For the first time in more than five years, renowned soul vocalist and Minneapolis legend, Alexander O’Neal, returns to the Twin Cities for a two-night stint at The Dakota. Billed as a “Holiday Homecoming,” the Dec. 18-19 celebration will feature four shows total.
As one of the notable architects of the Minneapolis sound, O’Neal catapulted into stardom during the 1980s with the release of several top-selling albums, beginning with his self-titled debut, followed up by “Hearsay” and “All True Man.”
He described the excitement of performing before a hometown crowd and how the area helped to cultivate his career early on. “The Twin Cities is home for me and has been for the past 40 years,” said O’Neal in a telephone interview. “The fans there have been really supportive and fantastic. I love coming there and performing. Minneapolis, St. Paul—the Twin Cities—means everything to me because it’s where I got my start. I’d done music and been in different bands, but Minneapolis is where I decided I wanted to do music.”
He shared a memory of his earliest show. “I remember riding my bicycle in a park and saw a singer who was in an old-school group called the Philadelphia Story sitting on a park bench,” said O’Neal. “I knew who the singer was. His name was Bill Clark, so I walked over and introduced myself.
“I asked if I could sing a note for him and I chose the Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack song, ‘Where is the Love.’ Afterward, he told me to come down to a club called the Flame Bar, which was on Nicollet Avenue. This was my first show in Minneapolis and my first time actually performing.”
He continued, “So, I went and auditioned and there was a band from Detroit that was doing music behind them called The Store Front Band. They were also opening for David Ruffin—he was the headliner. So, my first show in Minneapolis was with the Philadelphia Story and David Ruffin and that was the beginning of my singing career in the Twin Cities.”
What to expect at The Dakota shows
“Fake,” “Criticize,” “Innocent” and “All True Man” are among O’Neal’s expansive catalog of hits. But for “Holiday Homecoming,” fans will be serenaded by tunes from the crooner’s classic 1988 holiday album, “My Gift to You,” produced by the legendary Minneapolis production duo, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
O’Neal reflected on those recording sessions and why he believes the album has stood the test of time. “Funny thing about the Christmas album is that we finished the record in two weeks. It was the first Christmas album I’d done, and the first Christmas album Jimmy and Terry had done,” said O’Neal.
“Clarence Avant, the former CEO for Tabu Records, didn’t think we could do a Christmas album, but we were able to get it done in two weeks. It’s one of the greatest projects I’d been a part of my whole career.
“One of the things that’s a testament to its staying power is that there are so many gospel overtones on this record. I received a lot of blessings in my life and it was a great opportunity for me to get closer to my gospel roots. If you really want to hear the passion in my voice, it’s all in the Christmas album.”
Along with material from the Christmas album, fans will also have the opportunity to hear O’Neal latest single, “Think of Who Loves you” which has been in rotation on local radio.
Minneapolis-based musician and producer of the single, Miles Warren, also known as MaestroP, explained what it was like working with the soul legend. “It was a great experience working with Alex,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to have Alex call me one day and say, ‘Man, I know you’re a great songwriter. I’m looking for some new material.’
“From there, I started sending him songs and on this particular record, he liked what he heard, so I developed the track and got it to where it needed to be. He came up with the two verses and I came up with the chorus.
“We spent a lot of time on it and brought in other people to work on it. In the end, we were very satisfied with the song, and it turned really great.”
MaestroP, along with his band Universal Artist Movement, will be joining O’Neal for the Dakota shows.
In celebration of the Minneapolis Sound that garnered him worldwide acclaim, O’Neal was recently joined by a collection of musical luminaries and Twin Cities legends, including Babyface, Cherrelle, Sounds of Blackness, and Morris Day and The Time, as they paid tribute to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis during last month’s Soul Train Awards.
“First of all, it was wonderful,” O’Neal said of the occasion. “Being there with a lot of the people that were instrumental in pushing the Minneapolis Sound to the world was such a great opportunity. I felt that this year’s Soul Train Awards was special. It was an honor to be there and an experience I’ll cherish for the rest of my career.”
Tributes and award ceremonies aside, anticipation still looms for the soul legend’s upcoming Dakota set. O’Neal is aware of this and is eager to give his all.
“You can expect vintage soul music and good soul music at my shows. I give my heart. I also give 110 percent, even when I don’t have 110 percent to give. But I always make sure to bring the best of me.”
Alexander O’Neal’s Holiday Homecoming takes place Dec 18-19 at 7 & 9 pm at The Dakota, located at 1010 Nicollet Mall in Mpls. Tickets are $40-50. For more info, visit www.dakotacooks.com.