentary, a couple of years back I didn’t realize Chris Bell was so instrumental in developing their sound. I knew it wasn’t the Alex Chilton band, but Chris was invaluable and started the ball rolling. All 4 members did contribute writing and singing but Chilton and Bell were the Lennon and McCartney of the group.

It’s a great documentary about a great band that had the talent, but fate wasn’t on their side.

There is the often-used Peter Buck quote that everyone who bought the first Velvet Underground album went out and started a band…the same is true with this band.

My recommendation? Watch it…NOW

Cast

Billy Altman … Self – Writer
Jon Auer … Self
Lester Bangs … Self (archive footage)
Chris Bell … Self (archive footage)
David Bell … Self – Chris Bell’s Brother
Norman Blake … Self
The Box Tops … Themselves (archive footage)
Panther Burns … Themselves (archive footage)
Cheap Trick … Themselves
Stephanie Chernikowski … Self – Photographer
Alex Chilton … Self (archive footage)
Rick Clark … Self – Writer and Musician
Stephen Ira Cohen … Self – U.S. Congressman (archive footage) (as Steve Cohen)
The Cramps … Themselves (archive footage)
John Dando … Self – Band Manager, Ardent Studios 1972-1975
Luther Dickinson … Self
Mary Lindsay Dickinson … Self
Steven Drozd … Self
Van Duren … Self – Musician
Mitch Easter … Self – Musician and Producer
Bruce Eaton … Self (voice) (archive footage)
William Eggleston … Self
Tav Falco … Self
John Fry … Self – Founder, Ardent Studios
John Hampton … Self – Engineer, Ardent Studios
Douglas Hart … Self – Bass, The Jesus and Mary Chain
Robyn Hitchcock … Self
Andy Hummel … Self (archive footage)
Ross Johnson … Self – Writer and Musician
Ira Kaplan … Self
Lenny Kaye … Self – Writer and Musician
John King … Self – Promotions, Ardent Studios 1972-1975
Curt Kirkwood … Self
John Lightman … Self
Carole Manning … Self – Ardent Studios 1972-1975
Mike Mills … Self
The Replacements The Replacements … Themselves (archive footage)
Steve Rhea … Self – Promotions, Ardent Studios 1972-1975
Will Rigby … Self – musician
Richard Rosebrough … Self – Engineer, Ardent Studios 1972-1975
Kliph Scurlock … Self
Tom Sheehan … Self – Photographer
Chris Stamey … Self – Musician and Producer
Big Star … Themselves
Jody Stephens … Self
Sara Stewart … Self – Chris Bell’s Sister
Michael Stipe … Self
Ken Stringfellow … Self
Matthew Sweet … Self
Alexis Taylor … Self
Marge Thrasher … Self – Hostess of Straight Talk (archive footage)
Jon Tiven … Self
Pete Tomlinson … Self – Writer
Jaan Uhelszki … Self – Writer (as Jaan Uhelzski)
Terry Edwards … Conductor, London (uncredited)

Scruffs – Break The Ice —-Power Pop Friday

Memphis in the early 1970s was more than Big Star. Many power pop bands and artists were coming out of there at that time. Not many made it huge but many were recognized later. They formed in 1974 and released their first album Wanna Meet The Scruffs? in 1977. Like the others around this period. Many of the power pop musicians worked with each other. The Scruffs worked with Alex Chilton, Tommy Hoehn, and Jim Dickinson. Break the Ice was the first single off of the album. It reminds me of the Raspberries.

Wanna Meet the Scruffs? - Wikipedia

To show what some rock critics thought of the band…here is Robert Christgau (rock critic):

Only a sucker for rock and roll could love this record, and I am that sucker. A middle-period Beatles extrapolation in the manner of Big Star (another out-of-step Memphis power-pop group on a small, out-of-step Memphis label), it bursts with off harmonies, left hooks, and jolts of random energy. The trouble is, these serve a shamelessly and perhaps permanently post-adolescent vision of life’s pain, most of which would appear to involve gurls. To which objection the rockin’ formalist in me responds, “I wanna hear ‘Revenge’ again.”

