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Singer Al Green

Musical Legend Al Green

The R&B star has a new album of secular songs called I Can't Stop. In the '70s, Green was born again. His 2000 biography called Down by the River detailed the trip from R&B stardom to reverend. Green's hits include "Let's Stay Together," "Tired of Being Alone" and "Here I am (Come and Take Me)."

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Other segments from the episode on November 27, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 27, 2003: Interview with Al Green; Review of Al Green's new album "I can't stop."

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DATE November 27, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Reverend Al Green talks about his life, his ministry
and his music
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

We're going to celebrate Thanksgiving with the Reverend Al Green who is
perhaps the greatest of all soul singers. He has a new four CD box set,
collecting his tracks for Hi Records from the 1960s and '70s including such
classics as "Tired of Being Alone," "Let's Stay Together," "Call Me" and "Love
and Happiness."

(Soundbite of music)

Reverend AL GREEN: (Singing) Love and happiness. Wait a minute. Something's
going wrong. Someone's on the phone. It's 3:00 in the morning. Yeah.
Talking about how she can make it right, yeah. Yeah, happiness is when you
really feel good about somebody. There's nothing wrong being in love with
someone, yeah. Yeah. Oh, baby, love and happiness.

Backup Singers: Love and happiness.

Rev. GREEN: (Singing) Oh, love and happiness.

Backup Singers: Love and happiness.

Rev. GREEN: (Singing) Oh.

GROSS: Al Green also has a new recording called "I Can't Stop" which is
produced by Willie Mitchell who also produced Green's classic recordings.
Here's the title track.

(Soundbite of music)

Rev. GREEN: (Singing) I can't stop. I just can't stop from loving you. I
can't stop my hands from holding you. There must be a reason why I'm feeling
so free. You know I can't stop from the look in your eye, you and me, you and
me, ho, and I can't stop. I just can't stop from holding you. Oh, and I
can't...

GROSS: Al Green sang gospel music before crossing over to soul music. In the
'70s, he fell prey to many of the temptations and problems that fame sometimes
brings. Then he was born again. In 1976, Green bought the Full Gospel
Tabernacle Church in Memphis where he continues to preach. Al Green has
joined us twice on FRESH AIR. We're going to hear excerpts of both
interviews.

He started performing at the age of nine with his family's gospel group in
rural Arkansas where his father was a sharecropper. In 2000, after the
publication of his autobiography, we talked about his early years.

Your father sang gospel music and traveled around.

Rev. GREEN: Right. Right.

GROSS: You had a brother group...

Rev. GREEN: Right.

GROSS: ...you and your brothers sang...

Rev. GREEN: Right. That's right.

GROSS: ...did the whole gospel circuit.

Rev. GREEN: ...(Unintelligible). Right.

GROSS: When did you start getting serious about singing?

Rev. GREEN: When I got put out of the house.

GROSS: And why did you get put out of the house?

Rev. GREEN: For listening to Jackie Wilson and Otis Redding and people like
that, and Daddy wanted to keep the group a gospel group. I mean, `We need to
sing gospel--you need to turn that off.' And I'm going, like, `Well, but I
want to hear it.' And I had a Elvis Presley album, and I had never been to
Memphis, I'm 14 years old and I have all these--"Love Me Tender" and "Teddy
Bear" and "Jailhouse Rock" and all this stuff, and I'm not saying it because
I'm from Memphis; I had never been to Memphis, I was in Michigan--and Daddy
says, `That's a bunch of junk, man. You need to consider what you're doing.
You're singing gospel music, and you need to consider singing gospel music.'

So I got this brand-new album called "Baby Work Out" by Jackie Wilson, and oh,
I just looked at the cover, and this guy had all these fine pictures on it,
and I says, `Oh, I got to play it.' So I went and I opened it up and I put it
on, and by the time Jackie Wilson said, (sings) `Ah, baby, move up,
ooh-de-do-de-do, first step,' Daddy come in the door and caught me. I said,
`Oh, Lord!'

So he went through third degree with me, and I was out of there. But I had a
friend, luckily enough, who lived right in back of us, named Lee Vergis(ph),
and his father and his mom, his wife and himself took me in. I had nowhere to
go, really, and they took me in. But now this Lee Vergis was a tenor singer
in a group...

GROSS: Oh.

Rev. GREEN: ...that Palmer James and Curtis Rodgers had started, and they
called themselves the Creations. And so they used to rehearse in the house
every day, because we had nothing to do anyway, and every day we had rehearsal
at 2:00 in the afternoon, and we would just get up, stand in a line and form
and try to come up with little dances like we'd seen the Temptations do on the
TV, and--that's right.

