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Happy Birthday, Al Green!

| April 13, 2011 | 1 Comment

“Man, am I saying it today!” exclaims Al Green with a burst of laughter. “Listen! You’ve gotta get all this down, man!”

Indeed, Green is on a roll. The soul legend, who turned 65 today, approaches conversations in much the same way he does the sermons he gives as a bishop at the Full Gospel Tabernacle Baptist church in Memphis: He just opens his mouth, trusting that the words will come, riffing, free-associating, letting it roll. “I don’t write anything down to say” in a sermon, he explains. “When you get up there, everybody’s real quiet and going, ‘OK, what are we going to hear?’ But God says, ‘I’ll give you what to say and when to say it, how to say it.’ And every time it’s something fresh, new, different, uplifting.”

Green first became a pastor in 1976, but he was in the uplift business long before that. In fact, the Forest City, Ark., native first spread the good word at age 9, touring regionally as part of a gospel quartet with his brothers. Green began singing R&B at 16, barely missing the Top 40 in 1967 with “Back Up Train” as the frontman for Al Greene and the Creations (he later dropped the “e”).

But the Al Green legend really starts in 1969. That’s when he began his collaboration with Memphis producer, arranger, engineer and bandleader Willie Mitchell, who helped him hone in on a singing style that was at once smooth and gritty, sensual and sharp. “Willie is my mentor,” Green says simply. “Willie discovered Al.” For the next seven years Green and Mitchell cranked out one stone soul classic after another: “Let’s Stay Together,” “I’m Still in Love With You,” “Take Me to the River,” “Tired of Being Alone,” “Love and Happiness,” “Here I Am (Come and Take Me),” and on and on.

But by the end of the ’70s Green had undergone a spiritual awakening—he traded pop success for the satisfaction of following his faith. He spent the ’80s recording gospel, and in the ’90s and early 2000s finally achieved a comfortable balance between secular and spiritual music. “Love covers it all,” he explains. “It’s about love, love, love, love, love.”

Happy Birthday, Reverend Green!

—By Chris Neal

From Performing Songwriter Issue 111, July/Aug 2008

Category: In Case You Haven't Heard

Comments (1)

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  1. fiks says:

    really love this man, also love the look and feel of the website, very helpful in terms of keeping in touch with my chosen interest of soul music and neo soul music

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