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There are so many amazing and almost unbelievable turns and coincidences in the production of the Green Brothers’ recent CD called Soulsville that it’s almost like divine providence, and when those twists of fate are entwined with music that you thought nobody makes anymore you know you’re dealing with a precious gem.

The two Green brothers, Bobby and Al, have a fifty-year musical history to share.  Robert L. Green (Bobby) was born on August 29 in 1943 in Fort Pierce, Florida, and Aaron Alexander Green (Al) was born on January 16 in 1946 in the same city.  Bobby: “Our father was a pastor in Orlando, Florida, and minister of The Church of the living God.  His name was Rev. Willie Green Sr.  My biological mother died, when my brother Al was one year and six months old.  Her name was Maggie Wright Green.  My stepmother, Catherine Green, who was an evangelist, raised us.  My biological mother Maggie played guitar with a bottleneck and sang too in church.  My stepmother, who God blessed us with, sang and preached in the church.”

“My father played drums, sang and read music formally.  He taught choir and played harmonica, too.  My entire family sang and played instruments in the church… but they wouldn’t let me sing then.  My brother, Rev. Willie Green Jr., preached, sang and played guitar, piano, organ, steel guitar and accordion.  He and my sister Amy inspired all of us to sing and play.  I had four brothers and four sisters, all by Maggie Wright Green.”


A member of the church, Brother Abraham Williams, became their vocal coach, when Bobby was sixteen.  “Mr. Abraham formed the Spiritual Wonders in 1959 in Florida.  The group consisted of Brother Abraham Williams on lead and 2nd tenor, Elijah Chester on 2nd lead, Al on baritone and 2nd tenor and myself on lead falsetto tenor and lead guitar.  We were still teenagers at that time, and we didn’t record anything.”

At the age of twenty Bobby moved to Detroit, Michigan.  “My wife’s aunt, Mamie Robinson, introduced me to one of the Violinaires in 1964 at our job at Master Products Chrome Plant in Royal Oak, Michigan, and we sang in the bathroom there and outside the plant.”  However, at that point Bobby wasn’t interested in joining the group, but he changed his mind four years later.


A Detroit-based gospel quartet group called the Violinaires was founded in 1952, and throughout the years they’ve featured such magnificent vocalists as Willie Banks, Robert Blair and Charles Brown.  A young boy by the name of Wilson Pickett joined them in 1955 and recorded with them in ‘57.  Their 60s product was released on Checker, after which they’ve appeared on many labels, including Jewel and Malaco.  Still today there’s Lil Blair and the Violinaires preserving the legacy of the Fantastic Violinaires.

  “Me and my brother Al became interested in 1968, when we were approached by the Violinaires again.  They needed a very high tenor and second lead tenor and guitarist.  My brother Al could sing and play both lead and bass guitar and I sang the highest tenor in the key of G major.  The Violinaires had recorded records but had not gone on the road before.  This was after the Violinaires had many break-ups… after Wilson Pickett and others.  The Violinaires had split up again, when Al and I joined in 1968.”

“Before that my brother and I sang locally and we trained guys to sing.  We wanted to sing seriously, when some guys just wanted to sing and practice once every two weeks or whenever.  We practiced with the Violinaires one day and two days later packed our bags and headed for the road with the Sensational Nightingales.  It was our first time going on the road and we were the youngest of the Violinaires.  Most of the guys were in their late forties, we were in our early twenties.  The Violinaires recorded in Chicago for Chess/Checker Records, but we weren’t on those records.  I was on some tracks of the live sessions they did in Atlanta and Rome in Georgia in 1972, I think.  At that time my brother Al was no longer with them.  I was with them from 1968 till 1972.” 


At one point the two brothers known as Bobby and Al even formed a label of their own, but they never released anything on it.  “I believe it was in 1967, when we formed a local label called Wardell.  It was scraped and my brother and I decided just forget about it.  We didn’t make any masters with the label.”

