In the late Seventies, after Big Star and Box Tops frontman Alex Chilton returned to his hometown of Memphis, he performed a passionate rock cover of reggae group the Slickers’ contribution to the Harder They Come soundtrack, “Johnny Too Bad.” Now, nearly 40 years later, the song is coming out for the first time on the companion album to the upcoming book Memphis Rent Party.
“This Alex Chilton recording dates to the heyday of Memphis punk, circa 1979,” the book’s author, Robert Gordon, tells Rolling Stone. “Recorded at a short-lived bar that had been Procapé Gardens and later the Birth of the Blues, this teams him with one of his greatest backing groups, the Randy Band. Even if they don’t all know the song – it slipped out of Jamaica with the movie The Harder They Come – they know the spirit and they lean into it right with Alex.”
In the book, due out March 6th, Gordon tells the story of rock & roll, blues and soul music in Memphis, including passages on blues musicians Junior Kimbrough, Furry Lewis and Mose Vinson, as well as Cat Power, Jeff Buckley and Townes Van Zandt. Gordon, who was born in Memphis, has won both a Grammy and an Emmy and previously wrote the book It Came From Memphis, which came out in 1995.
In addition to the track by Chilton, who died of a heart attack in 2010, the Memphis Rent Party album, which will come out March 9th, features recordings by Jerry Lee Lewis, Luther Dickinson, Jim Dickinson and Jerry McGill, among others. Half of the recordings are previously unreleased.