GROSS: So what kind of material did you sing with the Creations?

Rev. GREEN: Oh, God, we sung everything that was on the radio, I believe.

GROSS: Covers.

Rev. GREEN: That's right. "Dock of the Bay," Wilson Pickett, James--I mean,
we just some little group; we just sung anything.

GROSS: Al Green recorded in 2000. We'll return to that interview a little
later.

In 1991, I spoke to Al Green before a concert in Philadelphia. I wanted to
know if he was still singing soul songs or just performing gospel music.

Are there songs of yours that you won't sing now?

Rev. GREEN: Yeah.

GROSS: Which ones?

Rev. GREEN: Well, I can't sing some songs because I wrote them because of--I
love you, baby, darling, I care for you. You know, I wrote them because of
sensual love: I want to take you in my arms and sweep you off my feet, put
you on a plane, go to a nice resort area with a cold bottle of champagne and
kiss you (makes kissing sound). I wrote them because of that, and then--but
now like "Let's Stay Together," I wrote for couples because, `Whether times
are good or bad, happy or sad, whether we're right or wrong'--forgiveness is
in there. And we can always make up. That's always a lot of fun. And we can
go on with our lives being who we're supposed to be.

GROSS: Now how do you feel when you hear you sensual secular songs on the
radio?

Rev. GREEN: I feel kind of funny and then I kind of blush, you know, because
I've spent so much time under the book now. And so when I hear some of those
songs, I kind of blush, you know? I go, `Did I actually say that,' you know?
`Here I am. Come and take me.' Well, I did it because I was flamboyant and I
kind of had an air of arrogancy, you know, and I sung it because here I am.
Come and take me. You understand. And you know how that is. And so I
learned to be more humble, more giving, more loving and more understanding,
you know, and, yeah, so it's a little different but still strong.

GROSS: Well, Al Green, I'm going to play "Let's Stay Together."

Rev. GREEN: Let's play that.

GROSS: That's something you still sing, right?

Rev. GREEN: I'm singing that tomorrow night.

GROSS: OK. Here we go.

(Soundbite of music)

Rev. GREEN: (Singing) Let's stay together. I, I'm so in love with you.
Whatever you want to do is all right with me 'cause you make me feel so brand
new and I want to spend my life with you. And they say it seems, baby, since
we've been together, oh, loving you forever...

GROSS: That's my guest Al Green and his hit recording of "Let's Stay
Together."

Now do you remember how you met Willie Mitchell who is the person who signed
you to Hi Records...

Rev. GREEN: Yeah.

GROSS: ...and produced all the hits that you had with Hi?

Rev. GREEN: Yeah, I remember how I met him.

GROSS: How'd you meet him?

Rev. GREEN: I met him in the country out in Midland, Texas, and Odessa,
Texas, out there. I met him out there, and he asked me about going to Memphis
to sing on his recording because he worked at a studio. And we were riding in
the car that day and I said, `How long do you think it will take me?' I was
so flamboyant I don't understand how I did it. I was right on this guy and I
says, `How long will it take me to become a star?' And he swallowed--like a
choke, right? He says, `A star? Well, about two years probably if you really
work at it.' I said, `Excuse me. Let me out. I don't have that kind of
time.' And he said, `You're not serious?' I said, `I'm serious. I don't
have two years to waste on practicing to become a star. In fact, I need some
money now,' and really--so he took me down to Hi. He said, `This kid is going
to be phenomenal.' They said, `How do you know that?' He said, `Because he's
got it in him.' And so he borrowed $1,500 for me from the president of the
company to get me a place to stay and all that and said, `I want to work with
him, 'cause he's going to be phenomenal. Just watch.'

GROSS: Gee, it really pays to have chutzpa, huh?

Rev. GREEN: I guess. I just told him, you know, I wanted to be what I wanted
to be.

GROSS: Now the first song that he asked you to record was the cover of The
Beatles, "I Want to Hold Your Hand," right?

Rev. GREEN: Would you believe that?

GROSS: It really is hard to believe.

Rev. GREEN: Yes.

GROSS: Why did he choose that?

Rev. GREEN: I have no idea.

GROSS: What was your reaction to it?

Rev. GREEN: My reaction was good. I thought it was a great song. It was a
wonderful song, but it was for The Beatles. It wasn't--I sung "I Want to
Hold Your Hand." I sung "Driving Wheel." We was trying to find Al Green.
That's what we was trying to find, `Who is this guy? Who is this guy with
the high falsetto and the rough voice?' and Willie says, `I'll tell you what.
Don't sing with the rough voice.' I said, `Well, what do you want me to do?'
He's got all these different songs about different people, just a lot of
songs. He says, `Sing mellow. Don't sing hard. Sing mellow.' And I just
went out there and started singing, `I'm so tired of being alone,' and, `I'm
so tired of on my own. Help me, girl, as soon as you can.' And I looked in
the studio mirror. They have this glass--Right?--and you can look at the
engineers.

