Jon Tiven of Prix :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

1975 was a strange time for rock & roll in Memphis.

Big Star, the flagship band of Ardent Records, was kaput, and the label itself was in flux, tethered to the financial woes of its distributor, Stax. Following the tumultuous sessions that would eventually be fashioned posthumously into Big Star's  Third/Sister Lovers, a young rock writer named Jon Tiven showed up from New York. A fan of Big Star who'd helped organize the Memphis Rock Writers Convention -- helping to forever align rock critics and the cult band  -- he embarked on a serious of sessions with Chilton and hooked with up with a young singer/songwriter named Tommy Hoehn. Together, they tapped into the Memphis scene orbiting Ardent Studios, enlisting Chilton, Jim Dickinson, Chris Bell, and a few more session hands for a series of recordings under the name Prix, mixing Big Star-like Anglophile pop with hard-edged rock.

Only a handful of the group’s recordings ever saw official release, winding up on Miracle Records and Terry Ork’s pioneering punk label Ork Records (a couple Prix cuts are featured on Numero Group's excellent Ork anthology, Ork Records: New York, New York). Apart from a   Japanese import CD, the group's recordings have remained unavailable until now: this month sees the release of Historix, featuring most of the group’s entire recorded output, via Hozac Records.

Prix didn't take off, but Tiven's enjoyed a long career in music, working with the Jim Carroll Band, producing records by Wilson Pickett and Frank Black, and writing songs for artists like Irma Thomas and Robert Cray. Inspired by renewed interest in Prix, he's begun a new incarnation of the group featuring Sid Herring of the Gants and is currently recording new material. Sadly, Bell, Chilton, Dickinson, and Hoehn have all passed, leaving Tiven as one of the last standing musicians able to shed light on the frenzied recording project. Aquarium Drunkard spoke with Tiven via the telephone to discuss the group and new reissue.

Prix :: All Of The Time

Aquarium Drunkard: How did Prix get started?

Jon Tiven:  I went down to Memphis from New York City to produce some Alex Chilton tracks, which came out as Singer Not the Song and later as Bach's Bottom. I came back to New York and I couldn't find a label [for the songs]. I was working with [Memphis singer/songwriter] Van Duren, trying to get him a record deal. He said, "Why don't you come back down here [to Memphis]? You can join my band and we can see where we get." He had a band with Jody Stephens and Chris Bell, so I was happy to join that band. We did a couple of gigs with another guitar player who doubled on bass named Mike Brignardello, who was very good. I basically felt like a third wheel on a bicycle. There wasn't much for me to do. I enjoyed it, but I wasn't doing enough to merit having a five-man lineup. It was basically Van's thing.

Rather than just bide my time, I decided to do some recordings with [singer/songwriter] Tommy Hoehn. Van and Tommy were a little bit competitive with each other at that point. Van had a song called "Grow Yourself Up" -- which I thought was a very good song -- and Tommy wrote a song called "Blow Yourself Up," which was not an accident.

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