Before the Rev. Al Green gave his soul to gospel, he gave his heart to soul. But no matter what the genre, Green has always been about feeling. He delivers with a depth of emotion that brings people to their knees. What they do with and to their fellow men and women from that point depends on whether Green's working in secular or gospel on that particular occasion.
"They call it baby-makin' music," Green says from his Memphis home. He first encountered the term in a critic's newspaper article years ago. "'Just put Al Green on, light the fireplace, open a bottle of white wine,'" Green says the critic instructed. "'You stir up the fire a little bit, pour the wine, then you start to rub her hair. Then go over in the corner and put a little Al Green on, then just keep on rubbin' it. And then ... and then ... and then.'"
The "and then" part, inspired by his records, including million-sellers "Let's Stay Together" and "Love and Happiness," have made Green's name synonymous with soul. That music got Green material rewards, but the awards came from a higher realm. He has three Grammys – all won with gospel material. "Do they really think that it comes from all this?" he asks. "'Still in Love,' which is one of the highest-selling we had, and 'Let's Stay Together,' sell a lot of records. But they think the Grammys came from these records, and they didn't."
Green won his first Grammy for 1980's The Lord Will Make a Way. Precious Lord (1982) won two more. "I was the only black guy in the studio in Nashville," Green says, laughing at the memory of that '82 session. "I came in, and just to get them up on their horses, said, 'You guys can't play no soul, man.' And the cats' faces turned red. 'By golly, if you can sing it, we can play it,'" Green says, re-creating the moment with a cracker accent. "But I did that for a reason and look what it brought! That's the cream, the fresh cream – you can get that right off the floor there," he laughs. "I know what I'm doing."
Green thanks God, and Atlanta, for his success. "We started in Atlanta," he says. "'Tired of Being Alone' was broke in Atlanta at WIGO. Girl on the radio named Stella Mae kept playing this one song, and people wondered, 'Who in the world is this?'" he says, singing a few bars of "I'm So Tired of Being Alone."
But he's well aware of who's really behind his career. "I haven't done any of this," he says. "God has done all of this from behind the scenes." He confesses to being bad in the past, but now he's seen the truth and wants to share it. "That's why we come to Atlanta now. That's the show where your heart is lifted up to the high praise.
"That's why when I sing 'God Blessed Our Love,' they don't understand, 'cause they figured God should be on Sunday and the lower things should be on Monday," he says, laughing. "But we telling 'em love thang is every day of the week, God thang is every day of the week."
His latest record, 2005's Everything's OK, sounds like his old '70s-era records. Green's still making babies with his lilting, soaring, gospel/soul sound. The songs are hymns to all things physical, with Green screaming like he's having babies himself.
He's been criticized for keeping a foot in both worlds as a preacher and a secular entertainer, but he's at peace with it. "I got a church. Yeah, I'm a preacher. So I hear people, their doubts. This is America, they're entitled to their opinion," he says. "I don't give a durn. I'm sittin' on what God told me to do – spread love and happiness."
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