[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at
1998's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Wednesday, Aug. 12.]
The band that first gained fame for its tale of "lonely days" and "going home" is
reuniting after nearly three decades apart, as the five original members of the
Box Tops prepare to launch a tour and release a new LP.
More than 30 years after their garage-soul hit
Letter"(RealAudio excerpt) topped the charts, the Memphis-soul act
the Box Tops have decided to reconvene for a brief tour, beginning this month
and lasting through October, as well as to release a collection of R&B covers
and one new tune.
Not that that was what they originally had in mind.
"Basically, our bass player, Bill Cunningham, just started calling everybody and
he got us thinking about it," said guitarist Gary Talley, 50. "We decided to meet
in Memphis and go into the studio. We didn't think of it as getting back together,
we just thought of it as a little experiment. We didn't start off saying, we'll get
back together and make a record and play again; it just evolved that way."
It kept on evolving to the point that the Box Tops -- including vocalist Alex
Chilton, who has become a legendary rock cult figure over the years based on
his pioneering work with the '70s group Big Star -- decided to formalize their
little experiment with an album and tour.
While a release date has not been determined for the new LP, the band
confirmed that its title will be Tear Off. It will mostly consist of R&B covers,
but it will also feature one new song, "Last Laugh," co-written by Talley.
The tour is more firmed-up at this point, with plans to open Thursday at
Riverside Park in Oshkosh, Wis. The Box Tops will then take a few weeks off
before barnstorming through the Southeast for six more shows, including four
September dates with '50s/'60s rockers the Kingsmen, best known for their hit
Although the Box Tops have reunited for one-off reunion shows in the past, the
upcoming spate of fall gigs represents the first time the group has toured with all
the original members in nearly 30 years, according to Rick Levy, the band's
"We wanted to get them back performing at a comfortable level, at a comfortable
pace," Levy said. "They're looking to get the right kinds of shows, have fun with
it and make music that sounds good."
Formed in Memphis, Tenn., in 1967, the Box Tops were comprised of Chilton,
keyboardist/bassist Cunningham, guitarist/bassist Talley, organist John Evans
and drummer Danny Smythe. They leaped to the top of the charts the same
year, with "The Letter," and peaked at the second slot the next year, with
HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Box_Tops,_The/Cry_Like_A_Baby.ram"> "Cry Like a Baby"
"Cry Like a Baby"(RealAudio excerpt), before disbanding in 1970.
While with the Box Tops, 16-year-old Chilton sang in the gravelly voice
encouraged by producer/writer Dan Penn. In his later work with cult favorites
Big Star, Chilton opted for a smoother tone and more pop-oriented rock that
later influenced a wide range of power-pop groups and sealed his own fame
beyond that of the Box Tops.
The reunited Box Tops plan to draw their setlist from singles such as "The
Letter" and sprinkle in material from the new album as well, a move that could
lead to a more extensive touring schedule.
"It's a lot of fun. I wish we did it more often," Talley said. "We plan to do it more
often, maybe get to be where we do 30 or 40 dates a year, instead of 15 or 20."
Box Tops Tour Dates:
Aug. 13; Oshkosh, Wis., Riverside Park
Sept. 4; Columbia, S.C., Township Auditorium
Sept. 5; Atlanta, Ga., Atlanta Civic Center Theatre
Sept. 27; Salem, Va., Salem Civic Center
Sept. 28; Richmond, Ky., Eastern Kentucky University
Oct. 9; Biloxi, Miss., Boomtown Casino
Oct. 10; Biloxi, Miss., Boomtown Casino