Cult Classic: Al Green-Green Is Blues.

The day that Al Green met Willie Mitchell in 1969 was, without doubt, the most important day in the twenty-two year old singer’s career. His career had stalled and he someone who could get it back on track. Willie Mitchell was the man to do that and when he signed him to Hi Records mentored the young singer and become his vocal coach, songwriting partner and producer.

In October 1974, Al Green released his seventh album for Hi Records and eighth overall. This was Al Green Explores Your Mind, which gave him his fifth consecutive number one in the US R&B charts. Four of these albums had been certified gold and one platinum. Then there was the small matter of seven singles being certified gold and one platinum. By then, Al Green had sold over three million albums and over five million singles in America alone. Willie Mitchell had transformed Al Green’s career and he was one of the most successful soul singers of his generation. It was a remarkable transformation that began in 1969 with Green Is Blue.

When Willie Mitchell came across Al Green the producer, songwriter and bandleader was looking for a singer for his band who were playing a show in Texas. This was just the break that Al Green was looking for as his career had stalled.

His career began at high school when he founded Al Greene and The Creations which included Curtis Rodgers and Palmer James.  The  group would later change its name to Al Greene and The Soul Mates and by the two members would have formed a record label.

Curtis Rodgers and Palmer James formed the indie label Hot Line Music Journal and signed their friend Al Greene. The label released his debut solo album Back Up Train on March the ‘21st’ 1967 and it reached just 162 on the US Billboard 200 and thirty-seven in the US R&B charts. That was despite the title-track reaching forty-one on the US Billboard 100 and five in the US R&B charts. It was a disappointing start to Al Green’s solo career.

After this, he continued to perform with Al Greene and The Soul Mates bur commercial success continued to elude the group. Things changed for frontman Al Greene when he met Willie Mitchell.

He was looking for a singer for his band who were playing a show in Texas and decided that Al Greene fitted the bill. He joined the band for the show and it didn’t take long foe Willie Mitchell to realised what Al Greene was doing wrong.

Willie Mitchell realised thatAl Greene was trying to sing like Jackie Wilson, James Brown, Sam Cooke and Wilson Pickett rather than finding and developing his own voice. To help the young singer, Willie Mitchell became his vocal coach and helped him find his own voice. Al Greene was good pupil and a quick learner and Willie Mitchell signed him to Hi Records.

Having signed  to Hi Records Willie Mitchell convinced Al Greene to change his name to Al Green. The pair also cowrote their first song together Tomorrow’s Dream and Al Green penned “Get Back Baby. Meanwhile, Willie Mitchell and Marshall “Rock” Jones wrote What Am I Gonna Do with Myself? while Charles Chalmers and Sandra Rhodes who would add backing vocals on many Al Green albums cowrote One Woman.

The rest of the tracks on the album were cover versions and included My Girl, The Letter, Jerry Butler, Curtis Mayfield and Billy Butler’s I Stand Accused,Carl Smith and Marion “Doc” Oliver’s Gotta Find A New World, Lennon and McCartney’s Get Back plus George and Ira Gershwin’s classic Summertime. These eleven tracks would become Green Is Blues.

Recording took place at producer Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios and featured the Hi Rhythm and Horn Sections and backing vocalists Chalmers, Rhodes and Rhodes. The result was Green Is Blues, which was a very different album to his debut.

Green Is Blues was released on April the ‘15th’ 1969 two days after Al Green’s twenty-third birthday. The majority of reviews were positive apart from the forever contrarian Rolling Stone. Surely commercial success awaited the album?

When Green Is Blues was released it reached nineteen in the US Billboard 200 and three in the US R&B charts. Meanwhile, Canada, the album reached twenty-eight bringing more success Al Green’s way. This was just the start for the Willie Mitchell and Al Green partnership.

Willie Mitchell had spotted the potential in Al Green and was able to encourage and cajole a series of performances out of him that surpassed anything he had released before. The twenty-two year old worked his way through a mixture of new material and covers of contemporary pop and R&B hits. With the help of a crack band and backing vocalists Al Green gives them a makeover on an album of blues, R&B and Southern Soul.

Al Green sets the bar high on the ballad beautiful, tender ballad One Woman. Tomorrow’s Dream his first collaboration with Willie Mitchell features a heartfelt and emotive vocal on a track that showcases the sound that would bring success Al Green’s way. There’s more than a nod to James Brown on his composition Get Back.

Of the cover versions his needy reading of Talk To Me and his soulful pleadings on My Girl are highlights of the album. So an emotive and soul-baring Southern Soul cover of I Stand Accused and an a hurt-filled version of What Am I Gonna Do With Myself. Al Green then breezes through Lennon and McCartney’s Get Back before closing Green Is Blues with a gorgeous cover of Summertime where blues and Southern Soul melt into one. It’s one the finest versions of this much-covered classic and closes the album on a high.

Al Green’s meeting with Willie Mitchell transformed the young singer’s career and Green Is Blues was a stepping stone for him and allowed him to develop his sound and style.

Green Is Blues allowed Al Green to showcase his considerable skills as he breathes new life, meaning and emotion into these contemporary pop and R&B hits. They were reinvented by Al Green and producer Willie Mitchell whose production skills which shine through on Green Is Blues which was the start of the Al Green’s Hi Records’ years.

He would go on to enjoy the most successful period of his career at Hi Records. This journey started with Green Is Blues which was tantalising taste of what was to come from Al Green and  producer Willie Mitchell.

Cult Classic: Al Green-Green Is Blues.

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