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Live From The Current Studio

Big Star's Third perform in The Current studio

  Play Now [3:01]

by Bill DeVille and Big Star's Third

September 30, 2015

Big Star's Third - Blue Moon (Live on 89.3 The Current)
by MPR
Big Star's Third - Take Care (Live on 89.3 The Current)
by MPR
Big Star's Third perform live in The Current studio (full session + interview)
by MPR
Big Star's Third - 4
Brett Harris, Charles Cleaver, Jody Stephens and Chris Stamey of Big Star's Third perform in The Current's studio.
MPR photo/Nate Ryan

Ken Stringfellow is very clear about the name of the band. "It's definitely Big Star's Third," he says, "and it's definitely a discrete entity as compared to Big Star, which came to an end with Alex [Chilton]'s death."

Originally envisaged by Chris Stamey, Big Star's Third is a musical ensemble dedicated to performing faithful, note-for-note re-creations of legendary band Big Star's album, Third. Part of the musician roster is Jody Stephens, an original member of Big Star.

Ahead of their gig on Wednesday, Sept. 30, at First Avenue in Minneapolis, Big Star's Third stopped in to The Current's studio for a live session hosted by Bill DeVille.

Looking back at the origins of the project, Stephens admits he was a bit dubious about it at first. "[Big Star engineer and producer] John Fry and I talked about it and thought, This seems a bit impractical'," Stephens recalls. "But we both underestimated the powers of Chris Stamey — his organizational skills, not to mention his musical talents. And now we have Ken not only as a performer but helping out with organizing and tour management. It's brilliant. His tour books are legendary."

Stringfellow, Stephens and Stamey are at the heart of the project, which also includes Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Mitch Easter (Let's Active) and many others. Alongside Stringfellow, Stephens and Stamey in the studio today are Skylar Gudasz on vocals and flute, Brett Harris on guitar and vocals, Charles Cleaver on piano and organ, and Jeff Crawford on bass. The show at First Avenue will also feature Mills in the lineup, as well as Audley Freed, Dale Baker and local musicians Dave Pirner and Matt Wilson. "You start getting into the White Pages of Rock," Stringfellow says, adding that a Big Star family tree "could cover an entire wall. It's basically indie rock's version of freemasonry. If you know about Big Star, you're in."

Here are some additional highlights from Stephens' and Stringfellow's interview with Bill DeVille:

On facing the challenge of putting together such a large, live show:
STRINGFELLOW: "For Big Star, people still regard it as kind of an underdog that deserves more recognition, et cetera. People really give a lot of extra help. There's a lot of goodwill for the band."

On finding musicians to fill out the onstage lineup:
STRINGFELLOW: "It's so interesting to find out where the Big Star fans are, because they're everywhere. All ages. Indie rockers up to classic rockers. People know and love this music. That's one of the most interesting things about Big Star: This band that sold 40 records when they came out, people treat them as if they're in the canon — they are in the canon now, I think."

Jody Stephens, on continuing to play Big Star's music as the only living member of the original band:
"There's a bit those [nostalgic] feelings there, sure, but it's not so much a difficult mission as it is joining a community of folks that are like-minded, and having that support, having that good time — it really is an amazing community of people that celebrate that music. … I can't see giving that up. It's become a really important thing in my life."

On whether or not Big Star were ahead of their time:
STEPHENS: "It's hard to say. We could have been a little behind and a little ahead, both. Whatever it was, we sort of wore our influences on our sleeve. It's the way all those forces — Beatles, Badfinger, Kinks, and of course, Stax music and those folks — it's all the way they sort of play into our musical lives."

Songs Performed

"Blue Moon"
"Take Care"

Hosted by Bill DeVille
Produced by Derrick Stevens
Engineered by Michael DeMark
Web feature by Luke Taylor