Legend goes that the second time Memphis native Alex Chilton ever sang into a microphone was when he recorded “The Letter” for The Box Tops. A massive hit which spent four weeks at number one on the pop charts, “The Letter” would prove to be Chilton’s biggest hit. As Holly George-Warren points out in her new biography, A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton, From Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man, Chilton reached his commercial peak when he was only sixteen years old, but his artistic peak would come later. Chilton died unexpectedly at age fifty-nine in 2010, and A Man Called Destruction looks at the man in full, from the tragic drowning of his older brother to his bohemian upbringing in Midtown Memphis, from early stardom to later critical acclaim as one of the most-respected interpreters of American music.
Holly George-Warren is a veteran music journalist—she’s written for Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and The Oxford American, among many others. She has also edited and written many other books, including Public Cowboy No.1: The Life and Times of Gene Autry and Honky-Tonk Heroes and Hillbilly Angels: The Pioneers of Country & Western Music. She has won an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award and has been twice nominated for a Grammy for her liner notes. She will discuss A Man Called Destruction at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville on May 23, 2014 at 3:30 p.m. On-site book purchase is required to attend the signing.
This interview was originally conducted for WYPL-FM’s Book Talk radio program at The Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library in Memphis, which holds The Memphis Music Collection. To download the podcast, click here; to listen online, click the play button below:
Stephen Usery is the producer of Book Talk, an author-interview program that airs daily on WYPL FM 89.3 and is sponsored by the Memphis Public Library. Usery also produces Mysterypod, an independent podcast focused on mysteries, thrillers, and crime novels. He lives in Memphis.