GROSS: Yeah.

Rev. GREEN: And everybody was jumping up and jumping up and jumping up, and I
says, `Well, I must be doing something right, so I'll just keep on singing.
`People say'--and I don't know how that started. That's the way it started.

GROSS: Well, that was your song. That was a song you wrote.

Rev. GREEN: Yeah.

GROSS: So you already had it written in that session.

Rev. GREEN: Yeah. Well, after we got done cutting all these other people's
songs, The Beatles and all these blues songs and The Temptations, "I Can't
Get Next To You," and all these songs, I said, `I've got a song, too.' So
Willie says, `Oh, please,' 'cause he'd been cutting all day. We had been
cutting all day. It was 1:00 in the morning. I said, `I've got me a song and
I wrote it on my own.' So Willie told one of the guys, `Go out there and see
what this guy wrote, would you please? I've got to have a drink.' Willie had
a little shot of vodka or something, and after he went to feeling better, he
said, `All right. What do we got out here?' and it was a song "Tired of Being
Alone," and I worked it up with the band and I sung it and it became our first
million seller.

GROSS: Well, I'm going to play it.

Rev. GREEN: Let's play it. Come on. Let's play it.

GROSS: This is Al Green's first big hit, a song he wrote, "Tired of Being
Alone."

(Soundbite of music)

Rev. GREEN: (Singing) I'm so tired of being alone, I'm so tired of on my
own. Won't you help me, girl, just as soon as you can? People say that I
found a way to make you say that you love me. Hey, baby, you didn't go for
that. It's a natural fact that I want to come back. Show me where it's at,
baby. I'm so tired of being alone, I'm so tired of on my own, won't you help
me, girl, as soon as you can? I guess you know that I love you so...

GROSS: That's Al Green, my guest today, singing "Tired of Being Alone."

I want to get back to a story you were telling before we heard that about, you
know, how you had to sing "I Want to Hold Your Hand"...

Rev. GREEN: Yeah.

GROSS: ...as your first song. How did you sing that? I mean, what voice did
you use?

Rev. GREEN: I don't know. I just kind of singing, (Singing) `Hey, you've got
that something. Da, dah, dah, dah. I think I understand. When I feel that
something, da, da, I wanna hold your hand. I wanna hold your hand.' Like
that.

GROSS: That sounds great.

Rev. GREEN: I sung it in '71. That was 19 years ago.

GROSS: Right. Right. So when you wrote "Tired of Being Alone," were you
alone? Were you tired of being alone?

Rev. GREEN: Yeah. Well, my girlfriend kept leaving me the key and leaving
the apartment and she would leave me a lot and I was--it was snowing one
night, it was snowing, and I had all the windows open because I was there by
myself for hours on end and I said, `Well, how can I do something with this?
How can I make something out of this?' And so I took a pencil and started
writing it down 'cause I was angry. I was writing, `I'm tired of being alone.
I'm tired of on my own,' and I wrote several other things. I scratched those
out and I said, `Help me as soon as you can.' Then I went to getting serious
about it. `People say that I found a way to make you say that you love me,'
which is: I don't have to make you. If you really love me, you'd be here
with me. And I was writing on that connotation. `You didn't go for that,
it's a natural fact that'--you know, like that.

GROSS: Had you written songs before?

Rev. GREEN: Maybe one song but that's all.

GROSS: Oh, so this is something, like, newly discovered when you were
recording that CD...

Rev. GREEN: Everything was discovered at that time 'cause we didn't have
anything, no resources to kind of go back and say, `I can do this or that.'

GROSS: We're listening to a 1991 interview with Al Green. We'll hear more of
it after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Rev. GREEN: (Singing) Now, baby, look what you done for me. Now, baby, you
shot my heart in half. Oh, what a feeling. Yeah, I feel, yeah.

GROSS: Happy Thanksgiving. Let's get back to our 1991 interview with Al
Green. When we left off, he was talking about meeting Willie Mitchell who
produced many of Green's hits.

One of the records that you made that was a cover of another recording was "To
Sir With Love."

Rev. GREEN: Yeah.

GROSS: And like, when you saw the movie, you had to think of this as, like, a
real corny song, right?

Rev. GREEN: Yeah.

