AL GREEN, son of a lawman and one of nine children lives in style these days. As an American superstar with half a dozen gold records under his belt, it was fitting that he should be staying in the luxurious surroundings of London’s Savoy Hotel.
It was there that I met him last week for a chat before he began his British tour. And sure enough, his style now is a far cry from his childhood days in Forest City, Arkansas. After lunch we moved to his suite. Just by the door sat Al’s father, Robert L. Green. We spoke about his son’s early days and the times when the proverbial black-eyed peas were the family’s only food.
But before the conversation could run too deep, he flashed his law officers ID card and insisted that I show some kind of identification. “I’m Al’s security officer,” he explained in a gruff drawl.
While Green is one of the biggest money machines in America” I found it hard to understand why such precautions should be taken in Britain, But try explaining that to any of Al’s entourage. I did but they couldn’t see it that way, because they live with him and they love him.
Once the dust had settled, Al was ready to hold court inside his luxurious bedroom, complete with scrolled ceiling and views overlooking the Thames. He nestled in a chair and looked a picture of elegance.
I asked him about his early days, and the influence it had on his music.
“My father would never allow me to bring pop records into the house. We were a kinda spiritual family and that was why I first got singing in the beginning. My pa made me join my brothers in a gospel group, called the Green Brothers.
“I stayed with the group for about seven years, until I found myself getting lost amongst the spiritualists. They’re a kinda heavy bunch of folks, but money couldn’t be made. They just didn’t have their heads together.
The next few years were spent touring the south and midwest playing small soul clubs under the name of Al Green and The Creations. He was developing his own style while reflecting the ,influences of people like Sam Cooke, James Brown and Jackie Wilson.
“Two of the guys in my backing group owned their own label called,’Hot Line Music Journal. We recorded a single with that label – a song called, “Back Up Train” which sold about half-a-million copies.
“After that I went out on my own, but things went kinda quiet for a while, until I met Willie Mitchell. He told me that he could turn me into a star inside eighteen months and I went to Memphis with him.
“The first song we ever recorded was the Beatles, ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand.’ Man, that was the all time flop record,” he says laughingly.
Still the real Al Green hadn’t been found. The reason being that Al wasn’t writing his own material.
“At that time I was copying all the heavy music, like Wilson Pickett and James Brown, because I had to fill my show with something. All the time I was searching inside myself to find the real me.
“Slowly I was discovering myself and what I wanted to do. It was to go back to the day of ‘Back Up Train’.”
Both Green and Mitchell worked hard to find the right formula. It came with their joint effort on “Can’t Get Next To You.” Mitchell had become boss at Hi records and their partnership grew with the new found freedom both men had attained. The result: Six gold singles and three gold albums one after the other.
Green’s visit to Britain is chiefly chiefly to suss out why his last few singles haven’t been as successful as “Tired Of Being Alone” and “Let’s Stay Together.”
“We’re trying to get people in England to know who AI Green is, so that when we cut a new single it will cater for a worldwide market.”
It’s obvious that he’s concerned about his lack of chart success here and he’s quite honest about it.
“‘Let’s Stay Together’ was my biggest record ever, there was a worldwide acceptance of Al Green, but it seems to have dropped off. I think that not coming to Britain last year had a lot to do with it. It kinda killed the boom.
“People have said to me that my records do sound alike and I tended to agree until I sat down and really listened to the music. I found that they were completely different.
“Now what we wanna do is get people to listen to Al Green. But I don’t wanna change my style to suit all the markets. Sure, there has to be a little give in an artist’s approach when he goes playing in another country, but he still has to remain basically the same.” – MICHAEL BENTON INTERVIEWING AL GREEN FOR MELODY MAKER – MAY ’73