The Box Tops: Wikis


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The Box Tops

The original Box Tops line-up: Bill Cunningham, Danny Smythe, Alex Chilton, Gary Talley and John Evans
Background information
Also known as The Devilles
Origin Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
Genres Blue-eyed soul
Psychedelic rock
Years active 1967–1970; 1996–2010
Associated acts Big Star
Gary Talley
Bill Cunningham
Danny Smythe
Former members
Alex Chilton
John Evans
Thomas Boggs
Rick Allen
Harold Cloud
Bobby Guidotti
Swain Schaefer

The Box Tops were a Memphis rock group of the second half of the 1960s. They are best known for the hits "The Letter," "Neon Rainbow," "Soul Deep," "I Met Her in Church," and "Cry Like A Baby," and are considered a major blue-eyed soul group of the period. They performed a mixture of current soul music songs by artists such as James and Bobby Purify and Clifford Curry, pop tunes such as "A Whiter Shade of Pale" by Keith Reid, Gary Brooker and Matthew Fisher of Procol Harum, and songs written by their producers, Dan Penn and Chips Moman. Vocalist Alex Chilton went on to front the powerpop band Big Star and to launch a career as a solo artist, during which he occasionally performed songs he had sung with the Box Tops.

The Box Tops' music combined elements of soul music and light pop. Their records are prime examples of the styles made popular by Moman and Penn at American Sound Studio in Memphis. Many of their lesser known Top 40 hits are considered minor classics; these include "Neon Rainbow"; "Sweet Cream Ladies, Forward March"; and "I Met Her in Church." As rock critic Lester Bangs wrote in a review of the group's Super Hits album, "A song like 'Soul Deep' is obvious enough, a patented commercial sound, yet within these strictures it communicates with a depth and sincerity of feeling that holds the attention and brings you back often."




Original incarnation

The Box Tops began as The Devilles, who had started playing in Memphis in 1963. As the band's personnel changed from time to time, so did the band name on occasion, which at one point became "Ronnie and The Devilles" and then later changed back to "The Devilles".

The Devilles leaped to further local prominence when they won a weekly Battle of The Bands contest at Memphis' T. Walker Lewis YMCA, finally beating Bobby and The Originals, who had won the previous nineteen weeks (one member of The Originals was Terry Manning, who would later serve as engineer for some Box Tops recordings, and Producer of an Alex Chilton solo album).

By January 1967 the group was composed of founding member Danny Smythe (drums) (born August 25, 1948, Memphis, Tennessee), along with newer arrivals John Evans (guitar, keyboards, background vocals) (born June 18, 1948, Memphis), Alex Chilton (lead vocal, guitar) (born December 28, 1950, Memphis -- died March 17, 2010, New Orleans), Bill Cunningham (bass guitar, keyboards, background vocal) (born January 23, 1950, Memphis), and Gary Talley (lead guitar, electric sitar, bass, background vocal) (born August 17, 1947, Memphis). They were soon renamed a final time. They changed their name to "Box Tops" to prevent confusion with another band recording at the time with the name "The Devilles".

As the Box Tops, they entered the studio under the guidance of producer Dan Penn to record Wayne Carson Thompson's song "The Letter." Though under two minutes in length, it was an international hit in mid-1967, reaching Billboard's number-one position and remaining there for four weeks. The record, produced by Dan Penn, sold over four million copies and received two Grammy awards nominations. The band followed up "The Letter" with "Neon Rainbow", another tune penned by Thompson and produced by Penn. An album called The Letter/Neon Rainbow appeared in November, 1967 -- The Box Tops would actually release three albums over a nine-month period from late 1967 to mid-1968. Some of the Box Tops' instrumental tracks were performed by session musicians like Reggie Young, Tommy Cogbill, Gene Chrisman, and Bobby Womack at American Sound Studio, and by future Chilton producer Terry Manning at Ardent Studios. However, the actual group members performed on a number of their recordings including their first hit, "The Letter," and on all live performances.

The hits continued through 1968. "Cry Like a Baby" was a major hit in 1968, peaking at number two on Billboard, and has been covered by such artists as the Hacienda Brothers and Kim Carnes. "I Met Her In Church" and "Choo-Choo Train" were smaller hits released later that year. Towards the end of 1968, the band switched producers, with Dan Penn being replaced by the team of Chips Moman and Tommy Cogbill. This team was responsible for producing the band's final 1968 hit, "Sweet Cream Ladies, Forward March", and all the band's future releases.