GROSS: You have such a great version of it. Was it your idea to record the
song?

Rev. GREEN: I always wanted to record the song for years and I never...

GROSS: Why?

Rev. GREEN: I don't know. I heard this lady sing this song on a movie of
something, some lady from England and I heard that song and I wanted to sing
that song and nobody was interested in letting me sing it. My producer says,
`Oh, come on, you don't want to sing "To Sir With Love" thing.' They'd always
figure out a way to cut me off, you know? `Well, let's--everybody break!'
You know what I mean? You know, `We'll cut with "To Sir With Love."' So I
said when I got my own studio, you know, after I came to the point where I
wanted to sing gospel, everybody in Los Angeles, in LA, says that a bad idea.
Everybody in Memphis said, `Oh, God, he's not going to try something else.' I
said, `But I've got to sing gospel. I'm born again,' and I said, `There's a
lot of good that can be done from singing gospel as well.'

I went to my studio in Memphis, set up a studio, had Bill Cantrell to put it
together and record it, "The Lord Ought to Make a Way" and "Highway to Heaven"
and all those songs on that same album in a makeshift studio and that was the
pivotal point in the Al Green career of things, but since then, I've come to
know Al Green. I've come to know myself better. I've come to know...

GROSS: So you recorded "To Sir With Love" during that session?

Rev. GREEN: Mm-hmm, during that time period, then during the next two albums
there, yeah. I cut it because I wanted to cut it so bad.

GROSS: I'm going to play it.

Rev. GREEN: Let's play it. I love it.

GROSS: This is "To Sir With Love" sung by my guest, Al Green.

(Soundbite of music)

Rev. GREEN: (Singing) The time has come for closing books and long last looks
must end. Yeah. And as I leave, I know that I am leaving my best friend, a
friend who taught me right from wrong and weak from strong. That's a lot to
learn. What, what can I give you in return? If you wanted the moon, I would
try to make a start, but I would rather you let me give my heart, to sir, with
love.

GROSS: The Reverend Al Green is my guest.

There's a story about you that's kind of legendary in music lore and I'm
thinking of the story of the time a woman you were with poured hot grits or
hot oatmeal or something like that...

Rev. GREEN: Cream. Cream of Wheat.

GROSS: Cream of Wheat on you while you were in the bath and scalded you
and the took her life.

Rev. GREEN: Yeah.

GROSS: She killed herself afterwards.

Rev. GREEN: Yeah.

GROSS: Is there a connection between that story and your being born again?

Rev. GREEN: No. Not whatsoever. People in journalism like to say that that
was the reason, but I was born again in '73. This incident happened in 1974.
So it really don't correlate. And they like to have it be so that it
correlates, but it doesn't. I was born again because they saw what I could
be, not what I was. They knew what I was. I was a no-good, woman-hunting,
champagne-drinking good-time-having, Saturday-night blues singing man.

GROSS: Al Green recorded in 1991. We'll hear the interview I recorded with
him in 2000 in the second half of the show. Al Green has a new box set of his
recordings from the '60s and '70s and a CD of new recordings called "I Can't
Stop."

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

Rev. GREEN: (Singing) Spending my day thinking about you, girl. Being here
with, being near with you, I can't explain myself.

(Announcements)

Rev. GREEN: (Singing) And how can you mend a broken heart?

GROSS: Coming up, more with Al Green and rock critic Ken Tucker reviews
Green's new CD "I Can't Stop."

Rev. GREEN: (Singing) Tell me how can you stop that old sun from shining?
What makes the world go 'round? And how can you mend this broken man? Yeah.
How can a loser ever win? Somebody, please...

Backup Singers: ...help me mend...

Rev. GREEN: (Singing) ...help me mend...

Backup Singers: ...my broken heart.

Rev. GREEN: (Singing) ...my broken heart and let me live again. La, la, la,
la.

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

We're celebrating Thanksgiving with the great soul singer, the Reverend Al
Green. He has a new four-CD boxed set, collecting his recordings from the
'60s and '70s. He also has a new CD called "I Can't Stop," which marks his
return to secular recording. Al Green was ordained in 1976, the same year he
bought the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in Memphis, where he continues to
preach. This recording is from 1982.

(Soundbite of "Amazing Grace")

Rev. GREEN: (Singing) Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch
like me. Oh, Lord. I once was lost, but now I'm found, was blind but now I
see. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

GROSS: How did you want your church to be similar to, or different from, the
churches that you grew up in, and you grew up in a small town in Arkansas...

Rev. GREEN: Right.

GROSS: ...before your family moved to Michigan.

Rev. GREEN: Absolutely. Absolutely.

