Singer and Church Leader Al Green.
Church leader and gospel singer Reverend Al Green. He’s just published a new biography called “Down by the River” (Harper Entertainment) detailing the trip from R&B stardom to Reverend. Presiding over his own Pentecostal church in Memphis for the last 20 years, Green recently returned to the recording studio to record a set of gospel songs. A popular culture icon, he’s had cameo roles in movies and TV shows. He lives in Memphis, Tenn.
Other segments from the episode on October 16, 2000
DATE October 16, 2000 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
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.
My guest is perhaps the greatest of all soul singers, Al Green.
(Soundbite of "Tried of Being Alone")
Reverend AL 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
GROSS: Al Green had a string of hits in the '70s, including "Tired of Being
Alone," "Let's Stay Together," "Call Me," "Take Me to the River" and "Love and
Happiness." He made those hits with producer Willie Mitchell, the force
behind the Memphis-based label Hi Records. Green's success, and his image as
a sex symbol, brought its own problems and temptations. In 1974, an angry
former girlfriend threw a pot of steaming grits on him. He landed in the
hospital with second-degree burns; she killed herself. This incident got
Green to question what it wanted musically and spiritually. By the end of the
decade, he gave up secular music for several years and performed only gospel.
In 1976, after being ordained as a minister, Al Green bought a church in
Memphis, the Full Gospel Tabernacle, where he continues to preach. He tells
his story in the new book, "Take Me to the River." Before we meet him, here's
one of gospel recordings.
(Soundbite of "Amazing Grace")
Rev. GREEN: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
Oh, Lord. I once was lost, but now I'm found. Bye-bye. Good night. Oh,
yeah. Oh, yeah.
GROSS: I asked Al Green why he wanted to be a reverend and have his own
Rev. GREEN: I didn't want to be a reverend, that's number one. I go to
Scripture then I was--found then that sought me not. So I wasn't looking for
him, he pulled me out. So I didn't want to be a reverend. That's one thing,
I didn't want to be. OK. Number two, to have my own church was merely to get
out from under the weight of the steady pressure getting louder and louder;
the Scripture quoting, get more familiar and more frequent, the urgency to
pursue that for which I was soothed. And I needed to get out from under that,
because I can't sleep. I'm going weeks, I'm so ill, like in really a trauma
here, because we're on top of the Holiday Inn in Memphis called Holiday in
Rivermont at that time. It's not anymore. But myself and Reverend James
Nedders(ph), having prayer in the floor, in the suite on the 12th floor. I
mean, I don't know, that was just so much extreme, I needed to do something,
and I know that was to run to the rock. That's right.
GROSS: So you had no choice is what you're telling me. You were called.
Rev. GREEN: I really had no choice, right, because other than that I'm going
out of my--my cycle, right.
GROSS: Now do you get a different feeling singing in church, in your church
now, than you used to get on a concert stage?
Rev. GREEN: Oh, yes, two different things altogether. Singing on a concert
stage is like water. Singing in a church is like oil. Oil is symbolistic of
the spirit, so therefore, you know, of course you know which one has the upper
Rev. GREEN: The sacred, spiritual things that try to sound much better,
GROSS: Now you have a choir also in your church.
Rev. GREEN: Absolutely.
GROSS: What kind of choir singing do you like and do you have?
Rev. GREEN: Oh, I love it when the anointing is in there and people can't
control themselves, and I can't either. And so this past Sunday, we sang
(Singing) `One day at a time, sweet Jesus. That's all I'm asking of you.
Give me the strength to do the things that I need to do. Yesterday's gone,
sweet Jesus, and tomorrow may never be mine. But for heaven sake, help me to
take one day at a time.'
GROSS: You sang in choir when you were in school.
Rev. GREEN: Right, seven years.
GROSS: Did that help you to sing.
Rev. GREEN: Yeah.
GROSS: Were you a low voice or a high voice?
Rev. GREEN: I was a alto, high voice, yeah. Kind of like a high, squeaky
little voice. Because at that time I didn't weight but 140 pounds, a little
squeaky little guy.
