Willie is a singer, songwriter, and keyboardist and his career has been long and legendary; locally, nationally and internationally. The music genres his name is most closely associated with are: Art Rock. Proto- Punk. Experimental Rock. Alternative Rock. Power Pop and New Wave. Born in Philadelphia in 1943 and raised in Gloucester, Massachusetts, his father was a Baptist Minister, and in the beginning, Willie would sneak into his dad’s church to pound on the piano. He started performing in coffee houses with Stan “Baba” Pinkney playing the chinese drum. “I played it like a conga drum. Don Alias taught me about Afro-Cuban music and I also played jazz drums.” On piano, his early influences were Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis and he grew from the church piano into playing keyboards in The Lost, circa 1964; one of Boston’s most popular Bosstown psychedelic and garage rock and roll bands. He is also a true Bostonian: Alexander saw his first rock and roll band, Barry And The Remains, at The Rat around the time they toured with The Beatles and Barry Tashian later helped get The Lost signed to major label Capitol Records. Then Willie played with The Bagatelle and The Grass Menagerie before becoming a member of the final edition of The Velvet Underground in late 1971. He joined fellow Grass Menagerie members Doug Yule and Walter Powers and replaced Sterling Morrison who left to pursue other non- music industry opportunities. After VU toured England, Scotland, and The Netherlands in support of their album Loaded, they planned on going into the studio to start recording new music but the manager had different ideas that ended Willie’s short stay with the legendary band. Since leaving VU Alexander has enjoyed performing solo and with many bands. Important releases include his two most well known songs as an a and b side: “Kerouac” about his spiritual mentor and “Mass Ave.” the declaration of independence of Boston’s growing punk revolution. The Boom Boom Band, featuring growling guitarist Billy Loosigian, was also prominently featured on 1976’s Rat Records double record release “Live At The Rat.” Many of his albums have also been marketed in France on the country’s punk music New Rose Label; and he is still hugely successful there. In fact, in 1991 he toured there three times during that year; and once during a stop over for a show in that foreign land a kid played Alexander his own cover of “At The Rat.” When inducted into the Boston Music Hall Of Fame in 1987, Willie famously said he was nervous: “I’m not used to getting awards. I’m used to playing the piano and singing.” For this bio, I asked Willie for a complete first hand band list of his music history and this is his reply: The Lost. Grass Menagerie. The Bagatelle. The Velvet Underground. Nonies Blues. The Rhythm Assholes. The Radio Hearts. WA & The Boom Boom Band. The Confessions. The WA Band. The Persistence of Memory Orchestra and today’s The Fisheye Brothers. Seventy Three years young and still with a lot to say.
(by A.J. Wachtel)
Published on December 28, 2012