GROSS: Yes. Tell me about those churches and what you wanted to keep and
what you wanted to not keep.

Rev. GREEN: I'm interested in the church being real, and when you get into
that area--and I was told by this--by Reverend Blair, Blair T. Hunt(ph), who's
gone on now, but he was a very, very, very astute, educated, doctorate man.
And I went to him when I was in trouble going through the undertaking of this
particular job of which you're calling me now, the Reverend Al Green, OK?
Still, with the calling, too, now, with the calling, and he said, `Well, Al,
let's do it like this--not so rudely that the people are, you know, animals
or something like that, but if you take an animal, and the animal is sick,
he--let's take a dog, for instance, and the dog is sick, he wants the can of
meat. Now what I want you to do, I want you to take the medicine that the dog
needs--see, he don't know he needs the medicine; he know he wants the meat.
So what you do is take the medicine, push it down in the meat and give the dog
what he wants, and that's the meat. So while he eats what he wants, he gets
what he needs, and that's the way I want you to try to overcome this.'

GROSS: Well, tell me about the churches you went to when your father was
sharecropping.

Rev. GREEN: Back to the question!

GROSS: Yeah, back to the question.

Rev. GREEN: Gotta love it. Oh, I can't get her off this. OK. Well, the
churches were Pentecostal, tambourines, and very expressional, very religious,
very for real. These people were overcome by something. These people were--I
mean, I'm willing to express myself because he's been good to me.

GROSS: Were you ever afraid, watching people who were overcome, overcome by
the Spirit...

Rev. GREEN: Yeah.

GROSS: ...and they'd start behaving...

Rev. GREEN: Yeah.

GROSS: ...really differently?

Rev. GREEN: Absolutely. Absolutely. I have been right next door to
somebody, and they were sitting here perfectly calm a minute ago, and all of a
sudden, they all over the place, and I'm going, like, `What is this?' you
know? And--that's right.

GROSS: Did any of the songs scare you, because some of them were about death,
you know, about the other world?

Rev. GREEN: Well, right, and I used to try to understand why did they sing
like they did sing, and all of the community sang these songs--they're so
solemn, and so feeling, feeling involved. Feeling is what--I'm rubbing my
fingers together--I'm trying to get feeling involved, right? And I would
wonder, why do you sing these songs, and all these, you know, over yonder and
over--what is Zion and what are they talking about? I mean, Calvary, and
surely he died on Cal--what are you trying to--you know, and they would sing,
and it took me a long time to learn that, that I'm not singing it for you, and
that's when I really lit up then. I'm not saying it for Al, I'm not saying it
for how it sound to you. I'm saying it because I'm trying reach up here,
higher, and get his approval. Yeah.

GROSS: What song had the most meaning for you as a child at church?

Rev. GREEN: Oh, as a child--it would be two things, (sings) `Jesus is coming
back again, Je'--now this is all the way back out in the country, now, this is
Jacknash, Arkansas, way back, no gravel roads. I mean, when it rains, you
just stuck, OK? You can't drive a car back there. These songs, "He's Coming
Back Again," and then I heard Sam Cooke on the radio, on my grandmama's radio,
sing "Nearer My God to Thee," and oh, I just went--and I used to hear the--Roy
Acuff and Grand Ole Opry, years ago. We didn't have a TV then, just
Grandmama's old radio. And I used to listen to these, and then sometime
they'd form their little gospel groups on the end, and they'd sing "Will the
Circle Be Unbroken," and all these, and I was just so amazed to hear a guy
sing, `I saw the light, I saw the light, no more darkness, no more night. All
my days will be sunny and bright.' And then he said, `Praise the Lord,' and I
said, `That's strange.'

GROSS: There's a part in your book in which it describes when you first moved
north to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Rev. GREEN: Yes. Yeah.

GROSS: That--you know, you were kind of small. You weren't used to cities.

Rev. GREEN: Yeah.

GROSS: And you got beaten up by a gang really soon.

Rev. GREEN: Right.

GROSS: I'm wondering if you ever felt that you were, you know, cool until you
got on stage and you started singing and people really got who you were
through the songs, you know?

Rev. GREEN: Mm-hmm, I don't know.

GROSS: Like if you had--if you got more--feel more comfortable on stage and
if people thought of you differently on stage than, say, in the street?

Rev. GREEN: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. No, we were too poor for that. I mean, no,
there--we didn't have any cool or anything like that. We just had a pair of
jeans and a...

GROSS: I don't even mean clothes. I just mean...

Rev. GREEN: No, no. I know what you're saying.

GROSS: Yeah.

