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American Routes Shortcuts: Al Green

Al Green
American Routes

Al Green and his band, the Creations, including high school friends Curtis Rodgers and Palmer James, had their first hit in 1968. A year later, Green met up with Memphis producer Willie Mitchell, and the two went on to record hit after hit throughout the 1970s, including “Here I Am.” Green was born outside of Memphis in Forrest City, Arkansas, where he grew up close to the land.

Al Green: Well I was given the job of the shepherd type. I took care of the cattle; I herded the cattle out to pasture, going out 2 o’clock in the morning and one of my cows or goats are having a little baby. So I’m a country, country boy.

Nick Spitzer: How did you get off then into the world where you yourself became somebody singing church songs?

AG: Moving to Michigan at an early age. So at nine I’m in Michigan, I start singing with the church choir down the street, and then I got put in the glee club because they discovered in shop class that I could sing. I didn’t know I could sing.

NS: Let’s talk about making songs. Maybe there’s a song that you’d like to tell me about.

AG: Well the hardest one to me was “Still in Love With You.” That song scared my pants off. Well I sung it so long, so many times, take 22, and I’m going like, “Willie, please just let me hear it so I can understand where I’m at. What am I doing? What am I doing wrong, what am I doing right? Play it back, let me hear it.” And he’s trying to get me to sing, “You gotta sing high, but I don’t want it to sound like you’re singing high. I want it to sound like you’re just sitting here chilling out in a chair.” I’m saying, how in the world can I sing this high and it sounds like he’s just sitting back relaxing? Okay so I sung so long until I just said, “Okay, well I’m going. See you.” And I left the song on the rack, and I left out, and I went home, and I woke up at 4 o’clock one morning, called Willie on the phone, says, “I think I got it.” We went down to the studio, opened the studio about 5 o’clock in the morning, birds singing all over the place. I went in and sung the song one time and that was it. And he said, “That’s it, that’s it.”

NS: Maybe one other song we could talk about, “Let’s Stay Together?”

AG: Well that speaks for itself doesn’t it? That was after the riots they were having in ’68 and the traumatic affect that it had on so many people, all people, and the uncertainty of the times. Bobby and Martin, all these things, and I wanted to write something that seemed- “Let’s stay together, loving you whether times are good or bad.” You know at that time we definitely had some bad times, “happy or sad, I’m so in love with you, whatever you want to do.”

NS: You’re applying the love to humanity.

AG: That’s right.

NS: Not just to another person.

AG: That’s right, I’m trying to bring all these people, the Asians, the Mexican-Americans, Hispanics, also the cultural people in our community, whatever you want to do is all right, you make me feel so brand new. I want to spend my life with you.

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