It was the Beatles and the Rolling Stones who first turned me on to Arthur Alexander. It didn’t escape my notice that the Beatles “Anna,” and the Stones version of “You Better Move On” were covers of songs written by the same person. That’s how I first heard of Arthur Alexander, but I had no idea who he was, and I didn’t know that he had made great records of his own.
Alexander was born in Alabama in 1940, and he joined his first gospel group, the Heartstrings, when he was in the sixth grade. After high school Alexander met a kid named Tom Stafford who loved R&B as much as Alexander did, and the two started writing songs together. It was through Stafford that Alexander met such luminaries as Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham, Billy Sherrill, and Rick Hall.
In 1960 Alexander debuted on Judd Records with “Sally Sue Brown,” a blues song that he had written and produced with Stafford. The record was credited to “June” (as in Junior) Alexander.
The following summer Alexander and Rick Hall went to Muscle Shoals and together they converted an old tobacco warehouse into one of the most famous recording studios in the history of popular music. The first record to come out of Muscle Shoals was Alexander’s “You Better Move On” on Dot Records. The single reached #24 on the pop chart.
“You Better Move On” made Hall enough money that he was able to start work on a new recording facility, but Alexander’s Deal with Dot Records meant that the two couldn’t work together any longer. Alexander began working with Dot staff producer Noel Ball, but his first single with Ball was a Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil song called “Where Have You Been All My Life” and it failed to make a dent on the charts. The flip side of that record was a classic Alexander composition called “Soldier of Love”, but the label buried it.
Alexander bounced back with his next record. “Anna (Go To Him)” was a big R&B hit for Alexander and as mentioned above was covered by the Beatles. who were major fans of Alexander. Their cover of “Soldier of Love” appears on the Live at the BBC album.
Sadly, follow ups were hard to find for Alexander. A series of singles including “Go Home Girl,” “You’re the Reason,” and “Detroit City” failed, and Dot released Alexander in 1965. He signed with Sound Stage 7 Records and released the singles “(Baby) For You,” and “Show Me the Road” but they didn’t score either. He didn’t record again until 1968 when “I Need You Baby” was released.
There is a lot of speculation about Alexander’s decline. Some say that he became an acid casualty well before acid was popular. Alexander himself claimed that he suffered from a debilitating illness. Whatever the reason, and despite the fact that Sound Stage 7 kept releasing one Alexander single a year, his career was clearly fading in the late ’60s.
Alexander was back in 1971, working as a staff writer for Combine Music in Nashville. Among his colleagues there were Kris Kristofferson, Billy Swan, Tony Joe White, and Donnie Fritts. Through Combine, Alexander got a deal with Warner Brothers to record his first album in ten years. The sessions took place at Chip Moman’s legendary American Studio in Memphis and the cuts included Alexander’s take on Dennis Linde’s “Burning Love,” which was later a huge hit for Elvis Presley, and a poignant take on the Penn/Fritts song “Rainbow Road.”
Sadly it didn’t happen for Alexander. Not the Rainbow Road album, or any of its singles. A few years later he gave up on Nashville and went home to Florence, AL. Alexander wasn’t quite done yet however. He signed with Buddah Records and the single of his song “Every Day I Have To Cry,” which had been a hit for Steve Alaimo in 1965, was a moderate success.
That was about it. There were a couple of singles that didn’t create any buzz, causing Alexander to quit the music business and start driving a social services bus to earn a living. In 1993 he was contacted by the Elektra/Nonesuch label and convinced to try a comeback. He recorded the album Lonely Just Like Me for the label, but while he was out on tour in support of the record he fell ill and died in June of that year.
Arthur Alexander was a great songwriter and recording artist in his own right. He never quite got the recognition that he deserved, and he remains unknown to most people. Whether he was responsible for his problems or whether they were beyond his control is unknown, but fortunately he left a lot of great music behind.