Rev. GREEN: But I'm trying to express the best way I can put it. No, I
wasn't cool or anything like that. We were very poor. There was five boys,
five girls, so that's 10 people. Mom and dad, that's 12. So somebody's got
to get out, you know. So, you know, and my brothers start to marry off. And
that's right. And that's right. But, no, I really don't know anything about
cool or anything like that.

I was just--now one thing I am and one thing I was and one thing I will be,
and that is a loner. I'll always be alone. And all my friends like--that was
in school. I'm measuring from school, now--were like--I don't know--kind of
like people that everyone else really didn't pay too much attention to, you
know. If it wasn't a guy that had polio or something or crippled or
something, it was always somebody else. And so I was always the black sheep
in the family and always a loner--kind of like a lone wolf; always alone or by
myself. Not too many people love me. And I know that, so I never thought
that the good Lord would bring it around to all of this.

GROSS: So how did it feel after, you know, feeling that not that many people
loved you; that you were a loner, to be on stage and be this kind of lightning
rod for adoration?

Rev. GREEN: Yeah, well, that was kind of weird because I was young, fine,
hip, beautiful. And then again, I was different from everybody else because
everybody said I was some kind of `vert;' some type of--not a pervert, but
like an introvert or something. This guy hangs out over in the corner by
himself and mumbles to himself. Always some type of stuff. Like in shop
class in the fifth grade, this guy's in here singing in shop class with the
machines going. And I never thought I could sing. And some guy says, you
know, `Hey, that guy really can sing, man. Did you hear that guy?' and the
machine's going `neeeee.' So I don't think anybody can hear me. And I've got
my earmuffs on and my glasses. So, I don't know. I'm in here just singing
away. And so when I look around, the whole class is behind me. And
everybody's going, `Hey, man. That is fantastic.' And that was the first
time I ever heard that I could sing. That's not in the book.

GROSS: Did you ever think that you would be a sharecropper yourself before
you had a singing career; before you got out of Arkansas? When you were a
kid, did you say, `Well, this is going to be my life.'

Rev. GREEN: No, I never said that. And my daddy didn't believe it was going
to be his, either. And that's why we got out of there.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Rev. GREEN: One night about 12:00, all of a sudden, Daddy says, `Hey, let's
go.' And Mom was saying, like, `What you talking about? Where we going?'
And everybody's up, going like, `Huh? What'd he say?' He said, `Let's go.
Pack your things. Put your stuff in there and let's go.' `And what are we
going to do about the cattle? What are we going to do about the goats? What
are we going to do about the mules? What are we going to do about the farm
equipment? I mean, what are you going...' Daddy said, `Let's go.' So we
started packing stuff. Let's go. He said, `Let's go.' I mean, it's `let's
go.' So we left, and left all the stuff.

GROSS: How old were you?

Rev. GREEN: Nine, eight, like in there--riding on the back of a truck one
night with all of this stuff jammed on the back of a pickup truck. I don't
know. Going to Michigan, I think it was.

GROSS: We're listening back to an interview with Al Green. More after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of song)

Rev. GREEN: (Singing) Baby, I've got something to say, my dear. Baby, yeah.
So glad you're mine. Whoa, baby, why did it take so long? Oh, baby, only
made my love.

GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with Al Green, recorded in 2000.

You were born again in what year was it? '75?

Rev. GREEN: I was born again in 1973...

GROSS: '73.

Rev. GREEN: ...by the grace of God. Yes, Lord.

GROSS: And in the book it says that when you told Willie Mitchell that, your
producer, he said to you that, you know, `There's going to come a time very
soon you're not going to want to sing secular songs anymore. You're just
going to be singing gospel music.' And Willie Mitchell said that he didn't
produce that kind of music, so he wouldn't be able to work with you after
that.

Rev. GREEN: Well, he said he couldn't cut gospel music because he'd never cut
one before. And he hadn't. But I was so determined I went and got a boy from
Alabama, Bill Cantrell, and asked him if he could build me a studio out of a
rehearsal hall we had built here along with the office. And he said, `Well,
Al,' I mean--and he's looking around the building. And he says, `Well, it's
possible, Al. I mean, it'd take some soundproofing and, you know, a board
room to put the board and machine to record it. But I think it could be
done.'

And that was such a strange time because Willie Mitchell and I kept going to
California hoping to get a Grammy. And "Tired of Being Alone"--we didn't win
a Grammy. So the next year we went for "Let's Stay Together," and we didn't
win a Grammy. So the next year we went for "Still in Love With You," and we
never won a Grammy. So Willie said, `To hell with it.' But you've got to
know Willie, you know. Willie said, `To hell with it. We're gonna make the
money here. Forget about a Grammy, because I'm not going anymore. You know
what I mean? I don't ever win anyway.' So, you know--so I came out with
"Look What You've Done For Me"--No, "You Oughta Be With Me," that's right.
And I went to the Grammys. But I didn't win a Grammy.

