We are non-commercial, all volunteer and supported by our readers. Please help sustain the Dew by making a donation.
Rhythm & Dews: Arthur Alexander and Bob Dylan
The Southern Song of the Day story on the late Arthur Alexander’s “Anna (Go To Him)” reports he is the only songwriter to have his songs covered by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. As noted, only recordings officially released by those artists are recognized in granting Alexander such status. Had Dylan released a few of the songs he’s left off albums and performed live, it’s likely Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Bert Russell (born Bertrand Russell Berns) would have also scored this hat trick.
In his recording of “Sally Sue Brown”* on the ’88 Down In The Groove album, Dylan provided Arthur Alexander with the accomplishment that would long be noted. However, Dylan did not offer a commanding version of the song. The recording rocked enough, as even Alexander acknowledged upon hearing it, but Dylan does not sound interested. His rocking may have been a way of just hurrying through the song. As it was, Dylan’s take on “Sally Sue Brown” was just another track on Down In The Groove that left his fans perplexed.
In the ’60s and ’70s and even into the ’80s, Dylan’s albums were musical landmarks that reflected or even guided the spirit of the times. Not so with Down In The Groove. Critic Robert Christgau called it a “horrendous product.” Rolling Stone, after nearly 20 years to reconsider the album, placed it atop their list of the 15 Worst Albums by Great Bands (5/14/07).
The gloom generated by Down In The Groove did not affect his concerts however. Less than 2 weeks after the album’s release, Dylan embarked on the first leg of the Never Ending Tour. With lead guitarist G.E. Smith in tow, Dylan was renewed on stage, offering a wide variety of songs from his nearly three decades of recording. The performances, on both the electric and acoustic material, were amazing. On one of the summer nights he played Atlanta’s Chastain Park, he and his band rocked through an intense version of “In The Garden” (from 1980’s Saved album), then closed the set with “Like A Rolling Stone.” It was a blazing finish to a wondrous show. Bob Dylan was back and in full command. The crowd that called him out for three encores gave little thought to Down In The Groove.
On a “Theme Time Radio Hour” program, Dylan paid a nice tribute to Alexander’s career as he presented “Anna” in his “Women’s Names” episode (January 2007). It was a great career, even with the ups and downs. Alexander not only came up with his own great songs but also had a knack for picking fine material by others. “A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues” and “Soldier Of Love” were songs recorded by Alexander and later performed by The Beatles on their BBC radio shows (made available on CD in ’94 on Live At The BBC). Alexander’s ’71 recording of “Burning Love” made an impression on Elvis Presley’s producer, Felton Jarvis. After some pleading by Jarvis, Presley recorded the song, mainly as a favor to his longtime friend. Despite his lack of enthusiasm for “Burning Love,” it was a big hit for Presley, peaking at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in October ’72.
Alexander never made much money from his music but in an interview with Rolling Stone he expressed gratitude that people enjoyed his songs. “Every artist wants to think they can sell a million records,” he said. “But some artists are geared to be suppliers. Though I wasn’t getting paid, The Beatles and the Stones kept my songs in front of a big audience.”
The Beatles felt strongly about Alexander and American black artists in general. Paul McCartney, in an interview with Mark Lewisohn in ’87 for his book, The Beatles Recording Sessions, said, “If The Beatles ever wanted a sound, it was R&B. That’s what we used to listen to, what we used to like and what we wanted to be like. Black, that was basically it. Arthur Alexander.” John Lennon was even more emphatic about R&B music and black artists. When a New York Times story appeared in ’71, accusing The Beatles and other white artists of exploiting and imitating black music in their early cover records, Lennon responded with a letter defending his band and fellow musicians. Lennon wrote that “We didn’t sing our own songs in the early days — they weren’t good enough — the one thing we always did was to make it known they were black originals, we loved the music and we wanted to spread it anyway we could.” He went on to say that “many kids were turned on to black music by us. It wasn’t a rip off. It was a love in.” Lennon’s love for the music remained strong. On the original release (Feb.’75) of his Rock ‘n’ Roll album, 14 of the songs were at first popularized and written by black artists.
* Arthur Alexander wrote”Sally Sue Brown” with Earl Montgomery and Tim Stafford
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
In a class on Dante I'm currently enrolled in, Professor Frank Ambrosio of Georgetown University quoted the nineteenth century philosopher Friedric Nietzsche that human beings, as far as we know, are the only animals who make promises. I only add that humans are also the sole ones who break them. According to Ambrosio, Nietzsche puts the significance of human promising and its place with regard to freedom this way: "In man, nature set itself the task to breed an animal worthy of making promises." It's an extraordinary idea. What is it that allows an animal that lives in the here and now to Read on →
Recently my wife and I attended a reunion of her first cousins (and their spouses). These cousins are the children of the children of a couple of Swedish immigrants who settled in Iowa to farm in the late 19th century. What a wonderful family event! Just enough people to fill all the seats around a table not so big we couldn't all converse together. In all our time together, there wasn't a single hurtful word. Even the spouses, like me, were embraced in the family feeling, all glad to be together. All these cousins -- except for the two children of those Read on →
Despicable. That's the only word for it. I refer to the recent official email "Responding to the Ebola Crisis" of October 17 from my congressional representative, Bob Goodlatte, of Virginia's 6th District. It begins by stating that "Ebola now spreading in the United States is of extreme concern [emphasis added]." The update then goes on to imply that millions of Americans have lost or will lose their health care under the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"). To connect the dots, which Rep. Goodlatte leaves to the reader, ostensibly to retain a fig leaf of decency: You may get Ebola, and if you do, Read on →
When you get interested in painting you naturally look around to see what others who got this bug have done. Finding out what painters are doing in the U.S. today is like listening to rock on the radio. You have to wade through a lot of “forgettables” before you hear one that will be an “oldie” in ten years. Museums show oldies. Most of their collections have been filtered. The forgettables have been thrown out. On this painting journey you will run across an opinion that painting is dead, irrelevant, old paradigm. You can ignore that, and be sure you will en Read on →