GROSS: Is this before your voice changed or after?
Rev. GREEN: That's right, before.
GROSS: Before it changed?
Rev. GREEN: Yeah.
GROSS: Oh, I would have liked to hear that.
Rev. GREEN: Yeah, you know, you--you know...
GROSS: Now how do you prepare your sermons?
Rev. GREEN: I don't make no preparation on paper for the sermon. I don't
write it all down and have it all ready to--prepared. I don't do it. I just
read my lesson and I study my lesson.
GROSS: What do you mean?
Rev. GREEN: I read the book.
Rev. GREEN: You read the book, you won't need to prepare sermon, man. If you
know your lesson--as they say in our camp where we come from, do you know your
ABC's. That's what they call it. And if you know your ABC's then you know
what they're talking about, absolutely.
GROSS: Now 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 signing?
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'd 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,
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...
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.
Rev. GREEN: That's right. "Dock of the Bay," Wilson Pickett, James--I mean,
we just some little group; we just sung anything.
GROSS: Now how did you start recording after you started getting serious
Rev. GREEN: Well, Palmer James, Ted Maders(ph) in Grand Rapids, we wrote a
song--Palmer did--wrote a song called "Back Up Train, Turn Around, I Got to
Take My Baby." That was in 1967-'68. And we did that.
GROSS: Can you sing a few bars of that?
Rev. GREEN: (Sings) `Back up train, turn around, turn around, I got to take
my baby home, wherever I'm bound.' That's right. So we sung that. That was
a good hit. Went to the Apollo Theater, come back, tried to make another
song--bombed. For the next three years, I was bombed. I was--you know, I
just--it didn't happen. It wouldn't go. It wouldn't--I don't know what it
was that started it, first of all, so when we did get the one hit, couldn't
get another hit in three years.
I went down--so I went to Texas to do a concert, some show, just shows, just
shows--this was just a show. I met a guy down there named Willie Mitchell,
and he was the band, I was the singer. I'm from Michigan, he's from Memphis,
you know. He said, `I want you to come to Memphis and listen--let's--the
studio, and I'd like to hear your voice more, and I--you know, I think it'd be
good.' I says, `OK, man, great, fine. I--you know, I'm going to Grand
Rapids, right now, man, I'll give you a call.' And I went to Grand Rapids,
stayed for two or three weeks.
So he finally called me and said, `Hey, I thought you said you was calling
Memphis.' I said, `Well, man, you know, I been working a lot. What do you
want to do?' He said, `Well, I think a couple, three or four years, you could
be a nice singer.' I said, `I don't have that kind of time.' I hung up.
GROSS: You hung up on Willie Mitchell.
Rev. GREEN: I hung up on Willie Mitchell. I mean, I don't know...
GROSS: That was smart.
Rev. GREEN: I mean, I am so dumb. I mean, I hung up, and so I had an
argument with my girlfriend about an affair that she was supposedly involved
in while I was away. I got in a fight with the guy that same night. OK,
well, that night, at 2:00, 3:00 in the morning, I go and pack all of my stuff.
I've had it, and I get, you know, a little bitty pulley trailer that
go--U-Haul--behind the car. I put my little stuff in there and my guitar, and
I headed to Memphis.
GROSS: My guest is Al Green. His new autobiography is called "Take Me to the
River." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is soul and gospel singer Al Green.
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.'
And I'm not sure I'm doing it right. I'm not sure--I know I'm not prefect. I
have so many flaws and so many thorns in my flesh, so many ups and downs,
Terry, I just--I'm a real person. I'm a human being. They write this stuff
in the book, and I understand that, and it make you seem, you know, greater
than life's things, but I'm not--I'm a sharecropper's son.
GROSS: Well, tell me about the churches you went to when your father was
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 and that was
like Mother Bates(ph), Mother Anderson(ph), who used to pick us up when I was,
like, six years old, seven years old, pick us up in the old station wagon, and
haul all the Green kids to church, because we was on the route, right? And
this lady--oddly enough, this lady, Miss--Sister Evangelist Anderson used to
come around and pick all of us up, no matter how many trips she had to make in
that old station wagon, pick us up and take us to church.
