Though Chris Bell's life and career ended far too soon after a car accident days after Christmas of 1978, the Big Star co-founder is getting his due in a series of projects with Omnivore Recordings, the label that's released a veritable treasure trove of Big Star archival material over the years.
The first, announced today, is Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star, a 22-track collection gathering Bell's material from the late '60s and early '70s, before recruiting Alex Chilton, Andy Hummel and Jody Stephens to form the criminally overlooked power pop combo Big Star. This material, all of it issued long after Bell's passing, was recorded in Memphis with local musicians like drummers Stephens and Steve Rhea, bassist Thomas Dean Eubanks and keyboardist Terry Manning, under such eye-catching names as Rock City, The Wallabys and Icewater. Six tracks, including original compositions and backing tracks, are previously unreleased.Liner notes by writer/compilation producer Alec Palao feature quotes from the aforementioned artists, plus Ardent Studios founder John Fry and local songwriter/musician Alan Palmore.
A companion of sorts to the late Chilton's Feel Again: The 1970 Sessions, Looking Forward showcases Bell's talents and potential long before Big Star or even his mid-'70s solo material, compiled in the 1990s as I Am The Cosmos. Omnivore will explore that material later this year in a new deluxe version of I Am The Cosmos (including the first vinyl version in more than a decade), before releasing a comprehensive 6LP vinyl box, The Complete Chris Bell, with even more unheard material.
"This has been on my list of things to do," label co-founder Cheryl Pawelski said to Billboard in an exclusive article breaking the news of the Bell campaign. "Because Alex had the longer career and certainly the hit career that predates Big Star, I think Chris gets overlooked sometimes. I think it's important to keep his work out there and keep refreshing it...I feel like people need to discover this guy. We've seen how it happens. I just keep hoping that if we keep putting him out there more people will find it."
The Billboard piece also included a chapter excerpt from Rich Tupica's forthcoming book, There Was a Light: The Cosmic History of Big Star Founder Chris Bell. Looking Forward is available from Omnivore on July 7.
Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star (Omnivore OVCD-223, 2017)
Amazon U.S. / Amazon Canada (TBD) / Amazon U.K. (TBD)
- Think It's Time to Say Goodbye - Rock City
- All I See is You - Icewater
- My Life is Right - Rock City
- Feeling High - The Wallabys
- Looking Forward - Icewater
- The Wind Will Cry for Me - Rock City
- Psychedelic Stuff - Chris Bell
- The Reason *
- I Lost a Love - Rock City
- A Chance to Live - Icewater *
- The Answer - Rock City
- Lovely Lady - Rock City
- Sunshine - Icewater
- Introduction - Rock City
- Sunday Organ - Rock City
- The Preacher - Rock City
- Shine On Me - Rock City
- Try Again (Movie Mix, 2012) - Rock City
- Germany (Backing Track) *
- Oh My Soul (Backing Track) *
- All I See is You (Alternate Backing Track) - Icewater *
- Feeling High (Alternate Backing Track) - The Wallabys *
Tracks 1, 3, 6, 9, 11-12 and 14-17 from Rock City (Lucky Seven Records CD-9209, 2000)
Tracks 2 and 7 from Thank You Friends: The Ardent Records Story (Big Beat Records CDWIK2 273 (U.K.), 2008)
Track 4 from Feeling High: The Psychedelic Sound of Memphis (Big Beat Records CDWIKD 311 (U.K.), 2012)
Tracks 5 and 13 from I Am The Cosmos: Deluxe Edition (Rhino Handmade RHM2 521305, 2009)
Track 7 from Keep An Eye On The Sky (Ardent/Rhino R2 519670, 2009)
Track 18 from Big Star - Nothing Can Hurt Me: Original Soundtrack (Omnivore OVCD-61, 2013)