Born Arthur Alexander Jr., 10 May 1940, Florence, Alabama
Arthur Alexander was a talented “country soul” and R&B singer who died too young. A profound influence on the early 1960s British beat boom, Alexander’s songs have been recorded by artists like the Beatles (3 songs), the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ike & Tina Turner, Dusty Springfield, the Searchers, Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, Ry Cooder, Dave Edmunds, Johnny Rivers, the Bee Gees, Robert Plant and others.
Alexander was born in Florence, Alabama, but grew up in nearby Sheffield. His father was a blues guitarist ; his mother and sister sang in church. As a kid, he soaked up a wide variety of musical influences from the radio, from his parents and from cowboy movies. In the sixth grade he joined a gospel group, the Heartstrings. After high school, he worked as hotel bellhop in Sheffield’s Holiday Inn. During this time he befriended Tom Stafford, an R&B-obsessed white kid who fancied himself a lyricist. Alexander began adding melodies to his words and through Stafford was introduced to a likeminded crowd of fledgling musicians, including future stars Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham, Billy Sherrill and Rick Hall.
In 1958 Alexander partnered with Henry Lee Bennett to write “She Wanna Rock”, which was recorded by Arnie Derksen for Decca in 1959. The next year Arthur made his debut as a recording artist with “Sally Sue Brown”, co-written with Tom Stafford and Earl Montgomery. The record came out on Jud Phillips’s Judd label and was credited to June Alexander (short for Junior). Bob Dylan would record “Sally Sue Brown” in 1988.
In 1961, Alexander cut “You Better Move On” at a former tobacco warehouse in Muscle Shoals, which Rick Hall had turned into a recording studio. Released on Dot Records, the record reached # 24 on the pop charts in 1962 and earned Hall enough money to begin work on a new Muscle Shoals studio, the now legendary FAME studio (Florence Alabama Musical Enterprises). It was Alexander’s hit that put northern Alabama on the map and Hall went on to lead Muscle Shoals’ transformation into a soul music mecca. Arthur quit his job as a bellhop, but like many other young stars of the day, the only money he made was from the endless touring on package shows, not from his royalties. "You Better Move On” has been covered by more than forty artists, including the Rolling Stones. The other side, “A Shot Of Rhythm and Blues”, became very popular in England, where it was recorded by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates (a # 48 hit in the UK) and many other British groups.
The second Dot single was the Mann-Weil composition “Where Have You Been”, which peaked at # 58, but the other side, “Soldier Of Love”, would have been a better choice for the A-side. Next came Arthur’s self-written “Anna (Go To Him)”, a # 68 pop hit, also # 10 R&B, which was covered by the Beatles on their first LP. It was his last chart entry of the 1960s, though he continued to cut fine records like “Go Home Girl”, “Dream Girl”, “Where Did Sally Go” and “Black Night” (all on Dot). Between 1966 and 1970 Alexander recorded for Sound Stage 7 and its parent company, Monument, without success.
The late 1960s and the 1970s weren’t kind to Alexander. A string of questionable business deals had left him without publishing rights to his biggest songs. He became bitter and withdrawn, which only worsened as he struggled with alcohol and drugs. He did small time in several prisons and longer stints in psychiatric hospitals. Along with a songwriting gig in Nashville, he recorded for several labels in the 1970s. In 1972-1973 he was contracted to Warner Bros, for which label he recorded the original version of “Burning Love” (1972). Alas, it wasn’t the hit it deserved to be. The song was soon covered by Elvis Presley, whose version went all the way to number two.
In 1975 Arthur finally recorded his own composition “Every Day I Have To Cry”, which had been a # 46 pop hit for Steve Alaimo in early 1963 ; Jerry Lee Lewis would later include it on his first Elektra album. Alexander’s own version, on the Buddah label, reached # 45 on the pop charts. Also on Buddah, he had a minor R&B hit with “Sharing the Night Together” (# 92) in 1976. The song was later a Top 10 pop hit for Dr. Hook (1979). It was Alexander's chart swan song. In 1977 he moved to Cleveland and spent the next thirteen years outside of music, mainly as a bus driver, and found solace in religion.
In 1991 a longtime fan, John Tiven, tracked him down and persuaded him to return to performing. This led eventually to a contract with Elektra Records. The company released a new album by Alexander, his first in 21 years, “Lonely Just Like Me”, in early 1993. It garnered him the greatest critical acclaim of his career and it seemed that Alexander was on the verge of a comeback. But he was suffering from all the side effects of a rough life and was seriously ill. Suffering a massive heart attack on June 8, 1993, he died the next day at a Nashville hospital.
More info : http://rubbercityreview.com/2012/05/the-country-soul-of-arthur-alexander/
Discography (singles only) : http://www.soulfulkindamusic.net/aalexander.htm
Biography : Richard Younger, Get A Shot Of Rhythm and Blues : The Arthur Alexander Story. Tuscaloosa : University of Arizona Press, 2000. 222 pages.
Dik, September 2017
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