Just four months after the death of lead singer Alex Chilton, original Big Star bassist Andy Hummel has died at the age of 59. Hummel had been diagnosed with cancer several years ago, but had only recently learned that his condition was terminal after being hospitalized for a hip operation.
Guitarist Chris Bell and Hummel were best friends in high school and college, and when the two began seriously pursuing playing as a rock band and decided they needed a drummer, it was Hummel who recruited Jody Stephens, having played with him in a group called The Chessmen in eighth grade. The three core musicians played together under various names—including Icewater—before joining forces with Chilton as Big Star. And although Chilton and Bell are remembered as the main songwriting force within the group—and by his own admission in a 2001 interview (which is absolutely worth reading), Hummel was just trying to “keep up with the rest” during the early days of recording of its debut, #1 Record—he gained confidence after taking an audio engineering course, and began composing his own music, most notably taking the lead on “The India Song” and later Radio City’s “Way Out West.”
After #1 Record, as the legend goes, Big Star became fractured by in-fighting, with Bell and Hummel in particular taking out their frustrations with the lack of forward momentum on each other. Rob Jovanovic’s biography Big Star: The Short Life, Painful Death, and Unexpected Resurrection Of The Kings Of Power Pop recounts several dust-ups between Bell and Hummel—including an incident where Bell smashed Hummel’s bass, and Hummel retaliated by puncturing Bell’s acoustic guitar with a screwdriver—but Hummel later claimed his memory of such events was “vague.” What is known for sure is that Bell quit the band in 1972, leaving the other three members to work on Radio City alone, at which point Hummel’s contributions to the songwriting became much more pronounced. Not long before the album’s release, Hummel faced the choice of going out on tour to promote it or finishing college; he chose college.
Although he continued to play music privately, Hummel spent most of his post-Big Star life living in Fort Worth, Texas, concentrating on his engineering work for Lockheed Martin, and—in his own words—“making lots of money, raising kids, partying with friends, riding my Harley, collecting antiques, etc. It ain't a bad life.” He did not participate in the 1993 reformation of Big Star (members of The Posies stood in for Hummel and Bell, who died in a car accident in 1978), but at this year’s SXSW, he joined Stephens on stage for a tribute to Chilton, who died days before the group was scheduled to perform. Hummel’s death leaves Jody Stephens as the sole surviving original member of Big Star.