Alex Chilton’s ‘Boogie Shoes: Live on Beale Street 1999’ a Treasured Soulful Blues Classic

By AVA LIVERSIDGE

For the Boogie Shoes: Live on Beale Street 1999 live record, Alex Chilton returned home to the City of Blues in both sound and state. When you think of Alex Chilton, you think progenitor of the quintessential 70s power-pop outfit, Big Star. 

For the Beale Street side of Chilton, you must look back further, to his soul-blues-tinged hybrid Box Tops days where you get the slightest glimpse of the direction this vibrant live performance takes Chilton. On Boogie Shoes: Live on Beale Street, Chilton went further than just a tinge of soul or a tinge of blues or a tinge of anything; he really did put on his Boogie Shoes. 

Previously unissued and finally released by Los-Angeles based Omnivore Records, the self-appointed Chilton archivists, this performance rests on the obscure end of legendary. The Beale Street show had no set list, fluidity and ease characterize the performance. It’s upbeat and is more reminiscent of a 45 minute jam session than a calculated performance. The covers run the gamut as Chilton and the Hi Rhythm Section weave in and out of a variety of renditions, cutting them short, driving forward. Chilton’s joy is palpable. 

This fluidity could very well be accredited to the last-minute nature of the festival. Named “Fredstock”, in honor of saxophonist and co-founder of Beale Street Music Festival, Fred Ford, and his battle with cancer, the festival came to fruition in just a few weeks at the hand of David Less.

When Chilton agreed to the performance but told Less he had no musicians to play with in Memphis (something no one has ever said in Memphis, ever), Less suggested the Hi Rhythm Section. This is not your average backing band. This is the band behind the instrumentals for artists including Ike & Tina Turner, Al Green, and Otis Clay. Chilton reported back to Less: “That will work.” And so it goes.

Chilton seemed to be reverent of the town he was in, Memphis, and who the benefit was honoring during his set. He blazes through the canon with ease- Otis Clay, The Supremes, Jimmy Reed, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and, of course, his opener and featured single, KC & the Sunshine Band’s “Boogie Shoes,” A track that aptly sets the tone for the set as all four-and-a-half minutes drip with a bright swing.

What this performance does best and what Chilton should most be commended for is the mistake he didn’t make. Many performers feel empowered to cut off the live band whenever they see fit, especially if the set list is improvised and potential dissonance is lurking. Chilton doesn’t interrupt. He is well aware of both his limitations as a lone vocalist and, more so, the Hi Rhythm Section’s capabilities. He lets the horn section (Ronald Smothers, Jim Spake, and Scott Thomposon) wail for as long as needed to fill a brassy bath. The rolling percussive breaks drive the ending of most tracks. The relationship between vocals and instrumentals is democratic and the sound is that much better, the show that much more alive.

Boogie Shoes: Live on Beale Street is a ten track conglomerate of high-energy, succinct funk, blues, rock, and pop cuts. On Little Richard’s “Lucille”, you can hear Chilton calling out to the tenor, then baritone saxophones to take their solos. The set is loose, but smart.

It’s not the pop rock that delivered Chilton his cult following, but it certainly works as testimony to Chilton’s Memphis blood and tribute to Fred Ford’s legacy.

‘Boogie Shoes: Live on Beale Street’ on Spotify: