Arthur Alexander - Biography
Arthur Alexander was a pioneer of country-soul. Though his music is more widely recognized through high-profile covers by the likes of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Elvis Presley, his own recordings are of such a quality that his relative obscurity are somewhat hard to comprehend.
Arthur Alexander was born May 10, 1940, in the Shoals region of Alabama to a musical family. His mother, Fannie Scott Spencer, and his older sister sang in church. His father, Arthur Alexander Sr., was a laborer by day who played bottleneck blues guitar at venues in the area on weekends. When Alexander was in the sixth grade, he joined a gospel group, The Heartstrings. However, after he completed high school, his first job was as a bellhop at the Sheffield Hotel. There he befriended Tom Stafford, an aspiring lyricist, and the two soon began collaborating. Together they found work at Rick Hall's Fame Music group where they met future key-figures of the country and country-soul scene including Billy Sherrill, Dan Penn, and Spooner Oldham. In 1958, Alexander collaborated with Henry Lee Bennett on “She Wanna Rock,” which Stafford sold to Decca, where it was recorded by Arnie Derkson a year later.
In 1960, Alexander made his solo debut as “June Alexander”, releasing his and Stafford’s almost-rockabilly “Sally Sue Brown” through Judd Records. The following summer, Alexander and Hall transformed an old disused tobacco and candy warehouse into Muscle Shoals studios. “You Better Move On,” recorded in the studio and released by Dot reached the #25 in March of 1962. Now under contract with Dot, Alexander’s relationship with Hall was effectively ended and the Dot producer Noel Ball assigned the Mann/Weil light pop composition, “Where Have You Been All My Life” for the next single, relegating Alexander’s composition, “Soldier of Love (Lay down Your Arms),” to the flipside. It flopped. For his third single, he was allowed to release another original, “Anna (Go to Him), which peaked at #68. Subsequent singles, despite their quality, failed to perform. Meanwhile, other artists continued to enjoy greater success with Alexander’s compositions. Steve Alaimo had a hit with Alexander’s “Every Day I Have to Cry” whereas, released at roughly the same time, Alexander’s “Go Home Girl” failed to chart. After “You're the Reason,” “Ole John Amos,” and “Detroit City,” also failed to chart, Dot terminated Alexander’s contract in 1965. Years later, Soldier of Love (1987 Ace) compiled fourteen tracks from the era, including seven that had previously not been issued.
After the termination of his contract, Alexander quickly signed with Sound Stage 7, who released “(Baby) For You” followed by “Show Me the Road” in 1966. 1968’s “I Need You Baby” was released on Monument, followed by Sound Stage’s release of “Love's where Life Begins” the same year, which were followed by “Cry like a Baby” and “Another Place, Another Time” in 1969. As with Dot, Alexander recorded more material that wasn’t released due to his lack of success. And once again, years later these singles and sixteen previously unreleased tracks from the era were compiled, in this case on the release The Monument Years (2001 Ace).
With his performing career stalled and his compositions for others proving more successful, Alexander turned his focus to songwriting. In 1971, he was hired as a staff songwriter for Nashville’s Combine Music where he worked alongside Billy Swan, Donnie Fritts, Kris Kristofferson and Tony Joe White, among others. Howevever, showing considerable faith in his potential, his employers got Warner Brothers to sign him and he recorded his first full-length in a decade, Arthur Alexander (1972 Warner), in Memphis at Chips Moman's American Studio. Four singles were released but as with most of his previous attempts as a performer, neither they nor the album sold well. Many years later, Rainbow Road: the Warner Bros. Recordings (1994 Warner), was compiled and featured most of the tracks from the album, several singles and unreleased tracks he cut for the label.
In 1975, Alexander moved back to Alabama where he signed with Buddah. When he returned to Muscle Shoals to cut “Every Day I Have to Cry.” It provided him with a minor hit in 1976, perhaps encouraging him to released more. However, 1977’s “Sharing the Night with You” was followed by “Hound Dog Man’s Gone Home” failed to make have any impact. After their commercial failure, Alexander retired from music and found a steadier gig as a bus driver.
Not content to give up on his career as a performer, decades later Ben Vaughn tracked Alexander down and coaxed him back into the studio. The result was Lonely Just like Me (1993 Nonesuch), released in March, 1993, his first album in over twenty years. After its release, Alexander went on tour to support the album but tragically, while doing so he fell ill and died in Nashville on June 13th.
Though still unrecognized at large, Arthur Alexander is one of the most important figures in country-soul and his songs have been performed by many adoring fans. In addition to the aforementioned performers, his work has been covered by the likes of The Hollies, George Jones & Johnny Paycheck, Mink DeVille, Humble Pie, Marshall Crenshaw, Pearl Jam, Esther Phillips, The Bee Gees, Dusty Springfield, Tina Turner, The Drifters, Joe Tex and many others.