Discerning fans of rhythm and blues icon Al Green cut him no slack when he’s having an off night.
“I was singing ‘I’m Still in Love with You’ in Paris and I didn’t hit a high note. A lady in the front row called out, ‘Oh come on Al, you didn’t hit that note!’” said the ebullient Green, speaking by phone while on tour.
“I was surprised you could hear these people in the front row while I’m doing the show,” he added.
Green, best known for the ‘70s love anthem “Let’s Stay Together,” made a return trip to the Billboard charts two years ago with all new material. When he performs, audiences still demand the hits that made him famous.
Green, 64, said he’ll be ready for a tough New York crowd tomorrow night, when he takes the stage of B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in Manhattan’s Times Square with a 14-piece band for a nostalgia-filled show that is part of the club’s ongoing all- star celebration of its 10th anniversary.
His song list will be loaded with the Grammy-winner’s chart topping songs, including “Together,” “Let’s Get Married” and “Love and Happiness.” He said he’ll also throw in some covers of Motown classics by such groups as the Temptations and some Otis Redding. And he’ll try out his rendition of Roy Orbison’s classic, “Oh, Pretty Woman.”
Four Tops, Too
“The band really learned that song, and boy, they play it really nice,” said Green. “We’re also going to play a little bit of the Four Tops.”
Green, a Forrest City, Arkansas, native, rose to stardom in the 1970s with a string of hit singles, beginning with “Tired of Being Alone,” followed by “Together” and “I’m Still in Love With You.” He dropped out of the popular music scene to become an ordained minister and gospel singer while continuing to record albums of religious-themed music that won eight more Grammy Awards in the 1980s.
Three years ago, Green jump-started his recording career when he signed with Blue Note Records. In 2008 he released the album “Lay It Down,” featuring an updated twist on his signature sound. Green’s collaborators included vocalist John Legend, British singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae and contemporary rhythm and blues singer Anthony Hamilton.
“Lay It Down” was Green’s most successful recording in over three decades, earning him a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Album. He will include a few selections from the CD tomorrow night.
“I think we achieved something that was both timeless and timely,” Eli Wolf, the producer of the disc and Blue Note’s vice president of artists and repertoire, said by phone. “We made something that sounded contemporary in a certain way and would capture the magic of the early seminal recordings.”
Green said that working with Legend, Rae, Hamilton and “Lay It Down” co-producer Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson, the drummer of the hip hop band, the Roots, gave him the feeling that the future of rhythm and blues is secure.
“You’ve got to give today’s artists a chance to generate the type of magic that was generated by the Temptations or Otis Redding,” he said.
Green belongs to an R&B elite whose songs have held up over time and whose audience has only grown.
“When we played Carnegie Hall some time ago, it was filled to the rafters, and I was shocked,” he said. “I was like, really? We’re sold out? In Portugal, all our tickets sold out in four hours. I don’t know what’s the reason behind this. This isn’t our doing.”
Green appears tomorrow at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, 237 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-212-997-4144; http://www.bbkingblues.com
To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Cole in New York at pcole3@Bloomberg.net.