Carlton Stories - Al Green
Al Green fans such as myself have long known that Mr. Green can turn in performances that are either other worldly in their soulfulness or by the book, phoned in with the audience singing half the lyrics. You just never know what Al Green you are going to get. He has never been horrible or Sly Stone type erratic...but he could be quirky to say the least.
His 1977 performance at Radio City Music Hall was in support of his hit single, “Belle”. Patti Labelle was his opening act and she was on fire that night.
He came out in a silver satin suit with silver high heeled boots. He looked fabulous and he was in good voice, but for some reason his show didn’t gel. I remember him mentioning that his jaw hurt because someone had hit him in his jaw. A weird statement which was apropos of nothing. Many years later I would read a book written about him entitled: SOUL SURVIVOR – autobiography of Al Green, and the author Jimmy McDonaugh had done such good research that he told a story about Al Green having been attacked earlier that afternoon by a disgruntled ex musician who in fact had punched Al Green in his jaw over some delinquent payments. Al actually had a prop on stage.…a good one. There was a big liberty bell on the stage and towards the end of his set he began to ring it. Back and forth over and over and it slowly dawned on us that he was about to sing, “Belle”. No one left wanting their money back...but we definitely left talking about Patti Labelle and her sterling opening set.
A few years later In November of 1982 I would see Patti Labelle and Al Green at the Alvin theatre in the Broadway production of, “YOUR ARMS TOO SHORT TO BOX WITH GOD”. There were reports of backstage bickering between Patti and Al with Patti claiming Al was giving her fits by being so uncooperative. If so it never manifested itself onstage as I saw the show a few times and it was awe inspiring. I remember Patti Labelle bringing the house down one night and legendary vocalist Patti Austin was in the audience and she was having fits! Patti’s performance was filling her with the holy ghost it seemed like and it was wonderful to witness a phenomenal vocalist such as Ms. Austin show so much love for Ms. Labelle. After one particular death defying vocal run Ms. Austin even screamed out, “….oh my GOD, why does she do this to me?!!...”.
By the end of the run Al would go off character and start being, “AL GREEN” which was unsettling to his fellow cast members who were trained to stick to the script.
I remember one night after a particularly exhilarating gospel number by Al that left the whole theatre filled with the holy ghost the keyboard player extended the vamp. All of a sudden Al began to preach. He was clearly going off script. He got so caught up in what he was doing and the response he was getting that at one point he even preached/sang, “….I don’t do plays…I do for reals!!!...”.
The crowd screamed with delight as it was no longer an evening at the theatre on broadway. It was now an Al Green show!
Al continued on, “…I’m no Broadway actor…I’m a soul singer….a little boy from Arkansas…same little boy that sang, “TIRED OF BEING ALONE”…”.
A roar went up from the crowd.
The music swelled, “…the same little boy that sang, “I’M STILL IN LOVE WITH YOU…”.
The crowd is howling now – “…the same little boy that sang…..”LETS STAY TOGETHER”…
People you must understand, at this point in his career Al Green had stopped singing his R&B hits and was ONLY singing gospel music…hence his being cast in this role. By 1982 when you went to see AL Green, the only way you were going to hear, “Call Me (Come Back Home)” or “Here I am (Come And Take Me)” was if you sang them yourself.
For those of you who may not know the aforementioned songs were massive hit records for Mr. Green early in his secular career, both top 10 R&B/pop hits in 1972 and 1973 respectively.
So that evening in the Alvin theatre when Al merely alluded to his glorious R&B legacy, the theatre erupted and for all and intents and purposes that was the end of the show.
As Al and Patti stood onstage taking bows Al threw out his peach colored handkerchief and it floated squarely and directly into my hand. I still have it to this very day.
I have been fortunate enough to see Al Green perform as well as meet him countless times before and since that night.
I have an entire chapter dedicated to these performances and meetings in my upcoming book, “ALL THAT MATTERS IS THE MUSIC”.