Young Haddonfield Musician's Career Comes Together on Broadway
The long and winding road that brought Graham Alexander to a tentative reconciliation with his father and launched his independent musical career has been marked by self-reliance, a little bit of luck, and a lot of Beatles music.
As a boy, Haddonfield native Graham Alexander entered a larger musical world when he and his friend Zach Harski trash-picked a 1983 Beatles videotape. From there, Alexander found a ticket to ride that's already taken him to Broadway, The Cavern Club, and opened doors to his own songwriting career
At 16, Alexander’s teenaged band, The Roadrunners, opened for a Beatles cover act called BritishMania that picked him up to play Paul McCartney for a European tour. Authenticity is critical for BritishMania, which bills itself as “the official Beatles tribute band of Liverpool Tours,” and so Alexander learned to play bass left-handed - or upside-down - just like Paul McCartney.
The way Alexander speaks of how easy it was for him to learn left-handed bass (“it took about a week”) is almost as unimaginable as the meteoric success of his career. At 17, he had made enough money from touring to buy his own home--which he did, in Haddonfield, with his grandmother as a co-signer.
His performances with BritishMania led another touring Beatles band, Beatlemania Now, to poach Alexander for 850-plus shows from 2008-2009. Even though it was a repertory performance, the group was one of the top 50 Pollstar acts in the United States during that time.
That was enough to capture the notice of handlers from Rain—a Broadway-based Beatles tribute show in which Alexander played for 150 Broadway performances and won a 2011 Drama Desk Award as part of the cast.
“The same performance I had been doing for years suddenly had merit because it was on Broadway,” he says.
Alexander found himself rubbing elbows backstage with New York notables like Harvey Fierstein and Donald Trump, but the biggest thing the show offered him was the opportunity to earn enough money to record his own solo project.
While Rain was playing in San Diego, Alexander met Dave Uosikkinen, drummer of Philadelphia-based 1980s rock band, The Hooters.
“He said, ‘I couldn’t believe it’s you,’” Alexander said. That's because Uosikkinen hadn’t seen Alexander since he was a child.
Alexander is the son of Uosikkinen’s bandmate, former Hooters bassist, Fran Smith, Jr. It’s a complicated relationship that both father and son are hesitant to discuss. Until two years ago, Alexander, who is 21, had infrequent contact with his father since his parents divorced when Alexander was eight years old.
“People often assume, highly incorrectly, that I’ve been helped by that name,” Alexander says.
For his part, Smith says he’s “trying to find where my boundaries are as a dad” in their relationship.
Whether he helped get his son to this point or not, Smith’s old bandmates have embraced his talented son. Hooters Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman perform on Alexander’s self-titled solo project. Smith introduced Alexander to Andy Kravitz, who produced the entire 10-track album. Father and son have even collaborated on two of its songs, “Have a Good Life” and “Replace Me.”
But if his dad has opened any doors for him, Alexander is quick to point out that he funded the album with nearly $100,000 of his own money. He makes the production choices. He self-promotes it. He’s looking for management, and working to establish his band as a viable commercial act.
“I have to act like an artist but also as my own businessman because I don’t have any outside funding,” he says. “The best way to get signed is to deliver something that’s already done.”
If nothing else, the two share a common denominator—Smith was also performing as Paul McCartney in the late 1970s with off-Broadway productions of Beatlemania and other Beatles tribute bands. And, of course, each recognizes the other’s exceptional musical gifts.
“He’s super-talented,” says Alexander of his father. “He’s an excellent bass player and an excellent writer.”
“I think he’s a great songwriter,” says Smith of his son. “He has all the tools. He’s going to be something.”
To find out more about Graham Alexander's music, go here.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the title of "Replace Me," one of the songs on which Graham Alexander collaborated with his father.
Clarification: Alexander had infrequent contact with his father while growing up. An earlier version of this story was not correct.