It Came From Memphis by Robert Gordon is a fascinating and largely factual account of the Memphis music scene from 1949 through the late 70s. I've read it at least three times, and loved it. However, several of the references to the Box Tops are inaccurate and misleading. I have been a member of the Box Tops since 1967 (when we were still called The DeVilles) until today. We broke up in 1970 and reunited in late 1996.

Alex Chilton, our lead singer, is by far the most famous member of our group, and deservedly so. His voice was the signature sound of the Box Tops, and "The Letter," "Cry Like A Baby," and "Soul Deep" were driven by his singing and Dan Penn's production more than anything else. The other members (myself included) were expendable. We knew this at the time, partly because Alex was the only band member who had a real contract with Bell Records. The rest of us were contracted to Roy Mack, our manager, who had the power to hire and fire us.

Alex also founded Big Star, his highly influential "power pop" band of the early 70s. However, Alex was not the only member of the Box Tops to play on subsequent Box Tops recordings. The only other member of the original group that Robert Gordon chose to interview was John Evans, who was also the first to quit the band. The book quotes John saying, "We played on 'The Letter' and 'Break My Mind,' that's the only other thing." As far as the first album is concerned, that's accurate. But John had quit the band before the second album.

In 1996, Arista (originally Bell Records) released a Best of the Box Tops compilation CD called Soul Deep. The guy (who deserves to be nameless) who wrote the liner notes, cited It Came From Memphis as a source for his assertion that "Alex Chilton was the only band member to play on any recording after 'The Letter'." It amazes me that it actually says that on our own record!

Other journalists have made the same assumption. A few years back, Nashville journalist Robert Oermann (who is a friend) mistakenly included the Box Tops in a list of "Milli Vanilli-type bands"! He later printed a retraction. He also mentioned It Came from Memphis as a source.

Not only did our manager and his notorious attorney screw us (and Alex) out of most of our money, the other members of the band (Danny Smythe, Bill Cunningham, myself, and later Thomas Boggs and Rick Allen) did not get credit for playing on subsequent records. Several songs included on the Soul Deep compilation did not include a single studio musician on the rhythm track, including the monster hit "The Letter" (which sold between 4 and 7 million records, depending on whom you ask).

Not only did the rest of us not get any credit (by journalists) for playing on records, we found out later that on the Musician's Union contracts that were filed for our record sessions, our names were purposely omitted. The studio musicians at American Studios were under contract with Chips Moman, and they got paid for every Box Tops session that was booked, whether they were there or not. The members of the band, including Alex, were actually paying the studio band for every record that we ourselves played on.

The American Studio band was one of the best rhythm sections ever. Maybe the best. We weren't nearly as good or as fast as those guys were. Not even close. They cut many of our rhythm tracks while we were out touring 25 days a month for three years. They were and are some of my biggest musical heroes, especially guitarist Reggie Young. I have no quarrel with them, or our brilliant producer Dan Penn. (Chips Moman and bassist Tommy Cogbill produced our last album and singles.)

To get ripped off by crooked managers and attorneys is bad enough, but for all the other members of the band (whose names I mentioned earlier) to be continually ignored and discredited is somewhat galling, to say the least.

Bill Cunningham, our bass player, went on to get a music degree, studied in Europe, and beat out hundreds of other classical bassists to get the gig in the White House Marine Orchestra, playing for all White House functions during both the Ford and Carter administrations, including the Camp David Accords. His name does not appear in It Came from Memphis. Neither is original drummer Danny Smythe mentioned in the Gordon book. Drummer Thomas Boggs and bassist/keyboardist Rick Allen, who joined the band after Danny and John left, played on the Dimensions album. I played and sang on our recordings from 1967 till 1969.  continue

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