Ardent Records Promoter and Pivotal Big Star Figure Steve Rhea Dies at 62
We are sad to report the loss of another pivotal Big Star figure: Ice Water drummer and Ardent Records promoter Steve Rhea.
From Studio Manager Jody Stephens:
Our very good friend, Steve Rhea, passed away today. He was an integral part of Ardent’s history. Steve was introduced to John Fry and Ardent Studios in the late 60s and by the early 70s he had become a part of the creative evolution of what was to become Big Star. He played with Chris Bell in The Jinx and then Ice Water, a late night studio project which involved Andy Hummel. Steve had been playing drums on the projects with Chris and Andy and his return to college in Texas left an opening for a drummer Jody Stephens. Upon graduation, Steve returned to Memphis and Ardent, this time enlisted by John Fry to promote Ardent Records’ releases. His projects included Big Star’s #1 Record and Radio City.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. We will miss him.
Steve Rhea, a key figure in the history of legendary Memphis rock group Big Star has died.
Rhea, a drummer in Big Star precursor bands the Jynx, Rock City and Icewater, as well as an Ardent Records staffer, died on Wednesday morning at his home. The 62-year-old Rhea, who became a successful banker and financial planner, had been diagnosed with cancer last year.
“Steve’s playing just struck me pretty powerfully,” said Big Star drummer Jody Stephens, who took over for Rhea behind the kit in 1971.
“From my perspective, he was such an integral part of Big Star’s evolution,” said Stephens. “And yet, he was somebody fun and very laid back, always great to work with.”
Rhea’s death is another blow for fans of Big Star, which has lost band members Alex Chilton and Andy Hummel, group producer Jim Dickinson, and various other associates, including photographer/logo designer Carole Manning and songwriter Tommy Hoehn, over the past three years. The period has also seen a renewed international interest in the group’s history, thanks to a Grammy winning box set Keep An Eye on the Sky, and documentary film, “Nothing Can Hurt Me.”
A pivotal player in the early Ardent studio scene of the late 1960′s and early 1970s, Rhea was a gifted musician and occasional songwriter. He joined future Big Star founder Chris Bell in the high school garage band the Jynx, before following — along with bassist Hummel — in subsequent outfits like Rock City and Icewater.
Rhea’s greatest contribution was as the writer and singer on the Icewater song “All I See Is You.” The song came out on the 2008 collection Thank You Friends: The Ardent Records Story and 2009 Big Star anthology Keep An Eye on the Sky.
Rhea left the Ardent fold in order to attend college at Southern Methodist University in Texas in 1970. His departure opened up a spot for drummer Stephens who joined the soon to be rechristened Big Star. Rhea would return to Ardent to work as a promotions man in 1972, helping on the campaigns for Big Star’s first two, ill-fated, LPs.
After his involvement in the music business, Rhea went onto a successful career in finance in the Mid-South where he served as a vice president at Leader Federal Bank, Union Planters Bank of Memphis, and the Union Planters Corporation.
He eventually left to work with his father, S. Herbert Rhea, as a consultant at Rhea Financial Corporation. Most recently, Rhea had been the principal at Summit Asset Management.
Rhea is survived by his wife Leigh, and daughters Emily Rhea and Elizabeth Rhea Cook.
In the photo above: Steve Rhea and Chris Bell at the National Street location of Ardent Studios.
A private graveside service will be held on Friday morning May 18th. Visitation will be at Second Presbyterian Church at 12:30 pm on the same day followed by a memorial service in the Sanctuary at 2 p.m. Memorials may be sent to the Second Presbyterian Church Foundation, 4055 Poplar Memphis 38111, to WKNO, 7151 Cherry Farms Road Cordova 38016 or to the Church Health Center, 1210 Peabody Avenue, Memphis 38104. Memorial Park Funeral Home, “Behind the stone wall”, 901-767-8930. Condolences may be offered at www.MemorialParkOnline.com