Big Star bassist Andy Hummel, a founding member of the cult rock band who performed on the group’s acclaimed first two albums, died yesterday in Weatherford, Texas, following a two-year battle with cancer. Hummel was 59. Hummel’s death comes just four months after he took part in a SXSW tribute to Big Star frontman Alex Chilton, who suffered a fatal heart attack on March 17th. Drummer Jody Stephens, now the lone surviving member of the band, told the Commercial Appeal, “He was such an inspiration. I’d known Andy since the 7th grade. What an impact he had on my life. He will be sorely missed.”
Hummel’s Big Star roots date back to the Memphis band Icewater, which featured Big Star guitarist Chris Bell (who later died in a 1978 car accident) and Stephens before Chilton joined the group. Hummel played on Big Star’s debut #1 Record and Radio City, both listed on Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Hummel wrote “The India Song” and “Way Out West” and has co-writing credits on some of the band’s most beloved songs, including “Back of a Car,” “Life is White” and “Daisy Glaze.” While Big Star developed a cult following decades later thanks to the support of famous fans like Paul Westerberg and R.E.M., the band was underappreciated in its own time, and Hummel quit to finish school prior to recording the group’s epic Third/Sister Lovers.
Hummel went on to become a longtime employee at Lockheed Martin, though he still occasionally played music on the side. “I feel like I’ve had a really good career at Lockheed, really enjoyed it and am not in any way dissatisfied,” Hummel told the Dallas Observer last year. “The way things panned out with all these other bands who cite Big Star as a big influence on them getting started and how they grew artistically, that gets you thinking, ‘Gosh, we really had something going that could have grown into something much, much bigger, and who knows?’ But shoot, you never know.”
When Big Star reunited in the mid-1990s, Hummel elected not to take part; the Posies’ Ken Stringfellow took over bass in his place. “Universal sends me a [royalty] check every six months or so,” Hummel said. “And it’s enough to take my wife out to dinner.” A service for Hummel will take place tomorrow, July 21st in Weatherford, Texas.