If you have come
to this page through a frame,
"Innocent", "If You Were Here Tonight", "What's Missing", "Fake", "Criticize", "All True Man" and of course those unforgettable duets with Cherelle: "Saturday Love" and "Never Knew Love Like This", everyone's got their own favorite Alexander O'Neal song. And there's plenty to choose from: The seven albums he released between 1985 and 1993 spawned some twenty (!) singles, many of which went straight to the upper regions of both the American and U.K. charts. Together with producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Alex created modern soul classics and was one of the most soulful representatives of the otherwise rather synthesized "Minneapolis sound". And unlike many of the other singers emanating from the burgeoning Minneapolis scene in the mid-eighties, Alex never adopted that high Prince-like falsetto, but kept his distinct, Gospel flavored singing style, proving over and over again that he could deliver both tender love ballads and funky uptempo numbers, with equal amounts of strength, confidence and pure emotion.
I can't conceal that I'm a huge fan, so I may as well admit that when I was asked if I fancied talking with the luuv man himself, via phone from London where he was doing P.R. for his new CD "Lovers Again", I damn near jumped with joy. I had been warned that he was unhelpful to journalists and carried a strong dislike for interviews, but I found him to be quite easy to talk to, at least nowhere near as difficult as I had heard he would be. (Which only goes to show that you shouldn't trust everything you hear or read). In fact, because of a misunderstanding, I called him one hour earlier than scheduled and woke him up. I'm not so sure I would have been as nice to the person who did such a thing to me, as Alex was!
O'Neal was born in Natchez, Mississippi on November 15, 1953. I began the interview by
asking what he feels has shaped his voice the most.
But believe it or not,
music wasn't his first love, football was. After finishing school, Alex went to Chicago
and supported himself by working in a factory. Around 1974, he moved to Minneapolis, where
his cousin lived and there, Alex took a job as a petrol pump attendant. This was also the
period when he started taking music seriously.
own words, Alex "bounced around a lot during the seventies". Moving from city to
city, he sang in little-known groups like The Philadelphia Stories, Black Market Band and
The Mystics, but also in Jackson, Mississippi based Wynd Chymes, a band he left in 1977,
prior to them getting a deal with RCA. The following year, Alex joined Flyte Tyme which,
among others, consisted of Jellybean Johnson, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Monte Moir, Jesse
Johnson and Cynthia Johnson (who later would become the lead vocalist in Lipps Inc., famed
for "Funkytown"). When Flyte Tyme merged with Morris Day's group Enterprise,
changed name to The Time and Prince got them signed with Warner Brothers, it was made
clear to Alex that his services were no longer needed and he briefly ventured into a
totally different musical direction.
In 1983 Alex debuted as a solo artist with "Do You Dare" on Erect Records in Chicago and his next single came out on the Rich label. "Attitude" was a song that according to Alex had "the best guitar solo Jesse Johnson ever did". In 1984, studio sessions with Monte Moir began and the songs would eventually land on Alex' debut album, released in 1985. Jam & Lewis, who during Flyte Tyme's transition into The Time, had promised to help Alex if they could, took the tapes to Tabu records who were suitably impressed and Alex got his first, major deal. From that point on, Jam & Lewis were his main producers, until "Love Makes No Sense" in 1993, where Alexander decided to end that musical marriage.
Now, after a much too long
wait, Alexander O'Neal is finally back with a brand new CD on One World Entertainment/EMI
Premier, entitled "Lovers Again" and naturally I was curious as to what he had
been up to during his absence.
-who by the way is a proud father of six- decided to get back into the studio, he didn't
have to wait for offers. Among the bidders were his old buddies, Jam & Lewis, who
wanted to sign him to their Perspective label.
The majority of
Alex' new CD, including the first single "Let's Get Together", gems like
"Body Talk" and the title track "Lover's Again" (which probably is the
most Jam/Lewis sounding song) were produced by two newcomers in the business, P. (Pele)
Kazir and B-Cube. For a man who's said that his forté is ballads, Alex sure sounds
comfortable on the R&B/Swing opener "Do You Right".
favorite song on the CD is the Isley Brothers-esque "Grind" and the beautiful
ballad "Sneakin'", both produced by Nick Mundy, a name that had a familiar ring
to it. I went through my albums, and sure enough, there I found an LP by Nick from 1987
called "Your Kinda Guy".
Another highlight is
"Our Love", co-written produced by Alex with Billy Osborne and Toby Baker.
(Incidentally, Billy is the son of Billy Osborne Sr. from the legendary funk group L.T.D
and Billy Jr. has his own label in the U.K. called Homegrown Records, where he's worked
with Gwen McCrae and Full Force). "Our Love" is not the first song Alex has
penned. He co-wrote "Criticize" with Jellybean Johnson on the platinum-seller
"Hearsay" in 1987 and claims that the socially and politically conscious lyrics
on his "All True Man" album were based on his original ideas, but that he wasn't
credited for it. During my research I found that Alex in 1986
told Blues and Soul magazine about a track he'd written called "Playroom",
apparently destined for his then, forthcoming album. However, the song was nowhere to be
found when the album eventually landed on the shelves.
For some reason,
Alex has always been bigger in Britain than in his native America. Of the albums' thirteen
tracks, five were produced and recorded in the U.K., four of those by Ronnie Wilson and
Dennis Charles, well known for their work with Eternal and MN8. Their best effort on Alex'
CD is arguably the cover of the James Ingram/Patti Austin duet "Baby Come To
Me", which was issued as a single in August '97, where Alex once again teams up with
his "sister", Cherelle.
Alexander O'Neal Album Discography:
© Maria Granditsky