Al Green

By and
Photography Berry Berenson

Published April 7, 2017

GLENN O’BRIEN: You were a big hit at the Copa. How did you like playing there?

AL GREEN: It was good, very good. It was my second time.

O’BRIEN: Do you like playing night clubs better than concerts?

GREEN: There’s a tendency to make more money at concerts. That’s from a financial standpoint. Night clubs have a better feel, better contact between the artist and the audience.

O’BRIEN: What’s the best night club you’ve played?

GREEN: The best night club I’ve played? I’d say The Latin Casino in Cherry Hill. I think I’ll enjoy the Rivera in Las Vegas. [Al considers a moment] The Latin Casino.

O’BRIEN: What makes The Latin Casino so good?

GREEN: They give you everything. [Al laughs because everything is obviously an understatement.] They give you places to stay, all the food you can eat, all the champagne they just give it to you… they just make you take champagne. They just get bags of champagne… they give you four or five bottles… say “Take this home with you,” Instead of staying in the hotel they have a house for your to stay in. They give you all the food you can eat… every day. Plus they pay you, so why not? Hahahaha! You said the one I enjoy. Hahahahaha!

O’BRIEN: When did you start in show business?

GREEN: In show business now about five years ago. I started recording in ’67. In the first part of ’68 my first single was “Backup Train.” That was success to a degree. Four years have passed by since then and I have managed to come up with a few measly sellers.

O’BRIEN: On Soul Train they said you had started about ten or twelve years ago and we were wondering why we hadn’t heard anything.

GREEN: I’m twenty five. I got started when I was nineteen. But I started singing earlier. I started singing when I was a little kid. I was about nine when we had a group with my four brothers. We sang spirituals. The old regular thing. The spiritual bag. Just about like everybody else I guess. It’s fun. A lot of religious feeling, but there’s no money. The money is funny. As they say. The group has since broken up you know. They’re all married fellows now. Big fellows. Families. That type of thing.

O’BRIEN: When you first started out on your own were you doing the same type of material that you’re doing now?

GREEN: No because then I didn’t write. I write all of my things now. I wasn’t into writing. I wasn’t into the concept of what I call real music, free music. Free music to me is music without boundaries. It’s music that… says you don’t have to play a blues in three chord change. See what I’m -saying. Music that can go from any range. The boundaries are from the sky to the center of the earth. Do you see what I mean?

O’BRIEN: Yes.

GREEN: This is the type of music that we try to do. This is the kind of music that I like to record. Because I know what I can do what I want to.

O’BRIEN: Do you do the arrangements?

GREEN: I have two bands. A studio band and a performing band. But you couldn’t tell. Could you?

O’BRIEN: No.

GREEN: No problems. [A knock at the door.] Ah, Miss Wills! This is my secretary Miss Wills. A professional.

O’BRIEN: Is there any special reason that you use two sets of musicians?

GREEN: Yeeuusss. The musicians I’ve been using in the studio, I’ve been using for four years. I don’t want to change now. They’ve come up with hit after hit. Why climb down off a winning horse and ride somebody else’s cripple. [All laugh] So why change?

O’BRIEN: I just wondered why you didn’t take them on the road.

GREEN: Well the band I record with is not my band. Theoretically. ‘Cause this band used to travel with Willie Mitchell when he was doing night club appearances. But he don’t do night club appearances any more. So this just leaves the studio band kind of idle just for studio work. I had to form my own band to take on the road because I had a ton of gigs and no band. And he was using his band for his gigs at the time. The band I formed I just kept because they’re all young cats, they’re very good musicians.

O’BRIEN: Who were your big influences when you were starting out?

GREEN: Sam Cooke was my favorite. Jackie Wilson. Carl Jeeter.

O’BRIEN: Any groups?

GREEN: Naw. Groups are alright. Kids like groups. Have you noticed that kids like to slow dance off of groups that play what I call baby music. You know how some groups sing. [Al sings in a high falsettoLa La Laaa. La La Laaaaaa O000h O000h Babyeeeeuuh. This type of thing. And little kids like to slow dance and be fast you know.

O’BRIEN: Who do you think is great now?

GREEN: Groups, I like The Stylistics, I like The Osmonds. I like everything because everything has a different scope, a different range to me. I like… uh… Al Green. Wait a minute! Something’s going wrong with this interview. I like Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes. That’s a new group that’s coming. They’ve been singing about twelve years. They’re fantastic. You’ll hear them I’m sure. I like everybody. I like a little Coffey music every now and then. I mean I can be walking down the aisles in the airport snapping my fingers.

O’BRIEN: What was it like to be on Soul Train? They’re the best dancers in the world.

GREEN: Best in the world. Believe you me! Now these kids can really dance. I don’t know where they learn dance so…

O’BRIEN: They make them up. They have a contest now where they make them up. It’s very good. Done out in L.A. [Seen in New York at 11 AM Saturdays on Channel 5.] Any new records coming out?

