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". By January 1967 the group was composed of founding member Danny Smythe (drums) (b.25 Aug1948, Memphis, Tennessee), along with newer arrivals John Evans (guitar, keyboards, background vocals) (b.18 Jun 1948, Memphis, last seen 2000), Chilton (lead vocal, guitar)(b.28 Dec1950, Memphis), Bill Cunningham (bass guitar, keyboards, background vocal) (b.23 Jan 1950, Memphis), and Gary Talley (lead guitar, electric sitar, bass, background vocal) (b.17 Aug1947, 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 recorded Wayne Carson Thompson's "The Letter." Though under two minutes in length, it was an international hit in late 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. Their single "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. The album of the same name contained a song written by Spooner Oldham and Penn, "Fields of Clover." Some of their recordings' instrumental tracks were performed by session musicians like Reggie Young, Tommy Cogbill, Gene Chrisman, and Bobby Womack at Moman's American Sound Studio, and by future Chilton producer Terry Manning at Ardent Studios, although the actual group members performed on a number of the recordings, including their first hit, "The Letter," and on all live performances.
By January 1968, John Evans and Danny Smythe returned to school and were replaced by Rick Allen (b.28 Jan 1946, Little Rock, Arkansas) (from The Gentrys) and Thomas Boggs (b.16 Jul 1947, Wynn, Arkansas, d. 5 May 2008, Memphis, Tennessee.) (from the Board of Directors). The band recorded seven more singles, including the Moman-produced "Soul Deep,"which was the group's final Top 40 entry. Bill Cunningham left to return to school in August 1969 and was replaced by Harold Cloud. But eventually, the group's tolerance for the disrespect and fleecing they had endured as teen musicians from managers, lawyers, and promoters they had made rich came to an end. According to a 2004 article in Puremusic.com 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.