If Bobby’s voice can be heard on a disc for the first time on an early 70s live album by the Violinaires, then Al’s recording debut took place only in 1974.  “We were singing as Bobby and Al and appeared at a gospel talent show at Ford Auditorium on April 12, 1974.  Dave Clark was there that night and he was impressed by our performance.  Dave Clark was a promoter at Stax Records.  He had been with Don Robey’s Peacock Records earlier.  He introduced himself and asked us if we’d be interested in recording for Stax Records.  We immediately said yes.  He asked if we wanted to do gospel or r&b.  He gave us his card and told us to get him a cassette tape of If You Believe and anything else we had, so he could play it for Jim Stewart.  Al and I wanted a decent sound, so we went into Pioneer recording studio, a local studio, and did four songs with only lead guitar and bass and we sent the tape to Dave.  Al played both bass and lead guitar and sang.  I only sang.”

“Dave and Jim were impressed.  They finally got time in the studio at Stax for us in July.  We met Dave again.  He had us singing in his office.  The girls in the front office were screaming, and we thought some super star was coming in the office… not us.  Jim Stewart came in the office, introduced himself and said ‘I love the tape.  With your great voices and our great technology we can do great things’.  We then met John Burton, Stax’s attorney, who went over the contracts with us and Dave Clark.  We signed the contracts, Dave Clark became our manager and Bobby Manuel carried us over to the studio to record.”  You can read Bobby Manuel’s bio at (midway through).

On the pic above: the Green Brothers together with Larry Nix (standing) and Bobby Manuel.


“We didn’t start singing soul music until we signed the contract with Stax Records.  The first recording as the Green Brothers was Dy-No-Myte (Did You Say My Love), which was the A-side of the 45 on the Truth subsidiary (# 3219), and me, my wife and my brother wrote a secular song called Can’t Give You Up (I Love You Too Much) for the b-side.  They were recorded the same day we signed the contract at Stax in July, 1974.  The single wasn’t released right away.  It was going to be on our first Green Brothers album.  On the recording session that day there were producer Bobby Manuel playing lead guitar, Duck Dunn on bass guitar, Lester Snell on piano, my brother Al on the second guitar, Al Jackson on drums and Charles Hodges on organ.”

“The way we came up with Dy-No-Myte, we had no idea that was going to be a rap record.  Bobby and Duck struck up some grooves, and it was on.  Later Mack Rice came in and said ‘hey, I don’t have anything but some words on paper’.  He handed the words to my brother Al, and Al immediately handed it on over to me without even reading it.  Bobby and Dunn were doing grooves and I was reading it out loud, not knowing what was happening, and they all said ‘hey man, that’s cool, that’s different’.  I said ‘you want me to talk with the rhythm’, and they all agreed ‘yes’.  So Al and I sang the second verse making it the punch line on ‘dy-no-myte’.  It was difficult for me, because I was a singer.  But it was new for Stax and it was new for us.  Stax released it in 1975.”

After the session the brothers returned to Detroit to write together with Bobby’s wife, Virgie Green, new songs that were supposed to appear on their first album.  “My wife sometimes comes with both the lyrics and the melody, and sometimes she’d come with the lyrics and I’d come with the melody.”  Those seven new songs plus one outside song were recorded in Bobby’s living-room in Detroit on a hand-held cassette tape recorder.  It was just Al on guitar and both of them singing.  “The songs were cut as demos in 1975.  We had very good product then.  However, we didn’t have a chance to finish those songs.  I Just Wanna (Love You One More Time) is one of the songs that we started later in Memphis with Bobby Manuel, Al Jackson and Duck Dunn.”

Unfortunately for the Green Brothers, those days Stax was already on the brink of collapse.  “Stax issued a check for $ 3.000 that bounced.  I had to repay the bank.  The second check for $ 35.000 was never received for us to move permanently to Memphis.  That’s when I knew they were in trouble.  They eventually went out of business.”


Next the Green Brothers hooked up with a famous Detroit producer, Don Davis.  “Don Davis used to work with Stax.  He was a great producer and had many hit records with Johnnie Taylor, the Dramatics and others.  I went over to Don’s office and gave him a copy of our Truth record.  Don liked the song Can’t Give You Up.  He thought it should have been the A-side for us.  He could tell Al Jackson playing on the record.  So Don signed us to his label.  We recorded maybe ten songs with Don.  He released a song that my brother and I had worked on already with Stax called Lack of Attention.