So Bill Cantrell says, `Well, I'm about done with the studio. So what are you
going to sing?' I sung the "Belle" album, that's this "Belle" song. And then
I did "The Lord Will Make a Way" album. And I won a Grammy for "The Lord Will
Make a Way." And I thought that was the strangest thing to go and cut a gospel
song, and I win a Grammy. I went over to Nashville and cut "Precious Lord,"
and they gave me two Grammys. I'm going, like, `This is the weirdest thing.
I'm cutting'--that's right. Sacred music, they give you a Grammy. You cut
something to sell about five or 10 million records, no Grammy.

GROSS: Were you surprised when you had your born again experience?

Rev. GREEN: Oh, my God, yes. I was at a party. I was in San Francisco. I
mean, I played the Cow Palace. I had my little diamond on, you know. And I
called and had my girlfriend to fly out from Detroit. `I'll take care of the
tickets,' you know. Oh, I was tippy, tippy, tippy, tippy, tippy-toe. Oh, I
was in--oh, honey, I was gone, you know. So Disney sent their plane up and
picked us up in San Francisco. Flew us down to Anaheim to do the 12:00 show
that night, right? And we did the show, me and the band, on--having a little
champagne and, you know, girls all on the plane. And you know, we're just
having fun and talking and chilling, you know.

So my girlfriend came. And so after the show, this second show that night, I
was kind of tired. I said, `Babe,' I said, `I am zonked.' I says, `I'll just
see you in the morning.' She said--well, after that flight--oh, man, it was
about three or four hours, five hours or whatever it was, she said, `I'm
tired, too. I'll see you in the morning.' I said, `OK, great. Well, I'll
see you in the morning. Bye-bye.' And it went--you know, she went thataway
inside the suite and closed the door. And I went thataway inside the suite
and closed the door.

Now between that time, which is about 12:00 or 1:00 in the morning till 4:00,
4:30 in the morning, this guy is born again, here. And I've never been the
same since that day--since that very day. I've never been the same. I've
never been the same.

GROSS: You have your own church now.

Rev. GREEN: Yes.

GROSS: You've had that church for how many years?

Rev. GREEN: Twenty-two years.

GROSS: Do you often think, like, who would you have been? What would you
have been doing if it wasn't for being born again and if it wasn't for your
church? What life would you be leading? Would you even be alive?

Rev. GREEN: That's a good question right there. Man, that's a good question
because there's so many of my friends that started when I started, even in
Philadelphia here, and all around the country--Detroit and different other
places. I don't know what I could have been. But I don't want to get caught
up in all of that drug-inducement, hallucination, Donny Hathaway--so many of
us that started at the same time--there's such a tragic aura around great
success--Sam Cooke, all these people--there's such a--and I was afraid--Otis
in the plane.

GROSS: So you...

Rev. GREEN: So, yeah, I was--yeah, I would be afraid to take a chance like
that. I would rather hold on to the Lord and make him and let him be the
master of my life than me trying to do what we were doing coming from the Cow
Palace down to Disney because, you know, I mean, my intentions was just to
have a party. That's all I was thinking about. Now this born again, waking
up out of my sleep, you know, with the `amen' and the `hallelujah' and `thank
you, Jesus' and the overflowing. And then my dad came out. And he was across
the hall. And he says, `What's wrong with you, boy?' And so he grabbed me by
the shoulder. `What's wrong with you?' And I said, `Look at my hands. Look
at my hands.' And I'm crying. And he says, `What's wrong with you?' And I
said, `Look at my hands. I mean, would you look at my hands?' And he says,
`What's wrong with your hands?' And I said, `Look at my feet. Look at my
feet. Look at my feet.' And he says--so he turned right then and kind of
like caught himself and turned. And he, himself, went to saying, `Thank you,
Lord. That boy's been saved. Thank you, Lord.'

GROSS: Al Green, I really wish we had more time, but we have to let you go.
It's been such a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so very much.

Rev. GREEN: I'll go and sign books.

GROSS: The Reverend Al Green, recorded in 2000 after the publication of his
autobiography. He continues to preach at the Full Gospel Tabernacle in
Memphis, Tennessee. He has a new four-CD boxed set, collecting his recordings
from the '60s and '70s on Hi Records, and he has a new CD called "I Can't
Stop."

Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews "I Can't Stop."