That was just what she did, and that was a good footing, because I got to hear
(sings) `Oh, Jesus on the main line, tell him what you want, Jesus on'--you
know, and all these different feelings and sounds and emotions begin to stir
in me, and I'm going, like, `What is that? How do you'--and the tambourine
`chka-chka, chka-chka, chka-chka, chka-chka, chk'--I got to hear that, and I
recorded that in my mind from a little kid. I recorded that in my mind. That
was one of the things I could never get rid of, even cutting "Love and
Happiness" and all these other songs, I couldn't get rid of that tambourine,
`chka-chka, chka-chka, chka-chka.' I could always hear it, even in London, in
Manchester, England, that night. I was singing, "You Ought to Be With Me," I
could hear the tambourine still, when I was a little boy, with that same song,
you know. So I could never get rid of that.
But the churches were, like, 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
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 air, 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: Al Green. He'll be back with use in the second half of the show. His
new autobiography is called "Take Me to the River." I'm Terry Gross, and this
is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
Rev. GREEN: (Sings) `As the ship is tossed and driven, battered by high
(unintelligible), when the storms of life are raging, and the fear falls on
me, and I look and wonder why, why great Lord pass me by, and I sing to my
soul, don't worry, ooh, Lord, be a way somehow. Make me feel good, then.
When I try to do my best...
Announcer: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
GROSS: Coming up, more with soul and gospel singer Reverend Al Green.
(Soundbite of music)
Rev. GREEN: (Sings) `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, ...(unintelligible) same, baby, since we've been together,
ooh, loving you forever is what I need. Let me be the one you come running
to, I'll never be untrue, oh, baby, yeah...
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with the great soul and
gospel singer Reverend Al Green. His hits from the '70s include "Love and
Happiness," "Tired of Being Alone," "Let's Stay Together" and "Take Me To the
(Excerpt of Al Green singing "Take Me To the River")
Rev. GREEN: (Singing) I don't know why I love you like I do, after all the
changes that you put me through. You stole my money and my cigarette and I
haven't seen hide nor hair of you yet. I want to know, won't you tell me, I
love to stay. Yeah. Take me to the river. Washin' me down. Won't you
cleanse my soul. Put my feet on the ground. I don't know why she treated me
GROSS: Al Green has a new autobiography called "Take Me To the River." He
mostly performs gospel now, and he's the minister at his own church, the Full
Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis. He grew up in Arkansas and Michigan, but
Memphis is where he recorded his hits with producer Willie Mitchell for the Hi
So you get to Memphis, and Willie Mitchell, the great producer at Hi Records,
starts working with you. And what kind of advice did he give you about your
Rev. GREEN: Number one, I had to be me.
Rev. GREEN: Me, me.
GROSS: Oh, you. Oh, OK.
Rev. GREEN: Me. He says, `You sing like Al. Al, will you sing like Al?' And
I'm going to him, `How is that?' He says, `Just sing like yourself.' I'm
going, like, `But I don't know how myself is supposed to sound.'
GROSS: Is that because you've been influenced by so many people and you were
sounding more like them or...
Rev. GREEN: I tried to sing like them because those were the hit records that
was out at the time.
GROSS: Yeah, right, right.
Rev. GREEN: See, but I didn't know me.
GROSS: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
Rev. GREEN: I didn't know me. So I was singing, you know, "Let's Stay
Together" like real (sings high) `aaaaah,' you know. Willie said, `No, no,
no, no, no. Just say it, Al. Just say it. Don't scream it. Don't try to
handle it. Don't try to manhandle it. Just let it alone. Just let it. Just
let it.' So I said, `Well, what?' He said, `Just say it.' So I said, `Well,
if I was, you know--(singing) I'm so in love.' He said, `That's it. That's
it. Sing it like that.' I said, `But, man, I mean, there's so much more I
could put to it.' He says, `There's nothing else you could put to it. You
just keep that right there. I'll go punch the record button. Sing it like
GROSS: Would--did you start singing more often in a falsetto when you
started working with Willie Mitchell?
