Big Star Story: Sid Selvidge
A major narrative device for us as we put together the Big Star Documentary was to interweave the stories of many of the Memphis characters who made up the scene down there, the nexus of which was Ardent Studios where the band had the run of the place. It was perhaps overly ambitious but the journey was incredibly enriching. Along the way, we sat down with Sid Selvidge. At the time all I knew of this distinguished gentleman was he somehow got himself mixed up with Alex Chilton at his most unhinged, footing the bill for the infamous solo album “Like Flies On Sherbert.” A work that in revisionist rock history will go down as one of the key recordings in the Punk Rock canon—that is if it’s ever reissued (Hello, Light In the Attic).
Much like John Fry of Ardent Studios, Sid was a soft-spoken, polite older fella that I just could not square with the freakness that was Chilton 1978. I have to say, it was these contrasts among the many people from the scene we met that was most intriguing to me. It’s something uniquely Southern that I’ve always appreciated. That often true individuality—even eccentricity does not mean you gotta let your freak flag fly and let me assure you Sid did fly the flag from time to time.
At the Cafe Procape: (from left) Jim Dickinson (seated), ??? (somebody help me here), Chilton, Sid, and Lee Baker
We knew Jim Dickinson by that time but did not know that the fair haired, college professor, Selvidge was a part of the loose collective called Mudboy & the Neutrons. A band known to play well-dosed on acid and in full make-up reinterpreting rock and roll classics. Dickinson described it as playing basic rock and roll like it was jazz. I believe Sid painted himself like a Mandril (a baboon), Jim had a cape and skull for a cod piece. A young Richard Rosebrough, Ardent engineer and second drummer on Big Star’s Radio City recalled: “I was scared of them!”
Yes, Memphis had their version of the counter-culture and it was a unique one. While The Grateful Dead were referencing the Delta Blues to throngs of love children at the Avalon Ballroom, Mudboy and the Neutrons were playing with the original practitioners most notably Furry Lewis who was a street sweeper around Beale Street by that point. For the Mudboy debut he donned a wig, painted his face and joined them.
During an interview around the recording of “Like Flies On Sherbert” (1978) Sid, Jim Dickinson, and Chilton explain how their work is virtually ignored in Memphis. But pointing out that the moment it becomes a job the music suffers. Charles Raiteri the interviewer asks:
“So why not move to Nashville?”
Sid: “We don’t have to watch the clock like they do there. We can just go crazy in the studio.”
Which is what they did late nights at Sam Phillips studio making Flies On Sherbert.
Chilton in genuine Jerry Lee Lewis blazer
Sid put the money up for the recording of the record and the members of Mudboy formed the backing band. But I believe the Mudboy influence was huge. Here the whole concept was realized and interpreted by Chilton. He covered classics like “Waltz Across Texas”, uncovered amazing lost classics like “Alligator Man” (Mosquitos buzzing around my head/Spanish moss for my bed/I seldom see dry land—I’m an alligator man)
And he created new classics like “Rock Hard” (ripples, nipples..and purple!)
Sid pressed up about 500 copies on his Peabody Label and somehow it made it over to the UK where it became a cult classic. Everyone we talked to from Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub, to Douglas Hart of Jesus and Mary Chain, to Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip speak of it with reverence.
We hope to include some of the Sid interview on the DVD extras. Thank you Sid for granting us the rights to the songs for the film. I was glad to have met you. RIP
Sid at Ardent Studios