Alexander O’Neal, an American R & B singer and songwriter, chats with Kevin Cooper about his autobiography All True Man, growing up in the Deep South of America, his addiction to drugs and his 2018 Resurrected Tour.

Alexander O’Neal is an American R & B singer and songwriter from Mississippi. In a music career spanning more than 30 years, O’Neal came to prominence in the middle of the 1980s as a solo artist. He released fourteen singles that entered the top 40 charts in the UK during the 80s and 90s, and included Fake, Criticize, The Lovers, Love Makes No Sense and In The Middle.

In 1987 O’Neal released the album Hearsay, and the number one single, Fake. The follow up single, Criticize peaked at number four on the R & B chart. The third single, Never Knew Love Like This meant that O’Neal was enjoying greater success in the UK than he was in his native USA.

In 1991, O’Neal released his fourth album, All True Man and in 1992, he released his first greatest hits album, This Thing Called Love: The Greatest Hits of Alexander O’Neal, which became another top five success in the UK.

Since then he has released a number of albums, both studio and live. He has also recorded with several record labels, including the Tabu label and One World Records. In 2014 he signed a new management deal with Howard Perl Management and in June 2016 he collaborated with Manchester-based funk band, Mamma Freedom, on a re-recording of his single, Fake. That was followed by a UK tour with Mamma Freedom providing support.

Taking some time out of his busy schedule to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Alexander how are you?

I’m good thank you Kevin, how are you today my friend?

I have to say that I can’t complain and before we go on let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Not at all, it’s my privilege.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

I am a very lucky man I have to say. I am just taking things one day at a time, which is the best way for me these days to simply take one day at a time.

You recently toured with your Thirty Years Of Hearsay Tour how did it go?

I have to say that it was fantastic. I have had a lot of great times, but you know one thing, when you have a maverick kind of career together with a maverick kind of reputation that proceeds you, sometimes people simply won’t let you be your best. However, with the Hearsay tour there were a lot of people raving about the good things on the tour but there were also people who were occasionally questioning me and my motifs. I really did work hard and tried to give my best on the tour but sometimes you just have to take a step back and realise that some of the shit comes with the territory (laughter). But I have to say that other than that the tour was fabulous.

Did it surprise you just how popular the album still is after thirty years?

Yes it did, it really did but I think that the kids have all grown up listening to Alexander O’Neal and are picking up on some of my greatest work. However, I really am honoured to still have that kind of support for my music and what it is that I am still trying to do. When I was performing on the Hearsay Thirty Tour I would often wonder ‘who did this before, oh that’s right, it was me’ (laughter). That is kind of interesting; it is a good project and it is going really well.

When you wrote and recorded the album thirty years ago, did you realise that you had made something special?

To be perfectly honest with you, yes I did. However, I never thought that it would stand the test of time at all. But I did know that the album was going to be special because I hadn’t heard any other album which resembled what we had done on Hearsay since Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. We had talking on the album, musical interludes and things like that. I had never heard any of that from anyone else other than the late Marvin Gaye on his concept album What’s Going On. That was one of the main reasons why I decided to make Hearsay a concept album. It always felt great.

Do you have a favourite track on the album?

Yes I do, my favourite track on the album is Crying Overtime. And the reason why that is my favourite song is simply because it totally describes the life, times and feelings of Alexander O’Neal. There is so much passion in that song that I think that out of all of the songs that I recorded, including If You Were Here Tonight which is a very passionate song. I thought that Crying Overtime pretty much defines me.

Please don’t hold this against me but I like your first album the self-titled Alexander O’Neal better than Hearsay.

Okay well please don’t hold this against me but I have to tell you that I like them all (laughter). I look at each project as being different, they all have their own unique identity and that is why I will never look at them and think ‘this one is better than that one.’ They are all a part of me, Alexander O’Neal and that is what makes them unique to me.

My favourite track on the Alexander O’Neal album is What’s Missing.

