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The Box Tops Take A Look Back


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Gathering up Box Tops

Bandmates are rock stars in their spare time

By John Duffy

Sunday News

Published: May 20, 2006 11:30 PM EST

LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - Not many of us can play in a Grammy-nominated band with a handful of perennial radio favorites to its credit, let alone do so as a sideline to our day jobs.

But half of the members of 1960s hit-makers the Box Tops do just that: balance family life and career with life as a part-time oldies superstar. It's a lucky combination that not every oldies or classic rock act still sluggin' it out on the road can boast.

But with a couple of hit singles still in high rotation and a renewed interest in '60s garage bands among younger fans, the demand is there to be satisfied.

The Box Tops will share the stage with the Shadows of Knight at Toyota Arena West in York on May 28.

Formed in Memphis in 1965, the band featured a 17-year-old Alex Chilton, whose voice sounded like he had been gargling with gravel. Bill Cunningham played bass; Gary Talley, guitar (the oldest at 19); Danny Smythe, drums; and John Evans, keyboards.

Their 1967 hit single "The Letter" topped Billboard's pop charts for four weeks in the fall of that year, keeping Bobby Gentry's "Ode to Billy Joe" and the Association's "Never My Love" out of the top spot. It was even nominated for a Grammy.

"Cry Like a Baby" followed the next year amidst nearly a dozen other singles and a handful of albums, most of which have received the deluxe remaster treatment on compact disc in the last half-decade.

Not bad for a group that by Talley's own recollection had no distinctive sound or direction when it formed.

"We were just kids in a band who sounded like whatever group were we trying to sound like: the Rascals, Beach Boys, Beatles … Two of us were still in high school," he said during telephone interviews with the band. "We never had any creative control. Really, the only thing we had that was distinctive was Alex's voice."

With that voice as their trump card, the band members knew that working with seasoned producer Dan Penn was a deal they wanted to strike. Talley called his production "brilliant."

By the time the band had its second million-selling single, Smythe left the group, returning to college to keep a draft deferment. "I was about two to three weeks away from being inducted," Smythe said.

Evans left to pursue higher education as well, followed by Cunningham in 1969.

Soon enough, the Box Tops ceased to be a true band, with Chilton and replacement members often being supplanted in the studio by session musicians. Chilton and Talley played their last show in February 1970.

"We got home from a show — I can't remember where it was — and just decided we didn't want to go on the road anymore," Talley said. Both he and Chilton had begun writing their own songs and itched to move forward.

"For 30 years or so, most of us didn't see each other," Smythe said. But surprisingly, when the group got back together in 1997, the chemistry was still there. The reunion produced the album "Tear Off!"

"We just jelled immediately," said Smythe, who had put down his drumsticks to forge a career in commercial design. At the time, his hits were with such labels as Franceso Rinaldi, Ocean Spray and Miracle-Gro.

Cunningham had in the interim studied classical music and landed a gig playing in the White House for four years straddling the Ford and Carter administrations. He went on to study business and foreign relations and currently is an international trade negotiator for the federal government.

Talley stayed active as a musician and today works as a session guitar player and songwriter in Nashville and plays a variety of musical styles as a backup musician. Talley's session work has found him backing everyone from Edwin McCain and Billy Preston to Willie Nelson and Tammy Wynette.

Read more:

Source: Lancaster OnLine

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Great article, Dude. I'm impressed. :thumbsup:

I had to wade through over 5000 posts of bullshit and spam but you finally came through! :lol:

The Box Tops have played in the area but I haven't seen them. I don't get out much you know. :)

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I had the 45 :lol: Looking back, they had overtones of The Zombies and Argent... I never knew that they were high school kids who lived in an hour from me... the other local legend was Dan Hartman, who wrote Frankenstein and a few cool other cuts

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I still have a couple of their 45s. :lol:

Cry Like a Baby

The Letter

According to the price tag, I gave 97 cents each. :o

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I loved the box tops, the grass roots were also there and the young rascals,,, great music.. always takes me back.. great post

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  • 8 months later...

I had the privilege of seeing the above-mentioned show in May of last year.

Alex Chilton can still bring it. He looks rather frail and thin, but the man's voice has not been diminished by the years. Of course, they did "The Letter", and they started the show with "Cry Like a Baby", but they also did a couple of their lesser-known songs and some covers. Highlights :

"Neon Rainbow" : This song was not one of their biggest hits, although I believe it did crack the top 40 when it was released. It's a ballad, and has one helluva hook to it. The song was covered by the Mexican group Los Chijuas shortly after it's release, with the lyrics "redone" in Spanish.

"Soul Deep" : This is an undiscovered classic R&B song that's just begging to be picked up for a wireless network or car commercial.

Cover : "Whiter Shade of Pale" : I know, I know, no one can improve on Gary Brooker's original vocal on this. I cringed when I heard the familiar organ intro, but Alex Chilton managed a respectable version of it!

I was a little disappointed that they chose not to perform "Sweet Cream Ladies Forward March", their ode to prostitution that was released around the same time frame as "Cry Like a Baby". I remember hearing the song on the radio maybe twice before someone realized what it was about and pulled it from the airwaves.

The Shadows of Knight also put on quite a show; they actually have an album of new material which we bought!

UK Swings

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i wish i had an mp3 of 'the letter.' just sayin'.

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