Pictured at Ardent Studios/L. Nix Mastering’s cutting lathe is studio founder/recording engineer John Fry (left) and mastering engineer Larry Nix.
Solo recordings by Memphis-born singer/songwriter and guitarist Chris Bell are now available from Rhino Records’ Handmade division. Bell formed the power pop band Big Star in 1971 with Alex Chilton (of Boxtops fame), Andy Hummel and Jody Stephens (now manager of Ardent studios, where the recordings took place).
Ardent Studios founder John Fry recalls, with a chuckle: “The first time I met Chris, I walked into my office and he was sitting in my chair, with his feet up on my desk, smoking a cigarette. I thought, ‘Now, who in the heck is this?’”
Big Star released their debut, #1 Record, in 1972. According to Rolling Stone magazine, Big Star created a “seminal body of work that never stopped inspiring succeeding generations.” Chris Bell left the group after the release of the debut on the Stax-distributed Ardent Records label. He contributed music and lyrics to Big Star’s second album, Radio City, and then spent the next several years traveling through Europe, eventually returning to Memphis to join his family’s restaurant business. Bell died tragically in 1978 at the age of 27; as he drove home from the restaurant, he lost control of his Triumph sports car and struck a telephone pole.
The only Chris Bell solo material released during his lifetime was the 7-inch 45 rpm single “I Am The Cosmos/You and Your Sister” on the Car Records label. His remaining solo work was released in 1992 on the Rykodisc CD I Am the Cosmos.
Produced by Alec Palao, the new I Am the Cosmos re-release on Rhino stands as the definitive collection of Bell’s work. Mixed and re-mastered at Ardent, using the original analog tapes from the ’70s, the new two-CD collection includes all the material of the original release, plus a second disc with previously unreleased alternate versions and mixes, as well as never before heard material from earlier Bell projects. The first 1,000 units sold on Rhino Records’ Handmade Website are accompanied by a re-creation of the 7-inch Car Records vinyl release, remastered and recut on the very same record lathe as the original.