Q and A

Al Green
Image: Christian Lantry

Soul man

Al Green on soul, rap and why he still loves to sing about the mushy stuff

Dated

Thu, Jan 23

Al Green / Smooth, crooning, charismatic Al Green is a musical legend who needs no introduction. The Weekly caught up with him via phone ahead of his Jan. 23 performance in Honolulu.

I want to tell you how sorry I was to hear about [renowned producer] Willie Mitchell’s passing.

He was my mentor, my dad, my counselor. He had to create the Al Green style–along with Al Jackson, who used to be the original player for Booker T. and the M.G.’s. I mean, I’ve known him 30 or 40 years. He’s like a family member. I could go over to Willie’s and have dinner any time. I used to go over there for dinner and the Temptations would be there, Billy Johnson would be there, everybody would be there. All of us would go over there and Willie’s wife would cook us dinner. They would have all of us there for Christmas because none of us had anywhere to go.

What are some of your favorite memories of Willie?

My favorite memory, well, that was in Texas, when I first met Willie Mitchell. He heard me sing at a rehearsal for the club that night and when I left, he told somebody, “Man, that kid has a voice and a half.” So I asked him how long would it take to become a star. He said, “Two years,” and I said, “That’s too long,” so I flew back to Grand Rapids. [Laughter]

What’s the biggest change you’ve observed in American music since those days?

The biggest change? I would say rap music is the biggest change I’ve heard.

Do you listen to rap music?

I listen to some of it because I’m in the business, but still, I, you know, I–See, look: When I was growing up, “I got sunshine on a cloudy day, when it’s cold outside, I got the month of May.” “My Girl” by the Temptations; I grew up in that era, you know? So when a guy comes out with a fistful of dollars and a bottle of scotch and all the little girls dancing around the car in bikinis and he’s not singing but he’s speaking, I was saying, hell, if I had known it was that easy, I would’ve just talked, made a few million just talking. [Laughter]

How has your relationship to performance changed since you started out?

You gotta be strong to do shows we do. And that’s the way Willie set it up. You gotta be physically strong. You gotta work out. It takes power. I’m just now getting back into it and, oh my God, when I did the first night I was [pants in and out]. I thought, I gotta get to the gym! You have to be in shape or you sound like, [sings] I’m so tired of being alone.

I thought that sounded great.

It might sound great, but you try to do it and it’s hard. Willie always said, “Make it sound easy,” but it’s really a butt-kicking song, and all those songs are because I got the high part on the end like [sings in crescendo] high, high, high. Now, I’ve learned how to do that in my sleep but it’s still hard.

So many people associate you with romance. I’m curious what musician you consider to be the quintessential pick for a romantic moment.

Oh God, you talking to the man now!

Well, I know that. But what about for you?

Yeah, you know, I just did an interview with someone in London and they said, “You make baby-making music,” and I said, “Huh?”

Oh, come on! You know it is!

Well, yeah, and then the guy says, “How many kids you have?” And I told him four. So, you see? [Laughter]

What kind of music are you listening to these days?

Well, I just turned on the music video channel. I’ll watch anything because I’m still learning and I don’t know everything. I get nervous before the shows, you know. And people say, “Why is he walkin’ around like that?” And the guys in the band say, “He does that before every show. He’s over in the corner. He walks around.” I get nervous until I first get out there and say hello onstage.

It’s hard to imagine you being nervous at all.

That’s part of it, and I don’t want to lose that part. If you’re nervous, that means you have some concerns about it and you really care about what you’re doing.

What can people expect to hear at your concert in Honolulu?

“Let’s Stay Together;” “Here I Am (Come And Take Me);” “I’m Still in Love with You;” “Call Me;” “Take Me To The River;” “Sha-La-La (Make Me Happy);” the Bee Gees song, “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart,” all that mushy stuff.

So in terms of the songs you’re writing these days, more mushy stuff?

Yeah, I’m working on the layout for the next album and I’m afraid it’s gonna have kind of–like, quite a bit of–mushy stuff because that’s what we do. We sing about love and overcoming and triumph and going through things and still staying together and holding tight to what you have. That’s my love with you and your love with me and I’m not going to forget that. That’s the way we do. No matter what the problem is, we gotta work it out. There’s no sense in staying mad for two days. I got that from my dad, Robert Green. He used to say, “Hell, boy, you gotta do your best. You can’t just sit around and mope about anything. Do your best.” So I’ve been doing that for 30 years.