WHO: Alexander O’Neal.
HOMETOWN: Natchez, Mississippi.
WHAT HE’S UP TO NOW: O’Neal performed at a Flyte Tyme reunion weekend this month in Minneapolis and has been featured on two different reality shows in the United Kingdom. He released a CD in 2008, is recording another for release this year and remains a huge star in the UK, performing regularly.
THE STORY: The original lead singer of Flyte Tyme – the group that would eventually become The Time, with Morris Day on lead – O’Neal’s powerful soul voice obviously needed its own spotlight.
Legend has it that the lighter-skinned Day was Prince’s preference in terms of the band’s image, but O’Neal himself told Blues and Soul magazine he was kicked out of the group because he was too opinionated and asking too many questions about money. It all worked out in his favor in the end, because when Time members Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were also famously bounced by Prince after returning late from a production gig, they and O’Neal would come together for two classic albums.
His 1985 self-titled solo debut established O’Neal as a soul superstar. He, Jam and Lewis had a musical chemistry that couldn’t be denied or duplicated, and the music world was richer for it. O’Neal also found his perfect duet partner in Tabu Records labelmate Cherelle. He sang two hit songs with her that not only became smash hits, but they helped enhance each of their solo profiles as well.
After three albums and uptempto hits like “Fake” and “Criticize,” as well as the ballads “If You Were Here Tonight” and “Sunshine,” O’Neal parted ways with Jam and Lewis. His career waned, and rumors of drug and alcohol problems followed.
But while his following in the States may have plummeted when he was no longer charting, O’Neal remained popular in the U.K., recording well-received albums including “Alexander O’Neal: Live at Hammersmith Apollo” in 2005.
In 2008, O’Neal told Pete Lewis of Blues and Soul magazine that he truly appreciated the support of his English fans.
“One of the things that’s so important to me about my U.K. fans is their loyalty. While in America, you’re only as big as your last record, my British fans have been there for me through ups, downs – regardless of what the situation has been,” he said. “Also, I like the fact that they grow up with you, they grow older with you, and they don’t stop coming to your shows. The main reason I think the British fans have kept coming to my shows for over 20 years is … my consistency. When they come to see me, they know they’re gonna get my heart and soul.”
For current info on O’Neal, including show dates and record/DVD info, click here.