Thursday, November 20, 2008

Simply Beautiful.


So this was originally published in Boston's Weekly Dig, my former stomping grounds, yesterday. But I wanted to wait until the extended interview was up and running online to post it on Two Day Old Shit. So here it is. Ladies and gentlemen, the most important professional moment of my life, the greatest opportunity I have ever been handed by any editor (thanks again, David Day) and the most personally satisfying and meaningful interview I have ever conducted. The legendary Reverend Al Green.


[defend yourself]
AL GREEN

By Isabelle Davis

Extended Interview: Web Exclusive

The greatest Southern soul singer of all time. The man responsible for many conceptions. The 62-year-old reverend with a flawless falsetto. The crusader of love and happiness. The legendary Al Green.


HI, HOW ARE YOU?

I don't know.

YOU DON'T KNOW?

No.

NO? WHERE ARE YOU RIGHT NOW?

Trying to get reregulated back to American time.

WHERE WERE YOU JUST AT?

Stockholm.

HOW WAS IT OVER THERE?

Sold out.

GOOD, GOOD! I'M GLAD. I JUST HAVE A FEW QUESTIONS.

OK. Number one.

I SAW YOU AT THE NEWPORT JAZZ FESTIVAL IN 2007.

Good!

AND I SAW YOU THIS PAST SUMMER IN CHICAGO, I WENT WITH MY MOM.

Did you like it?

I'M ACTUALLY IN CHICAGO RIGHT NOW.


No, I mean did we do a good show?

EACH TIME I SAW YOU, IT WAS LIKE LISTENING TO ONE OF YOUR RECORDS. IT WAS JUST IMPECCABLE.

It was like this trance thing they was talking about overseas, "He goes into some type of trance or something performing these songs." But I mean, I don't mean to, but the songs themselves have a transcendental type of motion, of movement to them or something.

THEY DO, AND I WAS GOING TO TELL YOU, YOUR VOICE HAS NOT CHANGED A BIT. HOW DO YOU KEEP IT IN SUCH IMMACULATE CONDITION?

Well, those are nice words you're using now Ms. Davis, but I don't know, I don't do anything. I didn't give it to me, so I don't really know how to keep it. All these songs I didn't give it to me either, so I kinda, like, don't know. I know they were talking about me walking, prancing, back and forth, backstage, walking from end to end of the dressing room before you go on, I just get, it's not upset, I'm just nervous. I have a lot of emotion, I guess, pent up on the inside and I'm trying to just, while they're getting prepped, you know, ready to call you on, I'm trying to, I'm just a total wreck. And I'm trying to—and then when I get out there, then, slowly it goes away.

STILL, AFTER ALL THESE YEARS, YOU GET STAGE FRIGHT?

Ohhh! See! I shoulda thought of that. See, stage fright, that's what it's called.

THERE YOU GO!

I mean, I guess I still've got it, because it just amazes me. I don't know, I don't call it that. I'm just nervous before, well, you know.

I WANT TO TALK A LITTLE ABOUT LAY IT DOWN. BEAUTIFUL ALBUM. AND I WANTED TO ASK YOU, I READ THAT WHEN YOU GUYS WERE GETTING READY TO MAKE THE ALBUM, YOU AND THE FELLOW PRODUCERS WANTED TO KEEP THE CAMEO LIST RELATIVELY SHORT. I HEARD YOU GUYS WERE GETTING, OBVIOUSLY, CALLS, YOU KNOW, OFF THE HOOK, PEOPLE WANTING TO CONTRIBUTE AND BE INVOLVED. HOW DID YOU GUYS CHOOSE CORINNE BAILEY RAE, JOHN LEGEND, ANTHONY HAMILTON? HOW DID YOU GUYS WEED OUT EVERYBODY THAT WANTED TO BE INVOLVED?

That's amazing because, we kinda like, didn't plan it. We planned to do a duet album. That was a plan. But who, was to do, who was Al gonna do the duets with? That we didn't plan. And the people that we had wrote down in the car on the way to the studio was either, well, one was Justin Timberlake—he was in Australia so he couldn't do it—there was other folks that we had—they were on tour in Canada or someplace so they couldn't do it. And the very people that we didn't think could do it, like John, just so happened to be in New York and heard about the album and came over to hear one of the tracks, John Legend, and he liked "Stay with Me (By the Sea)". And there you go, it's weird stuff, I mean, it's just kinda weird, we didn't plan it, Anthony Hamilton came to the studio, brought his wife, he heard the song "Lay It Down," he said, "Hey, man, lemme put some background vocals on it," and we already, me and Corinne, had already put background vocals on it, so we told him, "Go on and put 'em on there" and he put it on there and we used it, it turned out to be the background vocals for the song. I don't know. It's me and Anthony singing. I don't really know how this stuff came to be, but it's very miraculous how it did come out, you know, because we're all kinda amazed that it came out as well as it did. Free-for-fall, like free-for-fall, not planned it.

HOW DID WORKING WITH ?UESTLOVE AND JAMES POYSER DIFFER FROM WORKING WITH WILLIE MITCHELL? WHAT WAS ONE OF THE MAIN DIFFERENCES?

I don't know what the differences is because if you see the video on the quick clip—

YEAH, I'VE SEEN IT.

It's just, like, everybody's gathered around, Al's sittin' on the floor, with 10,000 papers scattered around everywhere, and everybody, the bass player you know, Adam Blackstone, all these people are gathered around, the organ player, all these people are gathered around him in the center of the floor, we were writing these songs.

IT WAS MORE OF A COMMUNAL EFFORT.

Yeah, it's like on an inspiration. You just do something on inspiration. I'm not planning it. [It's not like], "These eight songs we done had in the trunk for 50 years." I mean these songs we just wrote in February.

