Friday, February 22, 2008

Fast as Falling: Arthur Alexander's Rainbow Road (Donnie Fritts/Dan Penn)

Arthur Alexander's "Rainbow Road."

No theme this week, but I've been listening this week to Donnie Fritts's solo album "Prone to Lean" and reading "Get a Shot of Rhythm and Blues: The Arthur Alexander Story" by
Richard Younger and figured I'd write a little about Arthur's version of the Fritts/Penn song "Rainbow Road."

Donnie and Dan wrote this song early on in their Muscle Shoals careers (1965), and loosely based the beginning on Arthur's sudden ascent to stardom, when "You Better Move On" hit the charts, peaking at No. 24 (1962). Arthur was still working as a bellhop at the Muscle Shoals Hotel (and selling moonshine in a dry county!) when he recorded the song, and by the time Donnie and Dan penned the tune, The Rolling Stones had covered "You Better Move On," the Beatles had done "Anna (Go To Him)," and Arthur had toured the South and East Coast, released a handful of singles and one LP on Dot, been on American Bandstand, and, most importantly, had inspired everyone in the small city of Muscle Shoals.

(Hey, I'm no expert, but to back up that last claim, when I saw Dan Penn (with Bobby Emmons) about a year and a half ago at
Fitzgerald's, there was only one song that he played that wasn't one of his own: "You Better Move On." It was an impromptu move, and he explained by saying, "This song put Muscle Shoals on the map and got everything happening.")

By the time Arthur stepped into American Studios in 1971 to record for Warner Brothers, he hadn't charted a song in about 10 years, had been arrested a few times for drugs, been through a divorce, been in Bryce Hospital three times for mental breakdowns, been through electo-shock (probably), and just about everything that could go wrong with his life had. In reading Younger's biography, one of the few consistent things in Arthur's life throughout these times was his friendship with Donnie Fritts. Donnie had done just about everything with Arthur, from driving him around the South to radio stations during the rise of "You Better Move On" (not a task for the thin skinned in early 1960s Alabama--check out the stories in Sweet Soul Music) to getting him a job at the great Nashville publishing company, Combine (home to tons of great songwriters, but that's another show), right before these recordings.

The song had been done by a few before Arthur finally got around to recording it for himself (I vaguely remember Dan Penn saying that he and Donnie had written the song for Arthur), most notably by Joe Simon, Percy Sledge, and Bill Brandon. While the first part of the song is based on Arthur, the rest about the great
Little Willie John (but that story is yet another show). In my opinion, this is the definite version.

First off, that country sliding intro from Reggie Young, and the soft keys from Bobby Emmons on the electric organ set the tone perfectly for Arthur's voice. Some overdubbed strings build that great gentle tone of the first two verses. Both wistful and nostalgic with a sense of the hard edge of experience (normally I hate it when music writing gets too much into biography to explain a song, but in this circumstance I can't help it). How Arthur simply draws out "Roa-hooad, Lord Now," right out of the WSM and gospel of his youth, straight into the quick change of "But then one night . . . " It's perfect.

When your rise is that sudden, "fast as falling" everything changes.

There's a lot more to that story and there's a lot more of Arthur Alexander and Donnie Fritts. Buy yourself a copy of
"Get a Shot of Rhythm and Blues" by Richard Younger, it's full of great information on the whole Muscle Shoals scene, as well as Nashville, and it's just plain out well-written and a great read.

Some day I'll do a full show of
Donnie Fritts songs (there's a lot of good ones out there), and I'll we'll tell some more of his story.
Thanks again for listening and reading!

Here's the playlist:

Percy Sledge; The Dark End of the Street; The Percy Sledge Way; Atlantic

Arthur Alexander; Rainbow Road; s/t; Warner Brothers
Kris Kristofferson; Epitaph (Black & Blue); Silver Tongued Devil & I; Monument
Ray Charles; We Had It All; Love & Peace; Atlantic (Complete Country and Western Recordings; Rhino)
Donnie Fritts; Prone to Lean; Prone To Lean; Atlantic

Cleveland Crochet & the Hill Billys; Sugar Bee; Goldband 1106
Jimmy Donley; A Woman's Gonna Have Her Way; Born To Be a Loser; Crazy Cajun
James & Bobby Purify; I Was Born To Lose Out; Bell 721 (Shake a Tailfeather; Sundazed)
Ted Taylor; Somebody's Always Trying; Okeh (The Ever Wonderful: Okeh Soul 1962-1966; Shout!)
Joe Simon; Come On and Get It; SS7 2628

Otis Redding; I Love You More Than Words Can Say; Atlantic Unearther: Soul Brothers (Rhino)
Otis Clay; Is It Over; Cotillion 44104
Jean Shepherd; Leave Me Alone; Heartaches and Tears; Capitol
Solomon Burke; Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye; I Wish I Knew; Atlantic
Freddy Fender; Since I Met You Baby; Since I Met You Baby; GRT

Johnson, Hawkins, Tatum & Durr; You're All I Need To Make It; Capsoul (Eccentric Soul 001; Numero Uno)
Roscoe Shelton; I'm In Too Deep; SS7 2582
Johnny Adams; You Can Depend On Me; Reconsider Me (Charley)
Augie Meyer's Western Head Band; Release Me; Finally in Lights (Edsel)
Tony Borders; Lonely Weekend; Uni 55180 (Cheaters Never Win; Soulscape
The Hacienda Brothers; Cry Like A Baby; What's Wrong With Right; Proper

George Jackson; My Desires Are Getting the Best of Me; Fame 1457
Conway Twitty; Another Man's Woman; Look Into My Teardrops; Decca
Bill Brandon; It's All Wrong, It's All Right; Moonsong 9005 (On the Rainbow Road; Soulscape)
Anne Peebles; I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down; Hi 2232

Department of Additions: Here's the Soul Detective Case on Allen Orange I mentioned. Check out the podcasts--they're great.

Department of Future Corrections: The audio on my podcast is just horrible. Sorry. I've talked to some people, and I'll hopefully be getting mp3s straight off the board in the future, so they should eliminate the hum.


Anonymous said...

Excellent- very much enjoyed listening. Great idea for a show.


rpj said...

Thanks Andy! I was able to get the feed off the board, so future podcasts should be better (or at least sound better).

Anonymous said...

Nice to be able hear your shows all the way out here in Californ-i-a. This particular show has been my favorite so far. The Percy Sledge version of the "From the Dark Side . . ." just slays me. - C

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