Charting the Arc of Big Star With Drummer Jody Stephens
Why did you stick with the band, especially with Alex, after all you all had been through?
For me, even though the third album was a dark period for Alex, he was still writing these brilliant songs: "Blue Moon," "Take Care" and "Thank You Friends." That was the attraction for me. The songs. It wasn't necessarily anything else. He was just writing these great songs. It was also the opportunity to get back into the studio and do more work with John Fry, and to participate more in the studio experience than I had on the first two records.
In recent years you've done shows with Chris Stamey from the dB's, Mike Mills from R.E.M., Mitch Easter from Let's Active, and Ken Stringfellow from the Posies performing the third album.
It was Chris' idea to do that, probably in 2009. He approached John Fry and me. We thought it was impractical, because of the expense, and the focus and tenacity of whoever it was that would try to put it together. To make a long story short, we underestimated the organizational skills of Chris Stamey -- in a big, big way. After Alex died, it took on a new mission for me. I thought it would be a great way to continue performing these great songs of Alex.
I wanted to ask you about the song "O My Soul," which, I think of all the Big Star songs, is really driven by the drumming. I don't think I've ever heard another rock & roll song that has such drumming. It's incredibly free and expressive, and you seem to play every verse, every section differently, almost as if you're having this very dynamic conversation with Alex's guitar and singing. Do you remember working on that song?
That's kind of cool. That's the way I've always thought of drumming. I would take my leads more from Alex and Chris, more than from Andy. Andy came up with some cool bass parts, but I was never a bass-centered drummer. I always thought there was a way to build a song, that you wouldn't play the first verse and the first chorus the way you would the second; you might do something extra. I would just build it by feel. Another song I did that on was "The Ballad of El Goodo." That's just the way I played. With "O My Soul," I had taken, I guess, a percussion class at the University of Memphis. And I was reintroduced to flams and paradiddles and stuff. It was just at the right time we were recording Radio City and "O My Soul," so that found its way into that really easily. That song is so much fun, but it is a challenge play.
You've been working at Ardent Studios since 1987. What's your current role?
We have this little label called Ardent Music. Our current release is by the Greyhounds, two just amazingly engaging, charismatic guys, Anthony Farrell and Andrew Trube. They have a drummer with them too, depending on who is available. They have something special going with them. They're from Austin and the recordings were done there. Their new album is called Accumulator. I'm so proud of those guys. I feel lucky to be part of the project.