DEAR JERRY: Most people never heard of Al Green until the 1970s, and the hits “Let's Stay Together,” “You Ought to Be with Me,” and others. Yet I recall hearing Al on the radio in Houston, around 1965.
In researching Al's early years, I found mention of him being with either Hot Line, or Hot Wire, around then. That record could be what I heard.
Some credible sources even say Al Green recorded for the Fargo and Cherokee labels in the early '60s. Others indicate he was singing back then but made no records.
Al Green is a pretty common name, so how do I know who has the story right?
Lindsay Hamlin, Hanover, Pa.
DEAR LINDSAY: Fear not, I'm here for you in times like these.
Al Green, the most successful male R&B artist of the 1970s not named James Brown, did perform in public from the mid-1950s to the mid-'60s, just as you read.
For a few years, circa-1962-'63, Al teamed with high school pals Curtis Rodgers, Palmer James, and Gene Mason, singing as either the Creations or Al Greene and the Creations. Al didn't drop the last 'e' from the family name until 1969.
The Creations did, in 1967, wangle a one-record deal with Zodiac Records, resulting in the release of “Footsteps” backed with “A Dream” (Zodiac 1005).
Later that year, after the Zodiac disc fizzled, Curtis Rodgers and Palmer James started their own label, giving it a lengthy name originally intended for use as a publication: Hot Line Music Journal. Most everyone refers to it as just Hot Line.
Now, since I'd hate to leave you with your wires crossed, what about “Hot Wire”?
That coincidentally is a song Green recorded in 1967, while with Hot Line. “Hot Wire” remained unissued until late 1972, when it became a minor hit (Bell 45,305).
With the former Creations now billed as Al Greene & the Soul Mate's [sic], their first Hot Line single was a soulful Rodgers and James original, “Back Up Train” (Hot Line 15,000).
Issued in November '67, “Back Up Train” steamed right into the Rhythm & Blues Top 5. Unfortunately, Greene and the Hot Line team could not sustain the momentum.
In 1969, and now as Al Green, he teamed with Willie Mitchell and his Memphis-based Hi Records, an assemblage that ran off 10 consecutive years of hit records. Among those are six No. 1 and 15 Top 10 hits.
Those are the recordings Al made before his solo career skyrocketed in 1970s, now let's talk about a couple he didn't make.
First is “I Never Had a Chance,” the same tune Dean Martin waxed in 1957, backed with “The Girl I Love” (Fargo 1004). This is by an Al Green.
However, this fellow, who sounds similar to Arthur Prysock, is not the same as Al Greene, just a 12-year-old in 1958 when this came out.
The other record by another Al Green is “Don't Touch Me” coupled with “Pearly Shells” (Cherokee 201,504), released in 1964.
DEAR JERRY: I love your column in our local paper. Now, I'm hoping you can help me.
A song from the early to mid-'60s that I liked a lot is called “I'm Leaving,” but I don't remember the artist and can't locate it without knowing his name.
It's an R&B tune that I once thought was by Johnny Nash, but, according to the internet, it is not him. Thanks for any help you can give.
Mike Ehrmann, Milwaukee
DEAR MIKE: You were right all along. There are numerous internet references to “I'm Leaving,” which is indeed by Johnny Nash (Groove 0030).
Recorded in 1963 and released in '64, “I'm Leaving” is one of several Johnny's songs written by his wife at the time, Margaret Nash.
Margaret died in May 1982, in Los Angeles, from injuries sustained in a traffic accident.
IZ ZAT SO? One of Johnny Nash's 1959 singles that didn't become a hit at all, “Take a Giant Step” (ABC-Paramount 10046), brought Nash a different kind of acclaim an industry award of which he is very proud.
“Take a Giant Step,” the main theme for the film of the same title, won the Silver Sail award at Switzerland's 1960 Locarno International Film Festival “for the humanity and intensity of his performance.”
Nash, cast in the starring role, made his acting debut in “Take a Giant Step.”