Sunday marked fifty years since the Beatles first performed on the Ed Sullivan show, signaling the start of what became known as “Beatlemania” in the U.S. The band’s debut album, “Please, Please Me” came the year before in 1963. One of the tracks was a cover of a song titled “Anna,” by Muscle Shoals singer and songwriter Arthur Alexander. APR’s Pat Duggins spoke with Dick Cooper, curator of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, who says the “fab four” from Liverpool admired the Alabama musician…
Dick Cooper: John Lennon stated at one point that all the Beatles were trying to do early on was sound like Arthur Alexander. They loved what Arthur did. They loved the song “Anna” and they put it on their first album.
Pat Duggins: So it’s been fifty years since the Beatles first played on Ed Sullivan, and there’s been virtually no attention to Arthur Alexander and the Beatles connection. Where has the press been?
Cooper: Arthur took a sabbatical from performing for twenty years or thirty years or so in 1975 after his song “Every Day I Have to Cry Some” didn’t climb the charts as much as he hoped. He got disillusioned and vanished for a while. He ended up working for a small pre-school in Cleveland as a bus driver. When we opened the Hall of Fame in 1990, I was the original curator at that time, and I tried to find Arthur, cause I wanted to find some information and I wanted to talk him into coming down and performing at our grand opening show. And, finally after several months of looking, I ran him down through some family members. I talked to him, and he said ‘no, I haven’t performed for years and I couldn’t do that.’ I kept on and kept on, and finally I talked him into coming down for the grand opening, and once he was here we talked him into coming on the show. We had a stage band and we rehearsed three songs which were “Every Day I Have to Cry Some,” “Anna,” and “You Better Move On,” which was his first big hit that wound up on the debut album of the Rolling Stones. Keith Richards said the Beatles beat the Stones to Arthur by four or five weeks. Anyway, we had these three songs and he gets up and he sings, and he was getting such a great ovation, and a demand for encores—but, he only had three songs and he’d done them, so he did “You Better Move On” again. And that lead to a revitalization of his career, and he did a songwriters showcase with some of the other people from here. Then, in the 1990’s, he was doing a show in Nashville and it was hot that night, so he performed, went back to his hotel and died of a heart attack that night.
Pat: So, do people bring up the Beatles connection to Arthur Alexander, or when you bring it up, do people say ‘what, are you kidding?”
Cooper: Well, it’s pretty well known among tight Beatles fan club types. People know they liked Arthur. He was only the songwriter to have songs on both the debut albums for the Beatles and the first album for the Rolling Stones. The people in this area know about it because he was one of the inductees at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and I talk about it all the time. One of the things people miss about the early Beatles, was that the rhythm section for their opening act during their first American concert tour, singer Tommy Roe, was from Muscle Shoals. It was the original rhythm section that played for Arthur Alexander on “You Better Move On.”
Pat: And you named your songwriter’s award after Arthur as well.
Cooper: Oh yes, he just very important to the Muscle Shoals music community. He was definitely one of the most important figures around here.