Soul Minister Al Green Aims To Get Next To You
In person interview conducted by David Nathan, New York City, July 1976
Right now, Al Green's planning his future lifestyle. He wants more than hit records. He aims to show folks the key to divinity. Heavy stuff? Maybe, but he explained his feelings to David Nathan…
IT'S 3.45 p.m. on a warm, Saturday afternoon at the St. Regis Hotel on 5th Avenue and we're waiting for Mr. Green. He's been temporarily delayed by some folk from his record company but we're assured he's on the way.
He'd called through to say that he was in the shower and the news that I had brought a photographer prompted Al to suggest that we might like a photo of him whilst he's taking the shower! It goes without saying that a cover of Mr. Green in said situation would certainly increase the circulation of any publication three times over!
Eventually, he walks in. Cool, smiling, warm — not so much full of fire (at this point in the proceedings) as full of charm. Talking with someone like Al could pose a problem. After all, he's been the recipient of countless awards and gold records; he's acknowledged as a soul superstar and about everything anyone could ask the man has already been asked — probably a dozen times over. But somehow, there's always something to say and Mr. Green usually says it eloquently and today he's in good form.
We ask how he feels about his career at this stage — just where is he at? "I feel like I'm just beginning," is his reply accompanied by a smile sure to melt the hardest ice cube. "It's like water and oil — you wait for the oil to settle and then apply yourself. I guess I've got a foot of cream to go through!" and the disarming smile returns. It's difficult for me to stand on the outside and look in at myself. But in terms of the supreme plan I have for my life, I've only just begun."
If beginning comes when you've conquered audiences and charts time after time, you wonder where it'll end! He explains: "Right now, I'm planning my lifestyle, the way I want my life to be. There's far more to it than just hit records. I want to design my own way of living and I want to show people the key to entering into divinity."
A heavy remark — something which you can usually count on Mr. Green to give you. He's not a man renowned for being flippant. In ten years time? "There'll be more of an electric magnetism. You'll be able to pick up an Al Green album of '75 and see the changes in '85. It'll be more inventive. And me? Well, I was designed to be a soul minister!"
Mr. Green stresses that again. "A soul minister — getting over a soul message of love and happiness." Coming from anyone else that could possibly sound like a parody, sound trite or insincere. But something about the way Al says it lets you know it's for real. "If you know your mission, you should accomplish it, if you're wise. Just get on board! I want to go round to universities and colleges and talk. As an orator. Say what has to be said. There are certain things that just cost too much. If the wages of sin is death, then I can't afford it." He seems definite about that and concludes that, yes, there is a great deal more temptation around for young people today than ever before. "But young people have been equipped to deal with those temptations. You've still got a vast, intense temptation to encounter. And I intend my concerts to be a super help in getting over that message. The albums are saying it, my concerts will illustrate it."
That may sound somewhat egocentric. But Mr. Green is positive. He knows what he wants to say and he will say it. "I'm not here to educate everyone but I want people to know what I know. I want to be close to the people — to everyday people." We question how he can do that when we cite the instance in which he was bodily put back on stage at his opening night in New York when several young ladies grabbed at him. "I'm not interested in that whole star image. I didn't create it. The press did and the only way to break it is through word of mouth. Let people know where I'm really coming from and not where they think I'm coming from. Yes, people think of me as a sex-symbol. But I want to try and get people to understand the whole basis of life. And it's not really about sex."
He explains that when he went down into the audience it was "to get next to the people" because "I get so caught up with it all, so wound up in the spirit and I'm liable to just walk right off the stage. I did that in Washington D.C. and fell flat on my face. Because once I'm up there, I really am not aware of what's happening around me."
Al is sure that people will come around to seeing what he's all about. "I'm a thinker. That's what I want people to know. And it takes time for them to see. But they will." There is a definite plan in what the man does and he cites his last album as an example. "That album — "Full Of Fire" — was a definite step to try and get to another generation. The kids who are 20 now. We wanted to capture a whole seven-years' worth of people. So we scheme — there are a lot of uptempo, disco cuts on the album. They have a little fire in them. So now, that introduces them to me and the next album will show them where I'm really coming from. And the people we already had will dig it."
Al seems able to almost conjure that intense feeling he projects into much of his material but he remarks that it doesn't always happen. Like on opening night on Broadway. "The audience were too stiff-collared. I couldn't get off into it then. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't. And consequently performing the same material? Well, I change it around — like on "Tired Of Being Alone" we have a new rap intro. Otherwise, it would be monotonous."
Being on Broadway, Al states, was a career move. He's about ready to make some more, too. "I want to play for the President, for the elite, rich families of the world. Why? Because they are the one's who are so out of contact with the common people, with you and I. How will my show help? It will show them that we've come from pulling cotton sacks to Cadillacs. I'm doing it for my people who have to work for a living, who haven't been on top. My brother, Martin Luther King, brought us to equality. Now it's time to show those super-rich folk what's really happening down here on the ground."
We question whether said folk will really be aware of what Al is doing. He counters that it will be a supreme presentation. If they want a tap dancer, they'll get that too — because that's what they expect, that's what they're used to from us! Sure, I'll give it to them — but I'll also give them what I want them to hear."
Strong words. Full of fire. From Al Green, a man with a mission, determination and love.