Albert L. Greene (born April 13, 1946), often known as The Reverend Al Green, is an American singer, songwriter and record producer, best known for recording a series of soul hit singles in the early 1970s, including “Take Me to the River”, “Tired of Being Alone”, “I’m Still in Love with You”, “Love and Happiness” and his signature song, “Let’s Stay Together”. Inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, Green was referred to on the museum’s site as being “one of the most gifted purveyors of soul music”. He has also been referred to as “The Last of the Great Soul Singers”. Green was included in the Rolling Stone list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, ranking at No. 65.
Albert Leornes Greene was born on April 13, 1946, in Forrest City, Arkansas. The sixth of ten children born to Cora Lee and Robert G. Greene, Jr., a sharecropper, Al began performing with his brothers in a group called the Greene Brothers at around the age of ten. The Greene family relocated to Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the late 1950s. Al was kicked out of the family home while in his teens, after his religiously devout father caught him listening to Jackie Wilson.
“I also listened to Mahalia Jackson, all the great gospel singers. But the most important music to me was those hip-shakin’ boys: Wilson Pickett and Elvis Presley. I just loved Elvis Presley. Whatever he got, I went out and bought.”
In high school, Al formed a vocal group called Al Greene & the Creations. Two of the group’s members, Curtis Rodgers and Palmer James, formed an independent label called Hot Line Music Journal. In 1968, having changed their name to Al Greene & the Soul Mates, they recorded the song “Back Up Train”, releasing it on Hot Line Music. The song was a hit on the R&B charts. However, the group’s subsequent follow-ups failed to chart, as did their debut album Back Up Train. While performing with the Soul Mates, Green came into contact with Memphis record producer Willie Mitchell, who hired him in 1969 to be a vocalist for a Texas show with Mitchell’s band. Following the performance, Mitchell asked Green to sign with his Hi Records label.
Having noted that Green had been trying to sing like Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett and James Brown, Mitchell became his vocal mentor, coaching him into finding his own voice. Before releasing his first album with Hi, Green removed the final “e” from his name. Subsequently, he released Green Is Blues (1969), which was a moderate success. His follow-up album, Al Green Gets Next to You (1971), featured the hit R&B cover of the Temptations’ “I Can’t Get Next to You”, recorded in a slow blues-oriented version. The album also featured his first significant hit, “Tired of Being Alone”, which sold a million copies and was certified gold, becoming the first of seven consecutive gold singles Green would record in the next couple of years.
Green’s next album, Let’s Stay Together (January 1972), solidified his place in soul music. The title track was his biggest hit to date, reaching number one on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts. The album became his first to be certified gold. His follow-up, I’m Still in Love with You (October 1972) went platinum with the help of the singles “Look What You Done for Me” and the title track, both of which went to the top ten on the Hot 100. His next album, Call Me (April 1973) produced three top ten singles: “You Ought to Be with Me”, “Call Me (Come Back Home)” and “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)”. Green’s album Livin’ for You (December 1973) was his last album to be certified gold.
In addition to these hit singles, Green also had radio hits with songs such as “Love and Happiness”, his cover of the Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”, “Simply Beautiful”, “What a Wonderful Thing Love Is” and “Take Me to the River”, later covered successfully by new wave band Talking Heads and blues artist Syl Johnson. Green continued to record successful R&B hits in the next several years including “Livin’ for You”, “Let’s Get Married”, “Sha-La-La (Makes Me Happy)”, “L-O-V-E (Love)” and “Full of Fire”. By the time Green released the album, The Belle Album in 1977, however, Green’s record sales had plummeted, partially due to Green’s own personal issues during this time and his desire to become a minister. His last Hi Records album, Truth n’ Time, was released in 1978 and failed to become a success. Two years later, he left Hi for Myrrh Records and recorded only gospel music for the next decade and a half.
Green’s first gospel album, The Lord Will Make a Way, was released in 1980. The title song from the album would later win Green his first of eight Grammy Awards in the Best Soul Gospel Performance category. In 1982, Green co-starred with Patti LaBelle in the Broadway play, “Your Arms Too Short to Box with God”. His 1985 gospel album, He Is the Light reunited Green with Willie Mitchell while his 1987 follow-up, Soul Survivor, featured the minor hit, “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”, which reached number 22 on the R&B chart, his first top 40 R&B hit since “I Feel Good” in 1978.
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