Rev. GREEN: I started singing more like the person inside instead of trying to
duplicate James Brown and...
Rev. GREEN: ...and Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson and Otis Redding and Wilson
Pickett and everybody else. I mean, that was at the time when myself and--let
me see who else of us was not popular then--Junior Walker & The All-Stars. We
worked with them all the time, you know. That was before Junior Walker & The
All-Stars was popular with the "Shotgun," `shoot 'em before they run,'
OK?--and all these people. So I started to try to sing like--trying to figure
out who I was.
And I came from Europe for 28 shows, 28 days. And I was singing in
Washington, DC, at the Memorial Auditorium. And the girls started running up
on the stage. And the police had to come and get them off stage. And I'm
singing, `Let's stay together whether times are good or bad,' and they're
running up on stage. And we keep wondering--me and the guys in the
band--`What are they doing?' And so somebody from the side of the stage said,
`They love you. They love you. They love you.' And I'm going, like, `OK,
this is just a new song. We're just singing it.' I mean--they said, `But
it's a big hit over here. Where you been?' I says, `We've been to Europe
for 28 days.'
GROSS: Oh, yeah.
Rev. GREEN: He says--so we didn't know. So we come back and sing "Let's Stay
Together" just because it's the new single. We didn't know, because in
Europe it hadn't got there yet. And we didn't know it was a hit over here.
So we sang, and these people were grabbing on you and kissing on you and, you
know, we was wondering, `What are they doing?'
GROSS: Did you like that?
Rev. GREEN: Not especially. I just thought, `What are they doing? Hey, what are
you doing? Let me finish my song,' I mean.
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.
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 started 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 alone. 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 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.
I had a few--I write songs. I write--I'm nobody. I write a couple songs.
I've got my little songs over here and my Bible right here. That's all I got.
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: So it felt good to be loved on stage or...
Rev. GREEN: Yeah, it felt good to be wanted and to be loved. I can't say
that it didn't feel good or anything like that. It felt good to be wanted and
loved by anyone because, remember, I'm a sharecropper's son. And we're
pilgrims and strangers. We're passing through here. We didn't come to stay.
We just--that's right. I, you know--I Am is the Light of the World.
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.
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 meals? 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: Reverend Al Green is my guest, the great soul singer and now reverend
in Memphis. And he's got a new autobiography which is called "Take Me To the
You were born again in what year was it? '75?
Rev. GREEN: I was born again in 1973...
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
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
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 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: My guest is soul and gospel singer Reverend Al Green. More after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is soul and gospel singer Al Green. He has a new
autobiography called "Take Me To the River."
Let me ask you about the record "Belle," which has the line, `It's you that I
want. It's him that I need.'
Rev. GREEN: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: What were you going through in your life in the transition from
secular to gospel music and in the whole transition in your life of the kind
of life you wanted to lead at the time that you recorded that song?
Rev. GREEN: That is so personal. And I understand what you're doing. You're
doing an interview. And I understand that.
GROSS: Yeah, well, don't...
Rev. GREEN: No, no, no. That's OK. I was talking to someone that I call
"Belle." And I'm trying to reconcile between these two. And, of course, this
is a very beautiful young lady. And--but I'm given up to the fact that I
can't possibly be trying to decide between the two or between--why should I
have to decide? That was what was going on in Al's mind. Why should I have
to decide? Decide about what? I mean, are you or are you not? I mean, are
you, you know--so that is in the transition in the trenches part when he says,
`It's you that I want. I'm sorry, but it's him that I need.' And that's
where that come from because it starts out with `Belle, the Lord and I have
been friends for a mighty long time. Leaving him has never, ever really
crossed my mind.' So I really can't--no matter how beautiful, no matter how
fine, no matter how gorgeous, no matter how much I love you, I can't depart
from my roots, my foundation, my Progenitor, my Maker, my Everything, my
Light, my Bright and Morning Star, my Alpha, my--that's right.
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
ticket,' 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: Al Green. His new autobiography is called "Take Me To the River."