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of song)

Rev. GREEN: (Singing) Ooh, yeah. I, I tell you something, girl, I think I,
I think you understand when I, girl, I said that little something to you. I
want to hold your hand. Got to hold your, every day now, I've got to hold
your, oh. Oh, please, girl, say to me, baby, mm, let me be your man. Oh,
please, please, say to me, walk up and tell me, I want to hold your hand. I
want to hold your hand, baby. Got to, got to hold your hand. Ooh, yeah.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Al Green CD "I Can't Stop"
TERRY GROSS, host:

Al Green's new album, "I Can't Stop," is the first collection he's made with
producer Willie Mitchell in 27 years. In the intervening time, Green gave
himself over to gospel music and the day-to-day ministry of a Baptist church
he founded in Memphis. Rock critic Ken Tucker says that unlike so many
comeback records, Green's return to secular music is actually the start of a
new phase in his career.

(Soundbite of song)

Reverend AL GREEN: (Singing) I can't stop, just can't stop. I can't stop, I
just can't stop from loving you. I can't stop my hand from holding you.
There must be a reason why we are so crazy, oh, I can't stop, no, no, no, you
and me, you and me. Oh, and I can't stop, I just can't stop.

KEN TUCKER:

That sweet, rhythmic brew with the punctuation of its discreet, curt horn
section is, you might say, the grammar of a classic Al Green song. This is
the strict organizing structure that underpins what Green wants to say and how
he says it. Producer Willie Mitchell at age 75 knows better than anyone alive
that diagraming the musical sentences is essential for so discursive and
spontaneous an artist as Al Green. It's what frees Green to use his
extraordinary range, grainy alto croon, falsetto yelps and screams, syllables
pulled and stretched like warm taffy, for maximum emotional effectiveness.

(Soundbite of song)

Rev. GREEN: (Singing) Standing on the edge of the world, I'm looking for you,
baby. Yeah. I keep looking at the sun, but it's raining in my heart. One
night...

TUCKER: Willie Mitchell is an R&B purist. He's maintained his Hi Records
label and Royal Studios exactly the same way it's been since the early '70s
when he converted the small Memphis movie theater into a recording studio.
Mitchell declined to work with Green on any of the numerous gospel albums the
singer cut on his own for the past quarter-century. For Mitchell, soul music
is sensuous, not spiritual stuff.

(Soundbite of "You")

Rev. GREEN: (Singing) You are my shining star, oh, shining till the day
begins. Oh, you are my fantasy, whoa, everything that I need to win. Yes, I
love you, I love you, baby. Don't walk away. I love you, and I love you...

TUCKER: Al Green recorded these songs with the same microphone he used to cut
such '70s classics as "Tired of Being Alone," "Call Me" and "Let's Stay
Together." Inevitably, some of the new tunes, like the one I just played,
called "You," sound like leftovers from those sessions. But even the
leftovers cooked up by Green and Mitchell have tangy ingredients, and at least
once on the six minutes-plus "My Problem is You," Green and Mitchell reach
inside themselves to produce something at once familiar and utterly new, a big
chunk of soulful blues.

(Soundbite of "My Problem is You")

Rev. GREEN: (Singing) Well, I found beyond the blue it's just you and me,
baby. I, I don't know why I can't get over you. Oh, every night, it's true,
my problem is you. Yeah, yeah.

TUCKER: "My Problem is You" is the song that truly conveys the title message
of "I Can't Stop." This is music predicated on the idea of the sensitive but
aggressive man, one whose libido is, to be a bit irreligious about it,
trans-substantiated into a yearning that becomes a form of seduction. Unlike
other soul greats from James Brown to Otis Redding to Marvin Gaye, there's
never been anything dangerous about Green's stealthy attack. Listening to
this collection, you hear the subtle difference between a Memphis Hi Records
production and those made at nearby Stax Records or in Motown's Detroit.

Green's outward presentation, his wide grin, his cultivated vulnerability,
even his scattered enunciation when he feigns confusion in the throes of
passion still need Mitchell's funky rhythm and horn sections to give the sound
grit and insinuation. With this album, Al Green is very nearly as
irresistible as he's ever been, and he and we can thank the man behind the
man, Willie Mitchell, at a scarred, old mixing board deep in Memphis for that
pleasure.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
Al Green's new CD, "I Can't Stop."

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross. Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of song)

Rev. GREEN: (Singing) I could love you for 10,000 years, my baby. I can
still feel the same lying here, oh, baby. I'd like to keep on forever loving
you, oh, baby. Because no matter what you say or do, oh, if I had to start
all over, if I had to do it all over...
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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