Really, well let me tell you What’s Missing was actually the first up-tempo track that I had recorded for the album. I had recorded a couple of records before that which didn’t quite work out the way that I would have liked but that was okay as they were my first time in. However, this was my first national recording album after I had gotten my first record deal and recording contract. What’s Missing was the first up-tempo song that we did so I approached that song with every funking fucking fibre inside my body and luckily that is how it came out. I love that song; it truly is a lovely song and we still get a good reaction whenever we perform that song live especially when I open the show with it.

Whilst we are on the subject of previous albums I loved Five Questions: The New Journey, the fans loved it, were you happy with it?

Do you know that you are the first interviewer that has ever mentioned Five Questions to me? To be totally transparent with you, I paid for that album. That album was one hundred percent Alexander O’Neal. I did that album lock, stock and barrel. It was another kind of raw album, it was mostly perfected but not all perfected, and I have such a passion for Five Questions because I wanted to portray the other side of my talents. I co-wrote most of the songs on that album, and I just wanted the people to see that there was more than one side to Alexander O’Neal.

I have to tell you that I am a massive Motown fan and I am still waiting for you to record a Motown covers album.

(Laughter) wow wouldn’t that be great. Actually the new album that I am currently working on with a band from Manchester called Mamma Freedom is going to have a real feel good vibe to it and it will resemble the sounds of Motown from back in the day. I want this album to be raw and not a polished album like I have recorded in the past. I want the album to be full of feeling, it is a great project for me to be working on. I love it. I am going to stick my neck out and say “Kevin, you are going to love it”.

What sort of release date are you looking at?

We are currently looking at the end of January or the beginning of February 2018 as a release date for the new album, just so that it is ready for the Resurrected Tour next year.

You mention next year’s tour, does touring still excite you?

I love touring in fact touring is my passion. Alexander O’Neal loves what he does on stage. I start to get a little edgy whenever I am in the studio because it all feels too contrived for me. However, I do it because it is part of my work and I need to get it done. But the stage is where my freedom is. I am able to interact with my audience and let them see just who the guy is who they have supported throughout the years. That is why I am so grateful to be able to come back over to England and do shows for my UK fans. They are fantastic and they have given me so much love over the years.

You briefly mentioned the Resurrected Tour and we know that the concept of resurrection is the concept of ‘coming back to life after death’. Will we see Alexander O’Neal being reborn?

(Hysterical laughter) let me just say that it could be, you may well be seeing Alexander O’Neal coming back to life after death. I don’t know, it could be. I am doing some good stuff in my life right now and I am trying to do some things to work on myself even more. Hopefully by the time that I get to the first show I will be in a much better place.

Well I am hoping to get over to the Birmingham Town Hall on Friday 20th April to review and photograph the show.

That would be great. Then I will get the chance to talk to you face to face and we can go and get ourselves a pint.

That sounds great. As you know anything that includes a pint is alright with a Brit (laughter).

(Laughter) That’s my guy. Let’s do it. Let me know when you get to the Town Hall and we will hook up.

I’m looking forward to that already, meeting you, not the pint (laughter).

It will be great to meet you Kevin.

Anyway going back to earlier this year, you released your autobiography All True, Man. Was that something that you felt you needed to do?

Yes it was, it really was. It was something that I wanted to do and also something that I thought I needed to do. I thought that I had a story to tell, possibly about my survival, and I also wanted to get a few things straight and put right a few myths and untruths about me, Alexander O’Neal. Writing the book was something that I had been wanting to do for years, I had constantly procrastinated about writing it, and then I finally got the opportunity to work with some people who facilitated in helping me get this done. So I finally got it done and I am so pleased with it; it is an honest book, it is not for the faint of heart, it tells you exactly who Alexander O’Neal is.

My mother-in-law recently read it and she put some shortbread cookies on top of the book. She called me in and said “do you know why I have had to put these shortbread cookies on top of the book” when I said no she said “I had to put them on there to try and sweeten it up because you used far too much bad language in there” (laughter). It is a very open and honest account as to exactly who Alexander O’Neal is. I am me, I am basically a Black Southern American who despite all of his bad language can be intelligent when it is needed or called for.