GREEN: Sure I’ve got a new song coming out, it’s called You Oughta Be With Me.” A title’s got to conjure up a whole meaning in a few worlds. Like “Let’s Stay Together.” You can put a period behind it. It still makes sense. Or “I’m Still In Love With You.”

O’BRIEN: The flip sides of your records are in my opinion just as good as the hits. “Get Back Baby.”

GREEN: You remember that?

O’BRIEN: Sure. I love it.

GREEN: Haha! That was kind of junky wasn’t it. We were just having fun with that. Stick that on the back. We just have a lot of fun when we record. We don’t try to make things so technical, Everybody comes into the studio and they do what they want to do. Knock out the lights. Everything is copasetic. Really fine you know. No sweat Jim. Cut a good record and be done with it. I like to put something just as good on the other side cause all the songs are mine.

O’BRIEN: La La For You. [Ronny’s thinking up flip sides]

GREEN: Key! This cat here’s been listening. That’s on the flip side of “I’m Still In Love With You.”

O’BRIEN: No it’s “Look What You’ve Done.”

GREEN: “Look What You’ve Done For Me!” I don’t even know myself! Ha Ha! That’s very good.

O’BRIEN: I don’t know anything about the albums but I’ve got all the 45’s.

GREEN: Hey, give me your card and I’ll send you my new album. It’s not even out yet. “I’m Still In Love With You.” It’s very good…Get Roy Orbison’s song “Pretty Woman.” Kris Kristofferson’s “For The Good Times.” A lot of good things.

O’BRIEN: Has anybody else recorded any of your songs?

GREEN: Yeah. Small timers… like Tom Jones, Sammy Davis Jr., The Jackson Five, you know… small time.

O’BRIEN: What did the Jackson Five do?

GREEN: Michael’s done “Let’s Stay Together.” It’s forthcoming. Tom Jones did “I’m So Tired of Being Alone” on the latest Tom Jones Album Closeup.

O’BRIEN: We haven’t heard it.

GREEN: I’m terribly sorry. What can I say? The man sings what he wants.

BERRY BERENSON: He’s very good.

GREEN: He’s very good. [Al says this in a slightly higher octave.]

BERENSON: I just don’t like his approach.

GREEN: His approach?

O’BRIEN: Too direct.

RONNY: He’s a turn on.

GREEN: Is he too direct?

BERENSON: I think he stuffs his pants.

GREEN: Ahem. [Al whispers] We’ve got to get that in. Some I have made and some I just buy. I like to look around all over. The same for my house. I like to buy something in Houston. Buy something in Dallas, Detroit. One piece or two.

O’BRIEN: Where do you live?

GREEN: Memphis, Tennessee. I’m moving out into the forest. It’s really great. Deer coming around. The house is built on different levels. I guess it has about twenty five rooms. Very hip, built on a swing angle.

O’BRIEN: Do you ever want to be in a movie?

GREEN: Yeah I’d like that. That’d be really, really good. I’ve been really interested in getting into a movie. I’ve got a project that I got from Universal Pictures to do a title song from a movie. I’m still reading the script.

O’BRIEN: Did you see Superfly?

GREEN: No I haven’t caught that.

BERENSON: Who do you think is the best musician?

GREEN: As far as I’m concerned? I really don’t know. I have no concept of it. What do you think?

BERENSON: Stevie Wonder.

GREEN: Oh my God! You’ve gotta be kidding me. He’s at the Apollo. Hahaha! I dig him.

O’BRIEN: What do you think of the Rolling Stones now?

GREEN: The album The Rolling Stones, Now!?

O’BRIEN: No, just in general.

GREEN: Fantastic. Very extraordinary. The is very free music. Very open music alive music. Very, pop music. I’m classic pop.

CUTRONE: I don’t consider you pop. That’s what I’m saying.

O’BRIEN: Pop is anybody that sells right?

GREEN: No no no no no no no no. You’re conducting this interview for Interview. You should know these things.

BERENSON: My God what kind of an interview is this?

GREEN: All right I’ll interview you. You albums and be pop. Look at The Stones. They sell more albums anybody and they’re completely pop.

O’BRIEN: I’ll let that drop and turn to Ronny.

CUTRONE: Do you have a girlfriend or wife?

GREEN: No I’m not married. I’m a bachelor probably get married later on. When I’m thirty.

O’BRIEN: Do you have one girlfriend?

GREEN: No. I’m a freelancer. Ha! Wait a minute. That’s off the record. No you can’t print that!

O’BRIEN: Can we have your autograph?

GREEN: On any piece of paper but a contract.

THIS INTERVIEW ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE NOVEMBER 1972 ISSUE OF INTERVIEW.

For more from our archives, click here