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Big Star: “Live at Lafayette’s Music Room,” Recorded in 1973

For a band that released only three albums in the early 1970s, Memphis’ Big Star left a huge legend. Their recordings, universally praised by critics, died on the vine commercially. Perhaps the only analog is New York’s the Velvet Underground, about whom music nerds everywhere repeat the old saw: Only 1,000 people heard the Velvets’ first album, but all of them started their own bands.

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 By the early 1980s, bands coming out of the South — most particularly, R.E.M. — were thinking similarly about Big Star, drawing inspiration from their music. And soon, young musicians were approaching each other with rare vinyl copies of “#1 Record,” “Radio City,” or “Third/Sister Lovers,” and saying in hushed, almost reverent tones, “Uh, have you heard this?”

That’s exactly what a record-store clerk named Peter Buck said to me one day in 1979. Buck, of course, would go on to fame with R.E.M. When he was asked to write the liner notes for “Keep an Eye on the Sky,” a 2009 boxed set of Big Star’s music, Buck wrote, “Basically, in the mid-1970s, the only people on Earth who knew Big Star were rock critics and record-store clerks.”

Arguably, neither group would have known about Big Star had it not been for the one-off promotional concert the band played at something called First Annual National Association of Rock Writers Convention. (There was no “second annual” convention, but that’s another story.) That show, at Lafayette’s Music Room in Memphis in May of 1973, spawned the legend, but it wasn't recorded. 

But four months earlier, when Big Star played the same venue opening for Houston soul band Archie Bell & the Drells, tape was rolling, and the recording of that show saw the light of day only when “Keep an Eye on the Sky” was released. 

Until now. This Friday, Omnivore Recordings will release “Live At Lafayette’s Music Room” on CD, digital, and for the first time, blessed vinyl. The Bitter Southerner is proud to bring you this First Listen of one of the greatest, but least famous Southern bands of all time, in their prime. 

— Chuck Reece