You were a black man growing up in the Deep South of America. Does it sadden you when you see just what is still happening in the USA?

It does, yes it does. The thing that does sadden me is that racism has been around since forever. It is something that we have to deal with and unfortunately America is supposed to be the land of the free and all of the other bullshit that goes along with that. However, at the end of the day we are probably the most racist nation there is on the face of the earth. To the outside world you would never believe that a multi-cultural city like New York could be racist but believe me, I have spent so much time in New York I can honestly say to you that New York is racist like crazy. Nobody wants to take responsibility for the state of the world; everyone is always quick to blame someone else. If it isn’t the Muslims then it must be the blacks, if it isn’t the blacks then it must be the Hispanics, if it isn’t the Hispanics then it must be the whites. What you have to remember to take into consideration is the fact that black people came out of slavery less than two hundred and fifty years ago and if that is the case wouldn’t you say that were are currently in the horse and buggy stages of evolution, especially here in the United States.

Try asking me that same question five hundred years from now. Being out of slavery for the past two hundred years is not going to get you what you think you should be getting right now. We are still in the stages where they invented the wheel. That is where we are at. The solution to racism has to come from within, it is going to come from the children, the family has to step up and take responsibility because that is the only way that it is ever going to change. Racism I am sorry to say is all a part of American culture. We need to start speaking about a situation that needs fixing but not carry on speaking about a situation that we are not prepared to fix or one that cannot be fixed within a certain period of time. We need to concentrate on the things that can be fixed. Call me again in five hundred years and we will see just how far we have moved on.

Looking back over the career of Alexander O’Neal, if you had the chance would you have done things differently?

Wow, what a great question. I have to be honest with you and say yes, I would have done a few things differently. Firstly, I would have opened up a lot earlier and sought help for my drug problem. Having said that I don’t know quite how I would have done that differently because you know what, I swear to god that I did that, I opened up and asked for help but it wasn’t forthcoming. What I will say is that I am Alexander O’Neal and I only just made it. There were things that I thought that I wanted to do but really I didn’t want to do them. The shit at first is fun, then it becomes a habit, and then it becomes a fucking job. It is at that point that it has desperate consequences such as your electricity bill, your gas bill, your mortgage and all manner of other things.

These are the things that I would have done differently but I simply didn’t know at the time. At the time I was both naive and stupid because I honestly thought that the music industry would help me. How wrong could I be because I didn’t know that the music industry would use it against me, even today they still try to use it against me in everything that I do. I can’t stand it when drug addicts lie to me because I just think ‘I know that you are lying’. I was once booked to appear on the Kevin Smiley TV show over here in America and El DeBarge was also going to be on the show with me. He was on the show professing to everyone that he was now off drugs and this, that and the other and then he ended up getting in trouble some thirty-five days later which means that he wasn’t off drugs.

He had no reason to play those kind of games. For most of my career I have had the money, the hit records, and all of the trimmings but because of the drugs people still write down Alexander O’Neal followed by a question mark after my name. The question mark that was put there by the record industry. I would always be hearing things being said like “shit be careful Alexander O’Neal is friends with Sly Stone, George Clinton and Rick James, oh my fucking god” (laughter). Can you just imagine what a party that would be (laughter). But god willing everything is now all good and I am looking forward in life, not backwards.

When you were at your lowest and in your darkest place, did your faith help you to get through it?

My faith helped me to get through everything. I am such a spiritual man. I am telling you that god is constantly guiding me and leading me today. Everyday right now I walk by faith and not by sight. What you have to remember is that God never leaves us, we leave him. The day that I realised that I was not strong enough to deal with my shit by myself was the day that I started walking by faith and not by sight.

Alexander once again many thanks for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been enlightening. You take care and I will see you in Birmingham.

Well thank you Kevin. I have enjoyed talking to you because you seem to be a brother who I can talk to and be real with. Don’t forget that beer in Birmingham. Bye for now.