'98's Best: Box Tops' Lonely Days Gone With New LP, Tour

Rock cult hero Alex Chilton leads original members of Memphis-soul act back out on the road.

[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

"Louie Louie."

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


"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