Al Green and Etta James join the king of blues

by Marijke Rowland

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

12 September 2007


To the Rev. Al Green, “Love and Happiness” is more than a song. It’s more than a feeling. It’s a mission.

Green, who has led his congregation at the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis since 1979, is equal parts soul singer and soul saver. The R&B superstar turned gospel great it touring as part of the B.B. King Blues Festival with Etta James and the Roots Band Sunday.

The all-star lineup has been crisscrossing the United States since March bringing blues, soul and R&B to sold-out crowds.

Green said when he was approached about playing the shows, he had but one stipulation.

“I said it would be a fantastic show, I just demand one thing, B.B. has to be the star of the show,” he said from the road in Denver. “He has been out there longer than us, he knows more about it than us. We are a supporting act. I like to give the credit where the credit is due.”

Green said the living legends all get a kick out of watching each other’s sets from show to show.

“I mean, the show is power-packed; you don’t have no dead show,” he said. “With Etta James, she is going to do her `At last, my love has come along.’ And I am not going to try to come out there being nobody but myself. `Let’s Stay Together,’ `Sha-La-La.’ Then B.B. does his thing. Ain’t nobody slacking, everybody is doing what they do. Everybody gets to display their own self.”

The nine-time Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee rose to fame in the `70s with his signature brand of “baby-making music.” His conversion came, in part, due to a tragic death of his longtime girlfriend in 1974, who threw a pan of boiling grits on the superstar and then committed suicide. After her death, Green went on a spiritual journey that culminated in 1976 when he became an ordained minister.

“I’ve been preaching for 30 years. It’s not that I take my music or my job lightly ... we are ministering love and happiness,” he said.

“We minister the Bible, of course, but we have to minister love and happiness because there are a lot of lonely people in the world.”

In 2005, Green went back to a more secular sound with his latest studio release, “Everything’s OK.” But, as with everything in his life, Green said he is just the vessel, not the captain running the show.

“I’m not in charge of anything. We have to do what we’re told to do,” Green said of his faith.

What Green does know is that his next album, now in the works, will feature collaborations with three or four of today’s hottest young artists including British singer Corinne Bailey Rae and American R&B artist Anthony Hamilton. The as-yet-untitled project should be out this fall or early next year.

Until then, he encourages fans to come out and catch him either at the B.B. King Blues Festival or his church, where he preaches every Sunday he is not on the road. He said visitors often comment on the balance he strikes between his spiritual and musical sides.

“People say, `I saw him on the R&B stage and he was fantastic, and now let’s go catch him at the tabernacle.’ The feeling, the emotion, it’s the same,” he said.

After one service he said some Japanese tourists came up to him and gave him the perfect compliment: “They said, `The spiritual side is very good, very equal balanced as the rock `n’ roll side.’”

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