Celebrating Seniors - Al Green Turns 70
Vintage music videos and the story of the Rev. Al Green – Tired of Being Alone, Lets Stay Together, I’m Still in Love With You, You Ought To Be With Me, Sha-La-La (Makes Me Happy), Put a Little Love in Your Heart (with Annie Lennox). Below, Al Green in his younger years and more recently as a senior in 2014.
(Al Green 1976 Photo: EMI-CAPITOL / the Right Stuff)
When baby boomer and new septuagenarian senior citizen the Reverend Al Green (Albert Leornes Greene) was born on April 13, 1946 in Forest City, Arkansas, he was the 6th of 10 children for his sharecropper parents, Robert and Cora Greene. Al sang in the Greene Brothers group with his family at age ten; the Greene’s moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan when he was a young teenager.
Al Green has said his early influences were R & B, blues, gospel, and rock n’ roll singers such as Elvis Presley, Wilson Pickett, Sam Cooke and Mahalia Jackson.He told Rolling Stone magazine in 1973 that:
“When I was 15 or so I began bringing records into the house: Jackie Wilson, James Brown. Dad didn’t mind when I listened to Sam Cooke…But to bring rock ‘n’ roll, pop or blues records into the house was a no-no. And once I started doing that, I didn’t get along too well with my dad. So when I was 16 I up and left. I moved in with a friend of mine and we started a group, my first pop group, Al Green and the Creations.”
After name of the group changed to Al Greene & the Soul Mates, they recorded the Back Up Train album (1967) on an independent label. The hit single from that album, Back Up Train (1967) was a #5 R&B chart hit that year.
Memphis record producer Willie Mitchell signed Al to his Hi Records label in 1969 after hearing him perform. In 1970, after having changed his last name from Greene to Green, Al recorded his second album for Hi Records – Al Green Gets Next to You (1970).
The single Tired of Being Alone (1971) written and sung by Al Green, was a Billboard Hot 100 Top 11 chart hit (#7 on the R&B charts). Tired of Being Alone has been covered by many other artists including Tom Jones and Michael Bolton, and was on the soundtrack for the movies Dead Presidents (1995) and Love Don’t Cost A Thing (2003). Tired of Being Alone was the 1st of 7 gold hit singles in a row for Al Green. Below, Al Green in a pink hotpants and hat, performing Tired of Being Alone on Soul Train in 1972.
Greene’s 3rd album for Hi Records, Let’s Stay Together (1971) yielded the #1 hit single (Hot 100 and R&B charts) by the same name. Let’s Stay Together has been used in the soundtrack for numerous movies including Pulp Fiction (1994), How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days (2003), and Munich (2005). Below, Al Green singing Let’s Stay Together, written by Al Green, Willie Mitchell, and Al Jackson, Jr., live in 1972 on the CTV musical variety TV series Rollin’ on the River (1971-1973).
I’m Still in Love With You (1972) was Green’s 4th solo album and it went platinum. On the album were 2 Top 5 hit singles and the song Love and Happiness (1972), which was written by Al Green and guitarist Mabon “Teenie” Hodges and has been covered by numerous artists.
The first hit single, Look What You Done for Me (1972), was written by Al Green, Al Jackson, Jr., and Willie Mitchell, and climbed to #4 on the Hot 100 and #2 on the R&B charts. The title song I’m Still in Love With You (1972) was also written by the songwriting combination of Al Green, Al Jackson, Jr., and Willie Mitchell. It was a #3 Hot 100 and #1 R&B chart hit single.
From the new album Call Me (1972), 3 Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 hit singles emerged. The album also included the song Love and Happiness (1972), written by Al Green and Teenie Hodges, which has been covered by Etta James and numerous other artists and can be heard in the soundtrack of several movies.
- Call Me (Come Back Home) (1973) written by Al Green, Al Jackson, Jr., and Willie Mitchell, and Here I Am (Come and Take Me) (1973) written by Al Green and Teenie Hodges, were both #10 Hot 100 hit singles.
- Here I Am (Come and Take Me) has been covered by Michael Jackson, Etta James, and other artists, and was included in the movie soundtrack for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005).
- You Ought to Be With Me (1972) again written by the trio of Al Green, Al Jackson, Jr., and Willie Mitchell, made it to #3 on the Hot 100, and #1 on the R&B charts.
Green’s last album to be certified gold was Livin’ for You (1973). The title song Livin’ for You (1973) written by Al Green and Willie Mitchell was a #1 R&B chart hit single (#19 on the Hot 100 charts)
The song Take Me to the River (1974) written by Al Green and Teenie Hodges, was on the Al Green Explores Your Mind (1974) album but wasn’t released as a single. The song has since been covered by Foghat, Levon Helm, Bryan Ferry and other artists. 26 years later, Green’s autobiography was also titled Take Me to the River (2000).