By January 1968, John Evans and Danny Smythe returned to school, thereby avoiding the draft. They were replaced by bassist Rick Allen (born January 28, 1946, Little Rock, Arkansas) (from The Gentrys) and drummer Thomas Boggs (born July 16, 1947, Wynne, Arkansas, died May 5, 2008, Memphis, Tennessee) (from the Board of Directors).

Wayne Carson Thomspon's "Soul Deep" was the group's final US Top 40 entry in the summer of 1969. The follow-up single, "Turn On A Dream", would peak outside of the US Top 40, but would be a #29 hit in Canada.

Cunningham left The Box Tops to return to school in August 1969 and was replaced by Harold Cloud on bass. But eventually, the group's tolerance for the disrespect and fleecing they had endured as teen musicians from managers, lawyers, and promoters came to an end. According to a 2004 article in by Talley, a December 1969 British tour was cancelled by the band after arriving in London to discover that instead of respecting the rider agreement, the local promoter insisted they play the tour with the opening reggae act's toy drums, public address system amplifiers (instead of proper guitar amplifiers), and a keyboard with a broken speaker.

Finally, in February 1970, the remaining founding members, Talley and Chilton, were ready to move on and disbanded the group. However, the Bell record label kept releasing new Box Tops singles through early 1971, using material that had already been recorded by Chilton and company. February 1970's "You Keep Tightening Up On Me" scraped into the US Hot 100, and was a slightly bigger hit in Canada. Two further Box Tops singles failed to chart nationally in either the US or Canada, although the band's final single "King's Highway" (another Wayne Carson Thompson-penned track) was a regional hit in Dallas in the spring of 1971.

Post-Box Tops careers

Each of the original members went on to work in the music industry in subsequent years after leaving the Box Tops. Chilton's career path included work performing with Big Star, Tav Falco's Panther Burns, and his solo trio, as well as briefly producing groups like The Cramps. Guitarist Talley went on to work in a variety of styles as a session guitarist and songwriter in Memphis, Atlanta, and Nashville. Artists and producers he has worked with have ranged from Hank Ballard, Chips Moman, Billy Lee Riley, Billy Joe Royal, Webb Pierce, Waylon Jennings, Tracy Nelson, Willie Nelson, and Tammy Wynette to Sam and Dave's Sam Moore, and others. Bassist Cunningham (son of Sun Records artist Buddy Blake Cunningham and brother of B.B. Cunningham Jr., lead vocalist for 1960s Memphis group The Hombres, of "Let it All Hang Out" Top 40 hit fame) won a spot in the White House orchestra in Washington, D.C., after completing his master's degree in music. During his classical music career, he played with some of the world's best performers; at Cunningham's last public classical music performance, for instance, he performed at the White House with Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman. In the 1980s, he earned an MBA and changed careers. Evans played occasionally in Memphis groups after the Box Tops, while working as a luthier, eventually switching to a computer network administrator career. Smythe performed in Memphis soul and blues groups in the 1970s, later changing to a career in art by the 1980s, but returned to music performance in the 1990s.

Reunions (1989-present)

Box Tops in 2001: (left to right: Talley, Chilton, Cunningham, Smythe)

There was a brief Box Tops reunion for a concert in Nashville, Tennessee at a venue called Ace of Clubs in 1989. The lineup for this show comprised: Chilton, Evans, Talley, Harold Cloud(bass) & Gene Houston(drums). At this show the group was also augmented by back up singers Tracy Nelson, Jonell Mosser, Kim Morrison and a full horn section.

Cunningham next organized a reunion of all the band's original members, including Chilton, in 1996. Since then the group has released an album they produced themselves of new material recorded at Easley McCain Recording, Tear Off!, and has resumed performing concerts internationally. The Tear Off! album included a new original by guitarist Talley ("Last Laugh"), a cover of Bobby Womack's "I'm in Love," a cover of Eddie Floyd's "Big Bird" (often covered in solo concerts since the 1980s by Chilton), a cover of The Gentrys' "Keep on Dancing," and a new recording of "The Letter." Other songs on the album reflected the band members' varied soul, novelty, rock-and-roll, and country music influences. B.B. Cunningham Jr. played a guitar on the album's cover of "Trip to Bandstand," his 1959 Memphis novelty single. The album also featured horn arrangements and performances by The Memphis Horns, who have since appeared in some of the group's live concerts. By 2000, John Evans was no longer in the band and, as of 2008, it is not known whether or not he is still alive.

