With all this Big Star talk, I thought I would post this article that we ran 
in this issue of Dateline, Memphis
Tommy and Van both have a connection with Big Star, so enjoy

Tommy Hoehn and Van Duren,
Working Against All Odds

by John Gaskill

    When Tommy Hoehn and Van Duren began writing the songs for their recently 
released CD Hailstone Holiday, they weren’t even sure that the project would 
get off the ground.
    Duren was a little skeptical when Hoehn and Frankenstein Records founder 
Mary-Shelley Jack approached him in 1997 about collaborating on an album. At 
that point, he said, “I didn’t trust anybody in the music business. But what 
else did I have to do?” He continued, “So I said, ‘Sure,’ thinking, ‘we’ll 
see what happens.’”
    But the very fact that the project was not a sure thing appears to have 
made it a success, at least in the eyes of the two artists.
    “Part of what made it easy was the fact that neither one of us believed 
that it would actually happen,” Hoehn said.
    Both Hoehn and Duren are native Memphians and both have numerous musical 
influences, most notably the Anglo-pop of British Invasion bands like the 
Beatles and the Hollies. Although the two have known each other for years, 
their career paths have run parallel to one another, not really crossing 
until recently.
    In the early seventies, Hoehn worked with both Alex Chilton and Chris 
Bell, both of the legendary Memphis band Big Star. His first album, 
Spacebreak, released in 1977 by the local label Powerplay Records was picked 
up by London records the next year titled as Losing You To Sleep. Featured 
were some songs co-written with Chilton.
    His second album, I Do Love the Light, also on Powerplay, featured songs 
written with Bell, whom Hoehn considered a dear friend. Before the album was 
released, Bell was killed in an auto accident.
    “We were actually rehearsing and he left my house and had his wreck,” 
Hoehn sadly recalled. “That was a bad thing.”
    A year and a half later, Hoehn recorded I’m So Afraid of Girls at Sam 
Phillips Recording. He describes the album, which was released by the local 
Race Records label, as “kind of a lame record.”
    In recent years, Hoehn has released Of Moons and Fools (1996) and The 
Turning Dance (1997), both on the Frankenstein label.
    Duren’s story includes some similar names but goes in a different 
direction. He and Big Star drummer Jody Stephens were friends and played 
together with Chris Bell (who had left Big Star after the second album) in a 
band called The Baker Street Regulars in the first half of 1976.
    During the recording of Big Star’s 3rd in 1977, the band was looking for 
another guitar player and Stephens got Duren an audition.
    “It went horrible,” Duren said. “I was nervous.” He didn’t get the gig, 
but it didn’t matter since Big Star’s days were numbered at that point.
    Shortly afterward Duren sold all his gear and bought a one-way ticket to 
New York City. He lived briefly with friends in Greenwich Village and then 
moved to nearby New Haven, Conneticut, where he recorded his first album. Are 
You Serious was released by New York-based Big Sound Records in 1978 and it 
received good reviews and airplay nationwide. A second album was made but 
never released because of financial troubles at Big Sound.
    After four years, Duren found himself playing clubs on the same circuit 
and “things just ran out of steam. I could be doing that down here where my 
family was.”
    He returned to Memphis in 1981 and helped found the group Good Question 
in 1982. The group released Thin Disguise, their only album, in 1986 and had 
some regional success with the single “Jane.” Since then Duren has continued 
to perform with Good Question, all the while pursuing various outside 
    Duren lost track of Hoehn from the time he left for the Northeast until 
1995. Hoehn was organizing the Beatle Bash, a benefit for Make A Wish, to be 
held at Newby’s that year.
    “Van was the logical person for me to talk to,” Hoehn said.
    Duren agreed to participate and after playing with him on the benefit, 
Hoehn knew he wanted to work with him. But it wasn’t until the summer of 1997 
that Frankenstein Records was in a position to make it possible for the two 
to make a record.
    The two started trying to write together in early 1998 and Duren, who had 
never had much success co-writing, was pleasantly surprised. “We came up with 
a couple of songs that were actually not too bad,” he said.
    They worked up four-track demos of those two songs with Brady Howle and 
Rob Crockett, bass player and drummer for the current Good Question lineup. 
The demos were good enough for Ardent to offer a reduced rate, Duren said.
    The lack of pressure made for an unusually smooth studio experience as 
well. The basic tracks for the first eight songs were completed in two and a 
half nights of recording, with “two or three takes at the most on 
everything,” Duren said.
    By June, those eight tracks were complete. While Frankenstein tried to 
raise enough money to finish the album, Hoehn and Duren wrote five more 
songs. In September, the group recorded the second batch of songs and the 
entire album was done by the first week of October.
    “It was very loose when we went in the studio because we just wanted to 
see where it took us without wasting time [since] we were on a shoestring 
budget,” Duren explained. “Everything was just so comfortable and natural. We 
were like slapping ourselves, going, ‘Why didn’t we think of doing this a 
long time ago?’”
    The word “ego,” or more appropriately the lack of it, comes up in both 
Hoehn’s and Duren’s impressions of the project.
    “The marvelous thing about this record for me was that there was very 
little ego clashing involved,” Hoehn said. “Probably because we’re older and 
    Similarly, Duren said, “It really came together remarkably easily. 
Everybody got along. There were no egos involved.”
    To describe Hailstone Holiday with only the infamous “b” word 
(Beatlesque) would be grossly unfair. While the album certainly shows the 
influence of the Fab Four, it doesn’t merely tip its hat. The songs are 
multi-layered, but they still maintain a spontaneous feel. The wide-ranging 
two part harmonies and inventive hooks have a brilliant pop sheen, yet the 
songs, especially the rockers, retain a gritty edge.
    Those who worship at the altar of Big Star might feel that Hoehn and 
Duren, having rubbed shoulders with members of the band, were standard 
bearers for the Chilton-Bell legacy. Hoehn, however, knew both men as fellow 
musicians and friends. Back then “they certainly weren’t recognized here,” he 
    Hoehn sees the music that Chilton and Bell created, along with what he 
and Duren have done, in much the same way. “I think it very much comes out of 
the same place. It’s Memphis white boy pop music,” he said.
    Duren agreed, but added that what he and Hoehn are doing now is “filtered 
through all these years. We’re different people.”
    After over thirty years each in the business, both Hoehn and Duren still 
call Memphis home, despite the city’s less than stellar reputation for 
supporting its local talent.
    “It’s a funny place,” Hoehn said. “It’s so slow to recognize its own 
talent. In a way I think that’s good. If it immediately catapulted its native 
sons to the top, I don’t think any of them would develop.”
    “When I lived up North, for a while they just thought I was wonderful 
because I was from Memphis and [had] the Big Star connection,” Duren said. 
   “You just get to a point where, unless you have a great deal of success, 
you just kind of look at yourself in the mirror and go, ‘What are you doing?’”
    He added, “It’s like the Wizard of Oz, you know? ‘There’s no place like 

Tommy Hoehn and Van Duren will be performing live on WEVL on April 12 from 4 
p.m to 6 p.m. on the Car Tunes program. The Hoehn-Duren Band will be at the 
High Point Pinch on May 28. Send correspondence to [EMAIL PROTECTED]           

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