Al Green: Dropping Gems

Do you know that Suge Knight is rumored to lift weights to Al Green everyday? Clearly, RZA, Kanye West, and even Ganja K have proven that Al Green is required in any producer’s listening exercises. In the privacy of cars and showers, we all mimic one of the greatest voices in musical history. With the […]

Do you know that Suge Knight is rumored to lift weights to Al Green everyday? Clearly, RZA, Kanye West, and even Ganja K have proven that Al Green is required in any producer’s listening exercises. In the privacy of cars and showers, we all mimic one of the greatest voices in musical history. With the resurgence of vocal sampling, Al Green’s significance to the sound of Hip-Hop may parallel to James Brown’s influence on percussion. These are not overstatements.

Reverend Al Green is one of the only singers of yesteryear that still keeps up with his listeners’ high expectations in 2005. In the last three years, Reverend Green returned with a Soul album that rekindled his immaculate albums of the early 1970’s. Recently released, Everything’s OK is the second installment of love songs, croonings from a pained heart, and all else in between. Alternatives had the pleasure of discussing the new music, Hip-Hop, church, and love with Al Green. We even reminisced over the soul blueprint of its time: Green is Blues. The musical icon reflected with riddling, soft-spoken wisdom. It is with our greatest honor that we offer you some of Reverend Green’s jewels. Alternatives: You’ve got this song on the new album, “I Can Make Music”. In it, you discuss the direction of your music. I wanted to ask you about how that direction has changed since you joined Blue Note and came back to secular Soul.

Al Green: Hmmm. I don’t know the answer to that question. That’s kinda hard.

AHHA: Okay, well a lot of songwriters can write love songs, or lonely songs. Throughout your career, you’ve been able to masterfully write both kinds, and on the same album. What makes this possible, when so many can’t?

Al Green: Definitely something magical happening, or something isentropic.

AHHA: Well, you have one song on the album, “Be My Baby”. In one hand, it sounds like you’re affirming a love. In another, it sounds like you’re pleading for love from a woman. It works both ways.

Al Green: That’s “Won’t you be my lady, won’t you be my baby, girl, won’t be my lady”? You tryin’ to figure out what zone I’m in?

AHHA: I’m afraid so.

Al Green: I’m like, I wish you were my baby. I’m asking you to be. I desire you to be. That’s where I’m at. Won’t you be my baby.

AHHA: But there’s also serenades on there, there’s no desire needed. You do both so well. How are you able to keep it so authentic?

Al Green: To keep it authentic, I don’t channel in anything. I let the song do what it does. I stopped taking it by the horns, making it do what I want it to do, because it may be wrong. So, I just let the song be what the song is. That gives the song freedom so that I can go up, I can go down, I can sing in front of the band, I can sing behind the band, I can sing with the band. [Lifelong producer] Willie [Mitchell] said, “He wants to run and buck and jump. We gonna take him out on the range, and take the blinders off of him, and let him run free. You got 10,000 acres to run on. You feel like runnin’?” On Everything’s OK, I might’ve overdid it a bit. But Willie said run, oh boy, I got busy sho’nuff. [laughs]

AHHA: What makes you say you overdid it?

Al Green: I said I could’ve overdone it. I don’t know. I’m very cautious of that. I don’t wanna get too much G in there ‘cause there’s also A,B,C,D,E,F. See, I don’t want G to cover everything. G is great big letter. The G stands for good, and a few other great and other notable names that I could mention. Therefore, sayin’ that it is seventh letter of the alphabet, and Al Green has seven letters in his name. When you put all that together, I don’t wanna overdo my little part. I’d rather for Him to have the glory and the benefit.

I’m a smart businessman in reference to trying to write songs so that the secular market will go and buy it, so I can supply for my family and have a roof over they heads, go to school and stuff. But then again, there’s a double-meaning in all songs. I’m not talkin’ ‘bout some girl at “three o’clock in the morning,” [in “Love & Happiness”]. I’m not in the hotel at all. What I said in “Love & Happiness” was, “be good to me, and I’ll be good to you.” Everybody missed that part, they only heard “three o’clock in the morning.” That’s what they want to hear! I’ve learned to write for the secular market, but I have some hidden meanings in there for the real people who really know.

AHHA: A master of metaphors?

Al Green: A master of metaphors, there you go! I have many disguises, my friend. I come in lookin’ like Cinderfella, and I come back lookin’ like the wolf. You never know! [laughs]

AHHA: Approaching this from a Hip-Hop side, you take a song like original “Simply Beautiful,” that really helped Jay-Z as well as made you accessible to young people. How do you feel about your legacy within Hip-Hop?

Al Green: Man, I think with the Queen Latifah Hip-Hop version of “Simply Beautiful” that’s out there now, and doing so well – I think all the kids are doing wonderful. You have to remember this: those are our kids. Whether you like it or not, those are our children. My daughter is 22. If they cussin’, they ours. If they rappin’ in boom-bop-a-loo-bop, they ours. And if they sayin’ something positive and useful for the whole human race, they ours. I have to embrace what’s ours. In doing that, I have to embrace Snoop Dogg, Run-DMC, Nelly, Alicia Keys, Usher, Whitney, whatever. All of us come in with problems, sometimes we get into things. Hey, they still our kids, and I have to embrace all of ‘em.

AHHA: But also, you decide on whether or not somebody can use your music legally as a sample. Being a lover of God and music, what factors into your decision?

Al Green: We have a lot of people requesting samples of the music, that’s true. And it does come across my desk. [However] I let the publishing department do that. I do ask that they read the lyric, and see what the people are saying, and if it’s too graphic, they’ll ask ‘em if they can tone the graphic part down a bit, if you gonna use Reverend Green’s music. We’ve got a lot of covers of “Love & Happiness”, “Let’s Stay Together,”…

AHHA: Well, my favorite is your cover of “The Letter” by The Boxtops. RZA used that for a song by Biggie.

Al Green: Now that’s different, isn’t it! That’s a good tune too.

AHHA: That’s my favorite Al Green moment, ever. That song just sends me back.

Al Green: Well, that’s a whole era of stuff that Willie and I cut, tryin’ to find Al Green. I guess we was lookin’ pretty hard. We was cuttin’ Boxtops, we was cuttin’ The Beatles, we was cuttin’ Ann Peebles too, we was just cuttin’!

AHHA: I’ve always heard that your sermons are open to the public, is that true?

Al Green: Yeah, they are.

AHHA: Have you ever seen Hip-Hop personalities, rappers, or whatever in the congregation of your church, come to see you speak?

Al Green: Absolutely. Everybody comes to our church, man. Half of ‘em be comin’ to get ideas too. [laughs] I’ve seen ‘em with a pencil, paper, recorder, everything. But then again, I don’t mind. If they can get anything out of it, I hope it’s a positive idea – something to boost them along.

AHHA: Let’s finish in talking about love. You put joy and pain on the same plain. In your eyes, is tumultuous love a curse or a blessing?

Al Green: I think it’s a blessing to be able to sing or speak about the joy and pain. Until you have the pain, you can’t have the joy. If you have some joy – look around, you’ll have some pain.