On the same album with Take Me to the River was the single Sha-La-La (Makes Me Happy). Written and performed by Al Green, Sha-La-La (Makes Me Happy) made it to #7 on the Hot 100 charts (#2 R&B charts).
In his 2005 autobiography Take Me to the River, Green describes living the rock and roll lifestyle, drinking and enjoying trysts with numerous women. Despite a “born again” experience while on tour in 1973 and expressing a desire to explore gospel music, Green didn’t immediately change his lifestyle.
(Al Green 1973 Photo: Mike Douglas Show)
In October 1974, one of Al Green’s girlfriends at the time – Mary Woodson White – reportedly objected to his refusal to marry her. They were at his home in Memphis, Tennessee when White poured boiling grits on him and caused severe burns to Al Green’s back, stomach, and arms, before she shot and killed herself with his gun.
White turned out to have a history of psychiatric problems and was already a married mother of four who had left her husband.
In an interview with The Telegraph in 2005, Green said he did not know Mary Woodson White’s history or that she was married.
The following year, the albums Full of Fire and Al Green is Love (1975) were released. Full of Fire‘s title track was a #1 R&B hit single, and L-O-V-E (1975) from Al Green is Love, was also #1 hit on the R&B charts and as well as making to #13 on the Hot 100 charts.
Al Green had met singer Margaret Foxworth of Cleveland, Ohio – according to her biography on AllMusic.com, “when he was hot with a string of hits.” Margaret became a backup singer for Green and toured with him. She moved to Memphis and they had a romantic relationship at some point, although they never married; Margaret Foxworth had his son Al Green, Jr.
In 1976 Al Green became an ordained pastor and bought a church in Memphis, Tennessee to hold services. Margaret Foxworth returned to Ohio but continued to work with Green professionally; she is credited as a vocalist on Al Green’s The Belle Album (1977) and his Tokyo Live (1981) album, and worked on his early gospel albums. Their grown son Al Green Jr., lives in Cleveland as well.
By 1977, Green’s record sales were dropping. He married his backup singer and church administrator Shirley Kyles, a gospel singer in June 1977. According to Shirley in an interview for the Chicago Tribune, they had met at church the year before. Shirley said she was a victim of abuse and beatings during their marriage, beginning within days of getting married.
In June 1978, Al Green was arrested after beating a woman named Lovie Smith with a tree limb; according to the August 25, 1979 Baltimore Afro-American newspaper, the charges were dismissed when Smith failed to show up for trial. After suffering injuries from a fall while performing in 1979, Al Green turned his focus on his church and gospel singing, instead of R&B. He left the Hi Records label and moved to Myrrh Records to record gospel music. Green’s Grammy Award-winning gospel song The Lord Will Make a Way (1980) is from the album of the same name.
That same year Al Green and Shirley had their first of three daughters – Alva Lei Green (b. 1980); followed by daughters Rubi Renee Green (b. 1982) and Kora Kishe Green (b. 1983). Shirley and Al divorced in early 1983.
Green was back in the Top 10 of the Hot 100 charts in 1988 with his duet with Annie Lennox of Put a Little Love in Your Heart (1988), which was on the soundtrack of the Bill Murray movie Scrooged (1988). Below, Al Green and Annie Lennox in a music video for Put a Little Love in Your Heart, featuring clips from Scrooged.
As he approached his 50+ years, Al Green was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995; and earned his Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. Since then Green has recorded more solo albums and collaborated on albums and singles with other artists. As of 2005, Al Green confessed to having married twice more after his 1983 divorce from Shirley – to Clover Dixon for 7 months, and to another unnamed woman prior to 1995, who had his son Trevor Green (born approximately 1996, according to a CNN.com article dated June 1999). Al spoke about his children including his youngest, daughter Kala Green (b. 2001) in an interview with Ebony magazine in 2004; Kala’s mother is unnamed.
Below, Al Green with his 2014 Kennedy Center Honors Medallion.
(Al Green 2014 Photo: U.S. Department of State | Flickr PD)
Al Green’s last album was the soul music Lay it Down (2009) a departure from gospel songs; guest artists Corinne Bailey Rae and John Legend collaborated. Lay it Down was well received critically and made it to #9 on the Billboard album charts. If you’re in Memphis you can join the Reverend Al Green in worship services at his Full Gospel Tabernacle church and hear him sing.