The Soul Train History Book: Al Green Takes the Soul Train to Church!

By 1974, Al Green was on top of the soul music world. He, along with Marvin Gaye and Barry White,  was revered as one of the most sensuous soul singers of the time.

Nothing can improve upon Don Cornelius’s introduction of Green on his fourth appearance on Soul Train in 1974. Cornelius said: “We have run out of superlatives to use to describe this man, but I will say that his eight consecutive gold singles and no less than four consecutive albums is unprecedented. He’s the closest thing the music world has come to having its own messiah.”

Indeed, Green was the “soul green giant” of the music industry and he brought his band along for a truly soulful ride for this taping of Soul Train.

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Green had a busy week leading up to the Saturday taping of Soul Train. Earlier that week, he performed at the Sybil Brand Institute (a women’s prison in Los Angeles) and in Bakersfield, CA. At both shows he performed with a sprained arm in a sling, the result of an incident which occurred six weeks earlier in Milwaukee. During Soul Train’s Question and Answer segment, one of the dancers, James Phillips, bluntly asked Green, “What happened to your arm?” Green replied, “I fractured it in Milwaukee trying to get into the car. 35 people (fans) didn’t agree that I could leave at that time.” He then added that the cast would come off later that day, which was right in time for a concert he would be doing at the Los Angeles Forum that night  where he mesmerized a sold out crowd following the Soul Train taping.

A sprained arm did not stop the “Green Machine” from giving highly energetic performances at the concerts or on this Soul Train appearance. He did all of his numbers live, as he’d done on his previous appearance on the show in 1973. He opened up this edition of Soul Train with a track from his new album  Living For You titled “Sweet 16”, a funky, uptempo number featuring celebratory horns and organs. Many female members of the Soul Train Gang were clustered close to the stage during his performances. Dancer Patricia Davis remembers, “He was a sex symbol. All of us looked at him with dreamy eyes and he was so polite to us and very classy.” Green sang, danced, and hopped around the stage with the enthusiasm, energy and smoothness that embodied the true artist that he is.

After that number, Green slowed the pace down with a gospel track from his previous album Call Me entitled “Jesus is Waiting.” Green wrote in his autobiography “Take Me to the River” that “Jesus is Waiting is somewhere between an invitation and a challenge. A test and a tease . . . a part of me, deep down inside cried out and the hunger I felt was so powerful, I didn’t even know it sought to be satisfied.”

On Soul Train, Green began the song by reciting the Lord’s Prayer as some of the Soul Train Gang recited along with him. As he began singing, the Soul Train Gang was mesmerized, shouting and clapping as if the Holy Spirit had overtaken them.

During one point in the song, Green apologized for ignoring the love of Jesus and he repeatedly sang he was sorry as some of the Soul Train Gang comforted him by saying “That’s alright!”.  With Green’s gospel-tinged singing and the band’s soulful playing, along with the catch and call responses of the Soul Train Gang, Green literally took the Soul Train Gang to church.  It remains one of the best performances of his career.

Green’s voice is the embodiment of soul. On this cut, he sang in high falsetto, tenor, and baritone. The different ranges of his voice touch the very core and depth of one’s soul, which is what true soulful singing is supposed to do.

Later in the show, Green answered questions from the Soul Train Gang, including a question from a dancer named Sherry who wanted to know his astrological sign since she never knew it during the past times he had been on the show. Green jokingly replied, “I don’t know if she’ll find out this time”, but then answered that he was an Aries, which elicited some cheers from fellow Aries in the audience.

After the Q&A, Green performed his current single “Living For You”, which went number one in January 1974 and became another gold single for Green. Backed by the mellow horn section, Green sang in a very relaxed tone, which complemented the song’s mid-tempo, laid back groove, but near the end of the song, Green’s voice got higher and he became totally “soulfied” in the performance.

Green closed the show with “Here I Am Come and Take Me,” a number two hit from the late summer of 1973. Again, the Soul Messiah tore into the song, singing from the far depths of his soul, captivating all of the female members of the Soul Train Gang. He captivated them even further by handing out red and yellow roses. Many hands reached out to grab one of those long stemmed roses while Green became enmeshed in the performance, taking the Soul Train Gang “back to church” once again when, toward the end of the performance, he sort of quoted a line from the Impressions hit “People Get Ready” when he told the Soul Train Gang “It don’t take no money, you don’t need no ticket, just get on board the Soul Train!” Green seemed as if he didn’t want to stop performing until he said abruptly, “I gotta go” and walked off the stage, but not before kissing one of the female members of the Soul Train Gang.

Green illustrated what being an artist is all about. He was totally absorbed in his performances, giving them and the audience his all. This episode should be a requirement for all up and coming singers as an example of what being an artist is all about. Green personified the term “master performer”, not letting a sprained arm keep him from throwing down. Sprained arm or not, Green delivered. That is true artistry.

The other guests on this episode were the aforementioned Impressions, who did a track titled “If It’s In You To Wrong,” a beautiful ballad, and their current single, “Finally Got Myself Together,” a number one Soul hit from June 1974. Both of these tracks were from their current album Finally Got Myself Together. Cornelius asked group member Fred Cash if Curtis Mayfield (former Impressions member) still produced for the group, to which Cash responded, ‘When we can get a hold of him. He stays so busy.” Mayfield left the group in 1970.  Mayfield was replaced by Leroy Hutson, who then left to pursue a solo career; Huston was replaced with two singers, Reggie Torres and Ralph Johnson (the new lead singer), who, along with veteran group members Fred Cash and Sam Gooden, gave the Impressions four members instead of three.

An interesting note about this episode is the costume Soul Train regular Patricia Davis wore, in which she dressed like a little girl with her hair in pigtails while sucking on a baby bottle. She looked like a cute windup doll as she “roboted” several times throughout the episode.

Stay tuned for the next edition of the Soul Train History Book. Much love, peace and soooooooooul!!

–Stephen McMillan

In addition to being a journalist, Stephen McMillian is also working on some creative projects in the entertainment industry.

 



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