cover image Soul Survivor: A Biography of Al Green

Soul Survivor: A Biography of Al Green

Jimmy McDonough. Da Capo, $28 (432p) ISBN 978-0-306-82267-4

McDonough’s uneven biography of singer Al Green draws on interviews with Green’s friends, family, and fellow musicians, as well as on already published interviews with and stories about the singer. In great detail, journalist McDonough (Shakey: Neil Young’s Biography) traces Green’s career from singing in his childhood church in Grand Rapids, Mich. (and later in Memphis), his rise to fame at Hi Records, his adversarial relationship with his band, his spiritual reawakening, his difficult relationships with women, and his careers as a gospel singer and a preacher. While the narrative of Green’s life seems overlong, McDonough’s sharp critical insights into Green’s albums and songs energize the book: “ ‘The Love Sermon’ is plain wild, a third-level elevation of the Al Green mind, with its evocations of love, heaven, children, and carnivals.” The surprising highlight of the book, however, is Willie Mitchell, the owner and producer of Hi Records and the Hi Rhythm band, which backed Green on his early hit records; before Green hit the charts, Hi produced such soul sensations as Ann Peebles, Don Bryant, and O.V. Wright. Green emerges from McDonough’s biography as a gifted singer whose insecurities and inability to live comfortably between the secular and sacred worlds express themselves in his music and his sermons. (Aug.)