Al Green, it can be stated without much argument, is one of the greatest soul singers to have graced a vinyl groove.
From his secular seductions (“I’m Still in Love With You,” “You Ought to Be With Me,” “Let’s Stay Together”) to his gospel proclamations (his first spiritual album, “The Lord Will Make a Way,” arrived in 1980), Green’s velvety voice is legendary.
But he hasn’t presented it on an Atlanta stage for several years. Not only will that change on May 3, but the concert will also signal Green’s first-ever performance at the Fox Theatre.
The show is part of a short tour–his first in nearly seven years–that kicked off Wednesday in Austin, Texas.
As much as Green loves music, he maintains other obligations. Since 1976, when he became an ordained pastor following several “wake up calls” from God, Green has preached every Sunday at the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in Memphis, Tenn.
“Yeah, I’m still trying to make a hundred,” Green jokes–a frequent occurrence during a recent phone conversation from his Memphis home. But just as common is his ability to zigzag into stone seriousness. “Oh, man. Yeah, (that church) saved my life.”
The unfiltered Green talked about singing his classic songs decades after their peak, what he thinks about all of the honors he’s received and how, at 73, he maintains his stamina.
We just tried to stay out of the way and let him roll.
Q: Between your church affiliation and your music being so associated with romance, do people often ask you to officiate their wedding?
A: Yeah, I hear that a lot–“I grew up to your music.” One guy says, “Hey, we have two kids because of you,” and I go, “Okaaay.” These things, you’re part of an era that came up with you and you have to realize that’s in there. I don’t deny it because it’s a part of who we are.
Q: It doesn’t appear you’ve played Atlanta for many years. Have you gotten here much outside of your shows?
A: When I’m in Atlanta, I feel like I’m at home. I don’t get there as often as I would like to, but I still feel a close connection to Atlanta. It’s a hometown type of thing. We used to go there and eat in the restaurants. I think everybody in Atlanta, they still love (both) love and happiness.
Q: This will be your first time playing at the Fox Theatre, which seems like the perfect setting for your music.
A: I haven’t played there and (management) said, “Well, you want to play it?” and I said, “Yes!” I have all the original (band) guys from overseas that were with me from the beginning, so I don’t have to do too much.
Q: I hope we’re going to hear my favorite song of yours, “Tired of Being Alone,” in the set.
A: (Starts singing the chorus) I can’t deny “Tired of Being Alone.” It’s going to be beautiful. That song broke in Atlanta. We flew there one night to be on the radio with a lady–she had a late night show–and she was playing “Tired” like it was the only song she ever heard. We went over to say hi to her, and we got so many calls, and there was only so many calls I could answer. It was too much for me! So I had to get on the air and say, “Thank you, Atlanta, I love you” and that’s it!
Q: What are your plans for the set list? Will you include some of your gospel material?
A: We have one or two gospel songs. The rest will be greatest hits: “Love and Happiness,” “Simply Beautiful.”
Q: You haven’t toured in several years. What made this the right time?
A: I don’t know. I just said hey, let’s do about four concerts: New York, Chicago, Atlanta, L.A. Then this (promoter) comes back with 28 concerts on the page for my consideration, and I said, “You mean it’s for YOUR consideration!” (Laughs)
Q: When you sing “Let’s Stay Together” or “Tired of Being Alone” now–or prepare to do so on tour–how do you feel about them? Has age changed the way you approach your classic material?
A: I don’t think age has as much an effect as wisdom. The wisdom has put love in the forefront, and that’s a lesson that we should try to convey while we are on the road doing the music that the big man gave us to do. I gave you “Let’s Stay Together,” “Tired of Being Alone.” I gave you these songs. I’m not taking them back! I want you to continue the love. God is love, I’m not going to take that back. We’re here to convey a point of love. I’ve been watching the news coverage of that young man (rapper Nipsey Hussle, who was killed March 31 while standing in front of his clothing store in Los Angeles). I watched his videos until 1 that morning. That was a talented guy, man. All of these kids trying to help other kids finish school and do good things, and here comes some guy (the alleged shooter) who is probably not doing anything, and he takes (Hussle) out for what? Heaven knows. I don’t understand that. But the beat goes on, and there will be someone standing in his place.
Q: You’re 73. What’s a day in the life like for you? How do you maintain your health?
A: The doc says, look, when you go on the road, don’t try to tear the buildings down - just ease into it. Don’t try to strain too hard. When you start singing those songs, you start sweating, you can’t help it. It builds up excitement in me, and I don’t know how to stop it. I have to do what I can do, age-wise, and just take it easy. We’ve been doing the track, the running, about 3 miles. I think we’ll be all right. We started doing the exercises. I’m trying to do what they say and prepare Al the way I know I have to prepare him. If some lady called me and said, “Would you like for me to meet you in Atlanta or New York?” I’d say, “Uh-uh, no.” Because I’ll be working. I’m not here to entertain or do the hoopla about this, that or the other. I’m older, wiser, stronger. When I’m doing my work, don’t even call me.
Q: You’ve received so many honors–from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to Kennedy Center Honors. What do they mean to you when you look back on your career?
A: I have a whole lot of accolades, but my mama said, “Don’t. Let. It. Get. To. Your. Head.” I said, “What am I supposed to do? Smile, bow and say thank you, and go to work at the next concert?” Look, “Soul Train,” I’m the only guy who went on “Soul Train” with Don Cornelius and sang “Amazing Grace.” That was something that was appreciated by the audience and Mr. Cornelius. We had nobody dancing; just people swaying back and forth with the song. I haven’t seen anybody else do that. There’s a lot of folks who have done more than me–OK, I’ve done a couple of things–but like mama said, don’t let it go to your head. Just keep your same form. God is trying to do wonderful work with you. I think it’s wonderful advice for a guy like me. I’m not trying to be the Pope.
With The War and Treaty. 8 p.m. May 3. $46.75 - $126.75. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 1-855-285-8499, foxtheatre.org.
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