Lack of Attention was released on Tortoise International (# 11130) in 1977.  “I and Al arranged it.  The song was written by two guys trying to get into Stax, and we promised Roosevelt Jamison and David Witherspoon that we wouldn’t forget them and work on the song.  So we arranged it, put it in a rap/preaching type style and medium tempo.  That could really be a smash, if we recorded it today.  Ronnie McNeir wrote the b-side, Sweet Lovin’ Woman, for someone else, but we decided to do it.  Working with Don was fine.  He’s a good producer.”


After it became evident that there really was a lack of attention to the Tortoise single, the brothers decided to call it a day.  Bobby stayed in Detroit, Al moved to Florida and both took jobs outside the music industry.  But the tape with those demo songs still existed.  “We didn’t know Bobby Manuel had the tape.  However, in March 2008, I believe, my wife and I were watching the TV.  We saw there was a tornado in the south and my wife asked me ‘don’t you know someone in Germantown, Memphis’, and I said ‘yes, Bobby Manuel’.  I decided to call Bobby, because I hadn’t talked to Bobby in about 28 years.  He said ‘oh, I’ve been looking for you.  We listened to the songs on the demo tape’.  I said ‘Bobby, that was over thirty years ago.  What do you want to do with those songs’?  He said ‘I want to cut these songs on you and your brother’.  I said ‘Bobby, I’m in my sixties now.  My brother and I haven’t sung in thirty some years.  Why do you want to cut them on my brother and me’?  He answered ‘because nobody sings them like that anymore’.  I couldn’t believe what he was saying.”

Bobby Manuel sent a copy of the original tape to Bobby to Detroit, and Al came from Florida for rehearsals.  “My brother and I hadn’t been together for over thirty years.  We had forgotten the songs, the lyrics, the arrangements.  Our minds were like a blank-white sheet of paper with nothing on it.  We had to relearn our own songs, which was also amazing.  Hearing it after thirty some years and recognizing our voices and music made me weak in the knees.  I fell to my knees and cried ‘oh, my God!  I didn’t know it sounded like this’.  It took about two and a half weeks for us to get our voices together.  After that we went to Memphis.”  One of the songs they decided to revive was the Swan Silverstones’ If You Believe, which they sang already at Ford Auditorium in 1974 in the presence of Dave Clark and put on their first demo tape.  “We wanted to put our own signature on it.  The Swan Silverstones was one of the most fantastic groups in the world, especially their lead tenor, Claude Jeter, who I wish I could have taken lessons from.  He’s the greatest.”

On this very slow and emotional interpretation of the song, as well as some of the other tracks on the new CD, Bobby sounds at times remarkably like Paul Beasley, who’s famous for his extremely high tenor.  “Our manager was doing a big gig in Detroit and the Gospel Keynotes from Tyler, Texas, wanted to come to Detroit.  We booked them.  We okayed it with our manager Lawrence Gordy.  Several home town groups were there.  When we left the floor that night, the Keynotes couldn’t get anything to work that night.  Rumours spread and Lawrence told and others have told me that Paul Beasley copied me.  He’s told Paul Beasley many times he’s seen him that you are copying Bobby Green, and Beasley smiles and admits it.  I later watched the Mighty Clouds of Joy on the video and they are all great singers, including Paul.”  Paul Beasley was a member of the Mighty Clouds of Joy for a few years in the 80s.


They cut the Soulsville CD (LocoBop, LB0906; at Ardent Studios in Memphis, Tennessee.  Produced by Bobby Manuel, the music is sweetened by live strings and horns, both arranged by Lester Snell.  In the rhythm section Lester Snell is once again on piano, Charles Hodges on organ, Al Green on rhythm guitar and Bobby Manuel on lead and rhythm guitars.  Furthermore there is Jimmy Kinard on bass and Steve Potts on drums.  The fascinating story behind the music on the CD is told in Rob Bowman’s compelling booklet notes.