I KNOW, I MEAN, THE ALBUM SOUNDS VERY, VERY ORGANIC.

Yeah.

DID YOU GUYS HAVE SOME EDITING PROCESSES? YOU KNOW, MAYBE DO A SONG AND GO BACK AND BE LIKE, OK THIS WORKS, I STILL FEEL GOOD ABOUT IT. DID YOU HAVE A WAY TO KIND OF TRIM IT DOWN TO THE 11 CUTS THAT WOUND UP ON THE ALBUM?

No, I was on tour when they were doing that part [laughs], but I'm telling you the whole thing, I mean it's weird—when they did the mixing, I wasn't even up in New York, I was on tour, and you know, all the musicians were calling me telling how it was turning out and it was like, "Oh, OK fantastic, can you send me a cut of it?" They would send me maybe a cut. But I wasn't really there to tell them to take this out, put this in, trim this down. I wasn't there to do that, no.

WOULD YOU WORK WITH THEM AGAIN? WOULD YOU WORK WITH ?UESTLOVE?

Oh, I'd love to.

I WANTED TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT SECULAR AND RELIGIOUS LOVE, BECAUSE A LOT OF SOUL MUSIC IS MARRIED TO GOSPEL, AND MANY OF YOUR SONGS, YOUR OLDER SONGS AND ON THIS ALBUM, COULD BE TALKING ABOUT A LOVE FOR A HIGHER POWER, OR A PERSON. THESE RELIGIOUS CONNOTATIONS, ARE THEY A CONSCIOUS EFFORT WHEN YOU'RE SINGING? OR IS IT MORE AN OPEN-ENDED THING, LIKE YOU CAN TAKE WHAT YOU WANT FROM IT AS A LISTENER?


Oh, it's uh, it's uh, you can't just go into a studio that's costing you four or five thousand dollars a day, and you got all these musicians that you gotta pay, studio session costs, and you don't know what you wanna say [laughs]. No, you know what you wanna say and we wrote this, but the design is like, "Take me to the river, wash me down, cleanse my soul, and put my feet on the ground."

IT'S NOT ONLY FOR A PERSON, BUT IT COULD BE A LOVE FOR ANYBODY, A HIGHER POWER.

Right, it could. How could anybody say, for instance, if you use it metaphorically, "Take me to the river, wash me down," cleanse me, and then they said "cleanse my soul." Well how is a person gonna cleanse your soul and put my feet on the ground? That's like I'm talking to somebody that's gonna be higher than somebody who just simply says, "I love you and I'll see you after dinner." Of course the songs have a meaning. "Lay it down" means, a secular connotation, it means, you know, like what Al says on the stage, he say "lay it down," he say "lay your love down," it's intertwined like that because he has a design he wants to follow and he has a desire to follow a certain design and he's leaving himself space and room.

I KNOW YOUR DAUGHTER SINGS BACKUP. WHAT'S THAT LIKE, TOURING WITH HER? IS THAT FUN?

Yeah, I would like to hang her. [laughs] No, she's a sweetheart and she's got a beautiful voice and the girls, Valisa too, is a friend of hers, and they just do a great job and I'm real proud of them.

IS SHE JUST LIKE, "OH WHATEVER, YOU'RE JUST MY DAD, WHATEVER."

Yeah, I mean, that's Dad, and on the road I just, I kinda let her and Valisa handle a lot of things I don't have to do on the road. Because this is my daughter, and this is Valisa, and Valisa is a member of the church also, and my daughter is a member of the church also, and I'm the pastor of the church also, and therefore we on the road also, singing "Love and Happiness" also. So it's kinda like a trip, it's far out; I mean people are out here. I mean I don't know if He's trying to draw people to a certain idea. I'm trying to draw people to a certain lifestyle. A better lifestyle.

A LIFESTYLE OF LOVE AND POSITIVITY.

Guns and drugs and this and that and violence and shooting and killing and cutting—I'm trying to draw people to a "Love and Happiness," yeah, you know, right, right.

WHAT'S YOUR LIFE LIKE BEING A REVEREND IN MEMPHIS WHEN YOU'RE NOT TOURING? DO PEOPLE STILL COME UP TO YOU ALL THE TIME, STARSTRUCK?

Well, I live in Memphis. So living in Memphis, people give you your space. But [laughs] they'll follow you to a restaurant. They love you and [are like], "I don't wanna impose, but could you sign the back of my T-shirt?" And I'm like, "You got the T-shirt on!" And the lady says, "I don't care! Al, just sign it!" And I just laugh and hug her and sign it for her because I know it ain't about nothin' man, it ain't about no big thing, man. I mean, I been living here 26 years so I mean, everybody know me and they know me, but still, [they're like], "I don't want him to think I'm just starstruck, but still, I'm drawn to him and I love his music and I love the songs that he's made and he's still making." And it's kinda like that, yeah.

I KNOW YOU GET THIS ALL THE TIME, BUT YOUR MUSIC TRULY CHANGED MY LIFE, AND I JUST WANT TO SAY THANK YOU FOR THE OPPORTUNITY TO SPEAK WITH YOU.

Thank you, Ms. Davis, it was a pleasure talking to you.

[Al Green. Fri 11.21.08. Showcase Live, 23 Patriot Place, Foxborough. 781.461.1600. 8pm/all ages/$80-$175. ticketmaster.com]


1 comment:

anthony said...

he's crazy! i really like how subtly the third-person narrative is woven in there. it's not seinfeldishly overt, but it's undeniable. it's also funny to see his vision for progress (love and happiness) is his old hit song. that's like paul mccartney musing over some ebony and ivory shit in ten years, except sort of the opposite. wait.