The Reverend Al Green is having a preacher moment in 2019. “The world, you know, it’s a crazy place right now. There are so many people who think they’re right, they keep striving to prove a point,” the legendary singer and pastor reflects from his home in Memphis where he’s preparing to step away from the pulpit at his Full Gospel Tabernacle congregation to embark on an eight-date trek across the country (including the Chicago Theatre). It’s Green’s first new tour in six years at a time when America perhaps needs his message the most.
“The idea with us is L-O-V-E. We mean it from our heart, from within. The idea of love your brother, love your neighbor, we’ve been preaching this for 40 years,” he continues. “Love is the greatest gift in the world; if you have that then all this other stuff on the news wouldn’t be going on.”
When: 8 p.m. May 7
Where: Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State
The ideology to “do the best you can for as many occasions of people that you can” is something that was ingrained in Green, he says, by the late, great Willie Mitchell. Mitchell was the noted Memphis record producer who discovered the singer’s early band Al Greene & The Soul Mates and promptly signed the act to the soul and rockabilly-focused Hi Records label that Mitchell oversaw in the ‘70s. At the time, it was also the home of Ann Peebles and Otis Clay, but as a newly minted solo artist, Green would go on to become one of the label’s most accomplished R&B stars, edified by the top hits “Let’s Stay Together,” “Tired Of Being Alone” and “I’m Still In Love With You” — songs Green promises will be part of his latest tour’s set list.
That legacy was celebrated again this year on Record Store Day — which also happened to be Green’s 73rd birthday — with Fat Possum Records’ special release “Al Green — The Hi Records Singles Collection.” The collector’s edition offers 26 of the Grammy Award-winning artist and Kennedy Center Honors recipient’s 45 RPM singles remastered from the original session tapes, as well as a hardcover book with essays from critics Bob Mehr and Geoffrey Himes and musician Robert Gordon.
“I got a news alert about it on my phone,” Green says, laughing. “The record companies are really behind that but I’m just thankful people still care and I’m still able to do what I love doing. It’s been a very long career which I’m thankful for.”
Green is also pushing forward, with talk of a new album coming soon, inspired by the success he had recording and releasing “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” in 2018. His first single in a decade, it’s a soul-wrenching cover of the Freddy Fender country classic that was part of Amazon Music’s original series “Produced By,” which matches up noted producers with lauded artists. For this collaboration, Green was paired with another Memphis-ite, Matt Ross-Spang who has worked with Margo Price and Jason Isbell.
“I’m in the process now of recording a studio album, because of that song,” says Green, who continues to expand on his five-decade repertoire with the upcoming material. After dominating R&B and soul early in his career (inspired by artists like Elvis Presley and Jackie Wilson) and, in the ‘80s, moving further into the gospel music he was raised on, Green now looks to tackle country and Americana.
“I was asked to see if I could record a whole album of songs like that, the connotation is country since we live in Tennessee, not far from Nashville. I’d like to do that, maybe cut some country and R&B and Christian music. That’s three open doors right there that will help me in my desire to remain relevant in the community of music.”
Even at 73, Green is still present with what’s trending. Around the time of the release of “Before The Next Teardrop Falls,” the Reverend joined Twitter, and even now is quick to comment on current events, like lamenting the killing of rapper Nipsey Hussle (“it’s a shame he was trying to do something to better the community and somebody retaliates against his positive deeds”) and praising the choice of Chicago’s new Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot. “I think that’s going to be great [for the city],” he says.
Though he doesn’t “want to get too into politics,” Green also talks about his relationship with Barack and Michelle Obama, calling them “wonderful people” who are “stable-minded.” The former president famously covered some lines of “Let’s Stay Together” at a New York fundraiser in 2012 in which Green also appeared; the video of the event went viral and increased sales of the soul classic by 500 percent.
Just wait to see him revive the song in his upcoming Chicago show, Green says. “By the time I get to Chicago I’ll be all warmed up and blow out the cobwebs,” he chuckles. “I cannot wait to get to Chicago and get all those good people to take me to the river.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.