In 2001 the group contributed a Blondie cover tune to a droll various artists collection of "songs you never thought you'd hear," called When Pigs Fly. Other representative selections on the album, whose organizer matched artists of one period with wittily chosen songs of a different period, included Don Ho's treatment of Peter Gabriel's "Shock the Monkey," Herman's Hermits' performance of Billy Idol's "White Wedding," and a Jackie ChanAni Difranco duet of Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable."

Sold-out Box Tops concerts in Germany in 2003 were aired on German radio, and the group's 2005 tour schedule showed a number of American dates planned despite the group members' busy careers outside the band.

On March 17, 2010 lead vocalist Alex Chilton passed away.

Band member history

1967 - 1968

1968 - 1969

1969 - 1970

1970 - 1996

Band Split

1996 - 1999

2000 - 2010

Selected discography


US Release Date
B-Side Label & Cat No. Chart Positions Album
US Hot 100 Australia[1] Canada UK[2]
July 1967 "The Letter" "Happy Times" Mala 565 #1 #4 #1 #5 The Letter/Neon Rainbow
October 1967 "Neon Rainbow" "Everything I Am" Mala 580 #24 #30 #17
February 1968 "Cry Like A Baby" "The Door You Closed To Me" Mala 593 #2 #46 #3 #15 Cry Like A Baby
May 1968 "Choo Choo Train" "Fields Of Clover" Mala 12005 #26 #96 #18 Non-Stop
August 1968 "I Met Her in Church" "People Gonna Talk" Mala 12017 #37 #32 #27
November 1968 "Sweet Cream Ladies, Forward March" "I See Only Sunshine" Mala 12035 #28 #82 #16 Dimensions
March 1969 "I Shall Be Released" "I Must Be The Devil" Mala 12038 #67 #51
June 1969 "Soul Deep" "(The) Happy Song" Mala 12040 #18 #7 #9 #22
September 1969 "Turn On A Dream" "Together" Mala 12042 #58 #29 Non-LP singles
February 1970 "You Keep Tightening Up On Me" "Come On Honey" Bell 865 #92 #68
August 1970 "Let Me Go" "Got To Hold On To You" Bell 923
March 1971 "King's Highway" "Since I've Been Gone" Bell 981


Original studio albums

  • The Letter/Neon Rainbow (November, 1967) - US #82
  • Cry Like a Baby (April, 1968) - US #59
  • Non-Stop (July, 1968)
  • Dimensions (September, 1969) - US #77
  • Tear Off! (1998)

Compilation albums

  • Super Hits (December, 1968) - US #45
  • The Box Tops' Greatest Hits (1982)
  • The Ultimate Box Tops (1987)
  • The Best of the Box Tops — Soul Deep (1996)


  1. ^
  2. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 74. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  • "Box Tops Biographies." Box Tops official website. Accessed June 16, 2005.
  • "Box Tops Frequently Asked Questions." Box Tops official website. Accessed June 16, 2005.
  • Editors of Rolling Stone (1971). The Rolling Stone Record Review. New York: Pocket Books, pp. 425–426. ISBN 0671785311 (December 31, 1969 review by Lester Bangs of Box Tops' LPs Super Hits, Dimensions and Non-Stop.)
  • "Gary Talley Discography." Gary Talley website. Accessed June 16, 2005.
  • Goldfein, Josh. (September 8–14, 1999.) "Box Bottom." Village Voice.
  • Gordon, Robert (1995). It Came From Memphis. New York: Pocket Books. ISBN 0-7434-1045-9.
  • Smythe, Danny and Evans, John. "Box Tops: The Devilles Story." Box Tops official website. Accessed June 16, 2005.
  • Talley, Gary (March 2004). "The Box Tops — Setting the Record Straight: a Firsthand Account." Accessed June 16, 2005.
  • Whitburn, Joel (1983). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. New York: Billboard Publications, Inc. ISBN 0-8230-7511-7.

External links

Sound samples


Simple English

The Box Tops were a 1960s pop music group, from Memphis, Tennessee. Their best known songs are "The Letter" and "Cry Like A Baby".


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