I first saw him at the Beacon Theater in New York City, way back when, before he found God and became a preacher man. After his band warmed up the sold-out audience with a few jazz numbers and an overture of bits of some of his many hits, a red spotlight swiveled its beam to the back of the audience and to the door to the lobby that suddenly swung open. And dancing jubilantly down the aisle came the soul legend himself, red roses in hand, sporting a shiny, bright, white suit, high-fiving those with aisle seats, and then bouncing up the steps and onto the stage while the band blared "Tired of Being Alone," Green's first big hit in 1971. The show then continued for a couple of hours in a whirling blur of sustained southern soul fervor.
I would have caught "the last great soul singer," as some have called him, back in 1967, when he served a brief stint as vocalist for Jr. Walker and the All Stars at the El Grotto Lounge in Battle Creek, Michigan, where I was teaching high school English at the time, if I had only known he would soon become the next huge pop megastar. Hi Record producer Willie Mitchell discovered him in a club in Midland, Texas, the next year, and the rest, as they say, is history.
As it turned out, I would have to wait another few years after the Beacon Theater show to see Green again, this time at an outdoor concert in Kansas City, Missouri, in a field behind the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the American Jazz Museum in the famous 18th and Vine Historic District, a rib-bone's throw away from Arthur Bryant's famous barbecue joint and from where Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Jay McShann, and many other jazz greats held court during the 1920s and 30s.
By the Kanasas City gig, Green was splitting his time among preaching, singing gospel, and touring around the world with his dynamic soul show.
Later, I would see Green again in a huge spectacular outdoor concert in Birmingham, Alabama's Linn Park, not far from Erskine Hawkins's Tuxedo Junction, where it seemed most of the Magic City was in exuberate attendance.
Finally, I spent a cold Sunday morning in January, just before the 2005 Super Bowl, at Green's Full Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis, near Graceland, to hear the good Reverend preach and occasionally burst into spirited song. If you want a taste, view the 1984 documentary "The Gospel According to Al Green," now streaming on Amazon Prime.
Happy Birthday, Reverend Green!