Behind the Band Name: Big Star

The power-pop outfit Big Star shone brightly, not initially, not for very long, and was only visible to those who truly saw their genius. They flew mostly under the radar during their brief first life, their bewitching harmonies and hair-raising melodies somehow going unnoticed or maybe unappreciated. They have since become a cult classic band and more than earned such a celestial name.

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Behind the Name

The Memphis-formed band—originally made up of vocal-guitarist duo Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, drummer Jody Stephens, and bassist Andy Hummel—was initially called Icewater in the early 1970s before Chilton officially joined.

Once they became a foursome, a name change was in order. They took on a promising moniker like Big Star, not because they thought they would be just that, but because they were hungry. The now nearly defunct grocery store chain, Big Star Markets, dotted the Memphis region at the time and the bandmates were known to peruse the aisles for snacks in between recording sessions, according to Rob Jovanovic’s book, Big Star: The Story of Rock’s Forgotten Band. 

Not only did they borrow the company’s name, but the band also took inspiration from the stores’ logo for their own. Originally a five-pointed star bordering the name of the supermarket, the company’s insignia was altered slightly by the band who only dropped the word “Star” to avoid any legal issues. So their 1972 debut album, #1 Record, brandished the word “BIG” in dull, yellow neon surrounded by the outline of a star. Big. Star.

The album that introduced Big Star, was not an immediate success due to poor distribution, but has since solidified the band as cult favorites today.

Big Star Today

Big Star began to fall away after the release of #1 Record, calling it quits in 1974 following the release of their second record and the construction of a third.

However, Big Star reformed in 1993 without Bell, who had passed away, and without Hummel. Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of the Posies were recruited to take their places. During their hiatus, their shelved third album had been released and the other two began to grow in popularity, garnering the then dormant band a devoted following. Their second act saw them tour around the world, eventually releasing what would be their fourth and final album, In Space (2005). 

Big Star now is only a faint glimmer. With the death of their frontman Alex Chilton in 2010, came the end of the band. Various projects and tribute performances, like Stephens’ semi-frequent shows under the bill of Big Star’s Third, have been held over the years since.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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