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Ken Tucker on band Green Day's new CD "Warning"
TERRY GROSS, host:
Green Day is the contemporary, California, punk band that has, in recent
years, scored a few, big, hit, pop singles; one in 1994; a Grammy for best
alternative music performance, and even had a highly successful ballad with
the song "Good Riddance," which you may know from its subtitle and chorus,
"Time of Your Life."
Rock critic Ken Tucker says that the band's new CD called "Warning" suggests
ways in which one can grow old without sacrificing punk energy.
(Soundbite of "Warning")
GREEN DAY: (Singing) This is a public service announcement, this is only a
test. Emergency evacuation process. May impair your ability to operate
machinery. Can't quite tell just it means to me. Keep out of reach of
children. Don't you talk to strangers. Get your philosophy from a bumper
Green Day has always been a band to defy the odds. When the group made its
major label debut with 1993's CD called "Dookie," who'd have thought their
short-and-sour, punk-inspired guitar attacks would go multiplatinum, much less
win these assiduous brats a Grammy? Seven years later, on "Warning,"
singer-guitarist-complainer Billie Joe Armstrong can't be accused of
overreaching for a more mature sound. Pushing 30, Armstrong is determined to
remain as entertainingly adolescent as possible, while allowing for a few
lifestyle modifications. Where on "Dookie" he sang, `I'm not growing up. I'm
just burning out,' on "Warning's" song "Church On Sunday," he acknowledges
that he's, quote, "not getting any younger," and asks, `If I go to church with
you on Sunday, will you go out with me on Friday night?' and wraps it all up
with the startling declaration, `If you live with me, I'll die for you and
this compromise.' That he surrounds these adorable sentiments with music as
peppy as any Green Day has recorded suggests that Armstrong and company may
have found the secret of eternal rock 'n' roll youth. Check it out.
(Soundbite of "Church on Sunday")
GREEN DAY: Today is the first day of the rest of our lives. Tomorrow is too
late to pretend everything's all right. I'm not getting any younger as long
as you don't get any older. I'm not going to state that yesterday never was.
Bloodshot deadbeat and lack of sleep making your mascara bleed tears down your
face leaving traces of my mistakes. If I promise to go to church on Sunday,
will you go with me on Friday night? If you live with me, I'll die for you
and this compromise.
TUCKER: Certainly, the band's musical range has broadened a bit. You'd
expect a Green Day song called "Misery" to be a whining rant. Instead, it's
set to a waltz beat complete with sung-spoken lyric that's probably Billie
Joe's idea of a Brecht, wild, pop, operetta. This is a clever idea that goes
on for too long--five minutes plus--an epic by Green Day standards. Still,
the boys fair best when they stick to what they enjoy most, a heedless
hedonism encapsulated neatly and gloriously on a song called "Blood, Sex and
(Soundbite of "Blood, Sex and Booze")
GREEN DAY: (Singing) Waiting in a room all dressed up and bound and gagged to
a chair, it's so unfair. I don't dare to move, for the pain she puts me
through is what I need so make it bleed. I'm in distress, oh, mistress, I
confess. So do it one more time, these handcuffs are too tight. Well, you
know I will obey, so please don't make me beg, for blood, sex and booze, you
TUCKER: These days, Green Day sing about troubled consciences and political
apathy and have the sense to give a song with the sentiment, `loving you must
be like suicide,' the name "Jackass." But after selling millions, Armstrong
still professes, `I want to be the minority,' and he remains enough of a
juvenile twit to make that manifesto seem both heartfelt and convincing. In
other words, against all self-imposed odds, Green Day has created its most
unified, diverse collection of songs yet. Sometimes brattiness is its own
GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Entertainment Weekly.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of music)
GREEN DAY: (Singing) I want to be the minority. I don't need your authority.
You're with the moral majority 'cause I want to be the minority. I pledge
allegiance to the underworld, one nation under dark ...(unintelligible) which
I ...(unintelligible) alone. A face in the crowd, a song against the mold.
Without a doubt, singled out the only way I do, 'cause I want to be the
minority, I don't need your authority.
GROSS: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
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.