- Important: All passwords were reset on 06/15/11. Old passwords will no longer work. Click here to retrieve your password.
- Subscribe to Our Free Dewsletter
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
The book review I just finished repeatedly asks, “What endures?” The author offers one possible answer: “Spaces in the heart that accommodate the absent.” When I read this, I had just learned of the deaths of Peter Matthiessen and Thomas Polgar. Matthiessen was the prolific writer and author of a multitude of books, including The Snow Leopard, his account of a grief-stricken journey to the Himalayas. Polgar was a legendary CIA officer and the last station chief in Saigon. His final cable from Vietnam quoted Jorge Santayana that those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it. Both lived full li Read on →
"Government should prevent an immoderate accumulation of riches." -- James Madison In a previous post, we revisited Martin Luther King, Jr.'s iconic "Beyond Vietnam" speech of April 4, 1967. King, confronting head-on America's "triple evils" of racism, economic injustice and militarism, challenged America to find its true values and "come home." Polls and statistics suggest that, in the 47 intervening years, America has not "come home" and sadly is further from home than ever. King knew "Beyond Vietnam" would be controversial. He devoted more effort into preparing it than to any other speech. As feared, he was roundly criticized -- by blacks Read on →
Around the clock, Channel 354 on Dish TV is devoted to hour long programs for dogs. I stumbled upon this when flicking channels, wondering why plastic balloons were drifting across the screen to no apparent end. It was emptier in content than the billiards my Mother with dementia liked to watch for hours. I read the notes: Dog TV provides “Active Camera Moments, Exciting Animations and Moving Objects to encourage your dogs’ playfulness when home alone.” Further, “It’s relaxing time! Research shows that soothing music and relaxing images help your dog feel calm and relax.” “Afternoon Stimulation” runs into “Afternoon Relaxation,” followed by “Family Read on →
That’s what the spouse said when I wrote him how surprised and disappointed I was to discover that Michelle Nunn has gratuitously endorsed the XL pipeline from Canada, because buying oil from “neighbors” is better than from overseas, as well as to read a report that Nunn wants changes to Obamacare to allow cheaper policies for the young. Like they don’t have car accidents and sports injuries, etc? (Read the other day that there’s a chance auto and workmen’s comp insurance rates are going to decrease now that people have health insurance. Ripple effect). He went on to observe that “Kenny and Tracy hav Read on →