By Melissa Fossum
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By New Times
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"It didn't cross Arthur's mind that his disappearance from the music scene had impacted anybody's life," says Tiven. "Most of his records, as far as he knew, were out of print, since he never got any royalty statements from anybody. So when I got him to come to New York . . . I took him to some specialty record stores and showed him all the different Arthur Alexander CDs and records that he knew nothing about. That flipped him out."
Tiven began pitching a new Arthur Alexander album to several record labels; all were outbid by Elektra. Having achieved his goal of securing major-label interest, Tiven soon found himself in a major labeling disagreement with the man running the series, Danny Kahn.
Elektra, it seemed, saw Arthur as a little more country than R&B. Actually, it saw him as a lot more country, and no R&B at all. According to Kahn, "If Tiven made the record he'd wanted to with Arthur"--ironically, utilizing many of the musicians and songs that wound up on Adios Amigo--"it would've fallen flat on its face." For his efforts, Tiven was given a terse "preproduction coordinator" credit on the album, but was otherwise shut out of the project.
Kahn installed New Jersey singer-songwriter Ben Vaughn in the producer's chair, moved the sessions to Nashville, summoned the pedal-steel players and in six days, the tastefully slow-cooking recording was ready to serve. Even so, Lonely Just Like Me lay on a shelf for more than a year, major labels being the holding tanks they are. Nobody could have known that Alexander was going to die a month after the recording was finally released to widespread critical acclaim.
At the time of Arthur's death, Kahn and Vaughn were helping the singer to get some of his publishing back, a process which Kahn says is ongoing. However, Alexander's bid for reaching a wider audience for his music didn't pan out as planned.
"Unfortunately, Arthur's death changed the whole scenario," says Kahn with a sigh. "He's not like Roy Orbison. He needs to be around to be discovered." Since Tiven, a former rock critic, was less than pleased with how Arthur's last album was handled, he consulted his original notes and decided to release the album he'd envisioned, making it a tribute album for his departed friend. Careful not to make it a total duplicate of Lonely Just Like Me, Tiven rescued six songs which didn't make Elektra's A list, including the magnificent "Baby Can't You Wait" and "Let's Think About It." Then he went about faxing the list to the artists he hoped would be involved.
"Elvis Costello wanted to do 'Sally Sue Brown' or 'Soldier of Love.' A lot of people wanted to do 'Soldier of Love,' because Arthur's so closely associated with that song. But that was out of the question, since Arthur didn't write it. And the idea behind the album was that the artists were donating 50 percent of their personal royalties to Arthur's estate."
Frank Black was less specific about which song he'd do. "He came to New York prepared to do as many Arthur Alexander songs as we were prepared to throw at him," says Tiven. Unlike other "alternative" stars who try to tailor tribute covers to their usual idiom (witness the recent Carpenters' tribute album, on which distortion is heavily applied to just about every song), Black did a straight and reverent version of "Old John Amos," and "Go Home, Girl" with Gary "U.S." Bonds.
With a project such as this, there surely must have been some arm-wrestling behind the scenes over who would get to sing the most popular song in the artist's catalogue, "Anna."
"Originally, Chrissie Hynde wanted to do it, but she was right in the middle of making her new record," Tiven explains. "There was some possibility of getting Springsteen to do it, but he didn't find time in his schedule. I really thought he would jump at doing the record, if only because 'Hungry Heart' is a total rip-off of 'Everyday I Have to Cry.'"
Then Tiven hit on the idea of using Roger McGuinn. It was an unusual but inspired choice, and the result leads off this collection smartly.
Let's face it, one doesn't normally associate R&B with the Byrds.
McGuinn agrees. "We didn't do a lot of R&B-influenced stuff. There are a couple of things like 'Captain Soul,' but basically, our music was folk-oriented with a rock beat," he says. McGuinn, like many, first heard of Arthur from that first Beatles LP. "I've been influenced by the song 'Anna.' I've always loved that melody, especially the bridge. It's just the greatest bridge in the world. Arthur was a powerful early influence on the Beatles when they were just a bar band. Especially in the way they used the word 'girl.'"
From the earliest originals, like "Thank You Girl," Lennon and McCartney were addressing their lady loves Ö la Arthur Alexander. They even appropriated his chord changes and beats by their second album. Compare "Where Have You Been All My Life" to "All I've Got to Do." Or, better still, sing the bridge of "Anna" and then sing the bridge of "This Boy."