Pretty good endorsement right? That is just one of many but again they just couldn’t break through. They did not have the influence like Big Star did but they were a great power pop band. I listened to all of this album and that jangle of the guitar is infectious. The song was a regional hit but was not played outside of Memphis too much. They did move to New York in 1978 had some high profile gigs at  CBGB and Max’s Kansas City.

The Band broke up in 1981 but Stephen Burns the singer, guitar player, and songwriter  would continue recording albums under the Scruffs name into the 2010’s…with Peter Buck from REM guesting on the 2011 Kill! Kill! album .

Sorry I could not find the lyrics.

Jim Dickinson – Dixie Fried

He hollered, rave on, children, I’m with you
Rave on, cats, he cried
It’s almost dawn, the cops are gone
Let’s all get Dixie fried

He was born James Luther Dickinson but most people knew him as Jim Dickinson. It doesn’t get much more southern than this album and the title track.

He worked at Memphis Sun Records and Ardent Studios in the 1960s on, to sessions with the Rolling Stones (piano on Wild Horses at Muscle Shoals), Ry Cooder and Bob Dylan. He also played with his roots band Mud Boy & The Neutrons and the Dixie Flyers.

Dickinson produced recordings for performers as diverse as Willy DeVille, Green on Red, Mojo Nixon, Tav Falco’s Panther Burns, Toots and the Maytals and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.

In the 70s he produced Big Star’s 3rd Sisters/Lovers album and in the 80s The Replacements Please To Meet Me album in Memphis.

In 1971 he started to focus on production work, producing and appearing on Ry Cooder’s acclaimed Into The Purple Valley and Boomer’s Story albums. Atlantic offered him a chance to record a solo album, and his debut Dixie Fried came out in 1972. It gave him the chance to present his own off-beat take on southern roots music, resulting in an album full of R&B and country.

The song was written by Carl Perkins and Howard “Curley” Griffin.

So if you want… sit back and sip some Tennessee Straight Sour Mash Whiskey and get Dixie Fried.

Dixie Fried

On the outskirts of town, there’s a little night spot
Dan dropped in about five o’clock
Took off his jacket, said, the night is short
He reached in his pocket and he flashed a quart

He hollered, rave on, children, I’m with you
Rave on, cats, he cried
It’s almost dawn, the cops are gone
Let’s all get Dixie fried

Well, Dan got happy and he started raving
He pulled out a razor, but he wasn’t shaving
And all the cats knew to jump and hop
‘Cause Dan was raised in a butcher shop

He hollered, rave on, children, I’m with you
Rave on, cats, he cried
It’s almost dawn, the cops are gone
Let’s all get Dixie fried

Well, the cops heard Dan when he started to shout
They all ran in to see what it was about
And I heard him holler as they led him away
He turned his head and this is what he had to say

He hollered, rave on, children, I’m with you

Rave on, cats, he cried
It’s almost dawn, the cops are gone
Let’s all get Dixie fried

Now, Dan was the bravest man that we ever saw
He let us all know, he wasn’t scared of the law
The black dog barked, but the boy didn’t flinch
He said, it ain’t my fault, hon, that I been pinched

He hollered, rave on, children, I’m with you
Rave on, cats, he cried
It’s almost dawn, the cops are gone
Let’s all get Dixie fried

Now, Dan was the bravest man we ever saw
He let us all know he wasn’t scared of the law
And I heard him holler as they led him away
He turned his head and this was what he had to say

He hollered, rave on, children, I’m with you
Rave on, cats, he cried
It’s almost dawn, the cops are gone
Let’s all get Dixie fried

Yeah, it’s almost dawn, the cops ain’t gone
And I’ve been Dixie fried