Gary James' Interview With Songwriter
His songs have been recorded by Rock Legends such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan.
He launched his musical career in 1961 when he recorded his first song, "Sally Sue Brown" in a makeshift studio above a Florence, Alabama, drugstore.
His name is Arthur Alexander. Alexander has just released his first album in 20 years! (1993) Titled "Lonely Just Like Me", you can find it on the Elektra Nonesuch American Explorer Series label.
Q - Mr. Alexander, how does it feel to be back in the music business after a 20 year lay off?
A - It feels great. I didn't think it would. Being away, I got my mind cleared. I got my priorities back together. I had a lot of time to re-think all of my prior mistakes and put everything into its proper perspective. The main thing I did was get myself right with God. That's the biggest change I made.
Q - What caused you to walk away from the business?
A - In '75 when I cut "Every Day I Have To Cry" I had a Top 40 record and I didn't get paid.
Q - You didn't get paid by the record company?
A - Right. That was the last straw for me. I just said I can make a better living pumping gas.
Q - You went on to drive a bus. That's got to be a pretty big adjustment?
A - Yeah. That was a real big adjustment. I went back to my hometown of Sheffield, Alabama. I was trying to get a job around there, but everybody knew me and nobody would hire me. I wasn't making any money. So I said, I gotta leave here. I had a girlfriend in Cleveland, so I went to Cleveland. I got a job there first as a construction worker. I worked on that job for about a year. Then, I got another job for a power plant, as a plant helper. I worked in that plant for about a year and a half or so. Then, I got this job driving a bus. I've been on that job ever since.
Q - So, even though you've recorded this new CD, you're still driving a bus?
A - Right. Only thing is, I've got more seniority now so I don't have to drive as much as I did in the beginning. There are people under me.
Q - What were you doing before you recorded your first song?
A - I was working in the day as a bellhop and at night I was singing with this band called The George Brooks Band. Then I cut "Sally Sue Brown' and thought I was gonna get rich. I must've sold about 8 copies I guess.
Q - Your father didn't want you to get into the music business, but he wasn't able to stop you. How come?
A - He played guitar and sang all his life and he never made no money. He saw that I had a real interest in it and he stopped. When he saw I was trying to come along, he stopped. I took an alternate route. I started singing in the church. He loved that. He thought that was the greatest thing. When I made a record, and before he died, I took him that record, and he said, "Well, yeah, you do sound pretty good." He gave me a little credit.
Q - In your day, you toured the country by bus. That must've been tough.
A - Oh man, that was really hard. Eight or ten acts all on a bus, except for the guys who could afford to have their own cars. You'd be there with the band and everybody else. You're all jammed up. You go to a town to perform and after the gig was over, you'd get back on the bus, and they'd drive you 400-500 miles to the next town. That was a killer.
Q - What did you think of The Beatle version of your song "Anna"?
A - I loved it. When I heard 'em singing my song, it just knocked me out.
Q - Did you ever meet any of The Beatles?
A - George Harrison. I met him. I talked to John Lennon on the phone.
Q - When was this?
A - I toured England in '66. I went to the agency that handled them. It just so happened that George was around there. John, Paul and Ringo were all out of town. When they found out who I was, and that I was there, they called John on the phone, and he wanted to talk to me.
Q - Was there an "Anna" in your life? Was it a girlfriend?
A - Yup. Anna was the name of the girl I was writing about in "You Better Move On" and I eventually married her.
Q - You've seen a lot of changes in the business, but is there anything you miss about the old days?
A - Yeah, the attitude that a singer had when he went into the studio in the old days. He knew he had to knock this thing down quickly. You couldn't stop and start back then. I think for the most part, you had better singers. You had better songs. I think your better records came out in that period.
Note: Arthur Alexander passed away on June 9, 1993 at the age of 53.