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Al Green brings his classic groove to town

Soul legend says ‘Let's Stay Together' saw a bump in sales after president sang a line

Brian T. Atkinson

Al Green's "Lay It Down" (2008) spotlights his singular grace ("Take Your Time") and groove ("No One Like You") as effortlessly as the classics ("Let's Stay Together," "Call Me"). The soul legend seems eager to support the Grammy-winning album locally.

"I like Austin and the feel of it," Green says. "Austin has its own soul. I think I'll feel pretty much at home (onstage) there because we're so much about the same thing." The 66-year-old singer performs today at ACL Live.

American-Statesman: Explain how ‘Lay It Down' came together.

Al Green: It came together like magic. The people were the Dap Kings and some New York players. We began to write the songs and in came Corrine Bailey Rae and Anthony Hamilton and John Legend.

Did you write (the duet with Rae) ‘Take Your Time' in the studio?

That was written right there on the floor in the studio with the players playing acoustically. It's not something we wrote 50 years ago and decided to resurrect. We must've cut five, six, seven, eight days.

Describe working with Corinne Bailey Rae.

She's a sweetheart. She has little fingers. How she gets those little fingers to make all those chords on the guitar, I don't know. She looked very frail, like if she would hit a C, she'd fall apart. Somehow she just manages to keep belting it out. It sounds good to me.

Have you been working on new songs since ‘Lay It Down'?

Yeah, I've got to write two or three more songs (for an album's worth). I've got two at the house, three at the studio. I can't say ‘I'm gonna sit down and write a song.' It doesn't come out like that. I give you a key or somebody says something or some sound that you heard sets something off in your mind, some way you're feeling about your relationship with the psychological standpoints of being alive and enjoying life.

Do you have any plans to return to gospel music?

I sang a little bit of "Let's Stay Together" in church on Sunday. Everybody said, "Yeah!" (He laughs.) I mean, "Yeah, man! Yeah!" Especially when I got to the part (singing), "Whether times are good or bad, happy..." (He laughs.)

How did President Barack Obama do (singing the song at a fundraiser in January)?

Whoo, man! Didn't he sound good? They say we sold quite a few downloads just because he sang one line. I didn't know he'd sound that good. Then I thought, "Hey, man, you gonna take my job?" (He laughs.)

Describe your live show.

I always look forward to some (expletive) kicking when I come to town. Excuse the reverend! (He laughs.) You can't play this show and not attack as if you were Alexander the Great. You can't sing "Tired of Being Alone" cute. You've gotta (shouting), "I'm so tired!" You can't (whispers), "I'm so tired of being alone." You've got to sing it!

Which song is the biggest challenge to perform?

All these songs are hard, (but) "Here I Am" is the hardest song in the dang show. I think (bassist) Barry (Campbell) calls it just to make me mad (laughs). The band goes, "What's next?" "‘Here I Am.'" He makes sure I hear it right there on-stage. "Damn!" (He laughs.)