Among the eleven songs on display there are re-recordings of the seven tracks that appeared on the original ’75 cassette tape, two new tunes and two songs that were first included in the brothers’ 1974 demo tape, If You Believe and a cover of the Chi-Lites hit, Homely Girl.  “My brother and I used to listen a lot to the radio around that same time.  We didn’t have any songs at the time to prove Dave Clark and Stax that we could do secular music, and we wanted to show them that we could do more than gospel music.  We worked on this song along with another song by Gwen McCrae, Rockin’ Chair.”  They placed their version of Gwen’s hit as the eighth song on the ’75 tape that was supposed to turn into an album.

The set kicks off with a churchy chugger called I Just Wanna (Love You One More Time) and it was scheduled to become the second Truth single in ’75.  Your Love Lifted Me is a truly beautiful and soulful inspirational ballad.  “In 1975 there was a lot of unemployment - not like it is now… never was like it is now.  Auto companies laid off and all of a sudden I was standing in an unemployment line.  We were going through some hard times, and that’s when we decided to write the song, because another thing happened… I met my wife in a church in Detroit, when I was singing with Al, and I’ve never met a young lady like her before.  She was a wonderful person.  She wasn’t like most of the young ladies.  She was so sweet, and that’s when I wrote the lyrics to Your Love Lifted Me.”

Keena Greene


Keep on Searchin’ is a storming scorcher.  “We wrote that song together with my brother and my wife, because at that time my brother was a single guy and I was married.  He was searching for love.”  Put Your Love on Me Baby is a slow bluesy song, whereas Soulsville is a mid-tempo, laid-back swayer paying tribute to many soul stars of yesterday.  Soulsville is one of the new songs.  “Most of the lyrics were written by Bobby Manuel and he arranged it.  He shares the writing with my wife Virgie and daughter Keena Green.”

After a perky toe-tapper titled I’ve Got Everything but You, which the brothers take to church towards the end, we are treated to a catchy mid-tempo roller named Ghetto Love.  “My wife actually wrote all of that song.  We had undersigned the contract with Stax and my wife said ‘I’ve got a song for you’.  ‘What’s the name of it’?  ‘Ghetto love’.  ‘Oh no, no, no… We live in the ghetto, we can’t be singing about it’.  Then she started singing it, and I said ‘oh yeah, I like that, we’re gonna be doing that’.”

If We Can’t Get Together is an uptempo number – “my wife wrote that one too” – followed by the second new song, a big-voiced, fast and thunderous beater called Worldly Christian, which features Keena as the vocalist ( “Keena’s coming out with a new album, before the year is out.  It’s soulful and will take you on a trip.  I haven’t heard anything like this in recent years.  It is something you must hear.”

Keena actually recorded under the name of Greens III with her two sisters, Kimmala and Michelle, an album entitled Razor on Malaco, released in 1984.  Bobby Manuel: “Jim Stewart and I produced the Greens III and sold it to Malaco for distribution.  Bobby Green called Jim about his daughters group and got us all excited to record them.  Keena, the lead singer, was only fourteen.  They were cutting edge and into the young sounds.  Both of us knew that they might not be the right label for them, since this was a top-40 kind of sound, but they were willing to try to promote, because one of their good friends had started MTV and they thought they could get something going with his help.  Things didn’t work out with Malaco, but we all remained friends.”  

Later the three sisters were known as Sweet Obsession and had hits (Gonna Get Over You, Being In Love Ain’t Easy etc.) on Epic in the late 80s and early 90s.  Bobby Green: “Kimmala is married and has two children, a boy and a girl.  Michelle is still single and has a master’s degree in business.”

Bobby Green: “Al is living in Florida at the moment and he’s looking after my brother and his family over there.  He’ll be coming back here next month and we’ll rehearse with a band.  I had no idea that me and my brother would ever sing again.  We believe that this is something put together by a greater power.”

(Acknowledgements to Bobby Green, Bobby Manuel and Steve Roberts).

Heikki Suosalo

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