On the cover of Johnnie Taylor’s 1967 album it reads “Wanted! One Soul Singer.” In 2020 Sonny Green announces “Found! One Soul Singer.” Sonny: “Noel Hayes came up with the title. I love that man!” Noel is the executive producer on this new CD. “Noel had seen me on YouTube, and he flew down from San Francisco to Los Angeles and he searched me out. I didn’t even know him. He called me and said ‘Sonny, I need to talk to you, because I think I can get you to another level, the way it’s supposed to be’... and this is what he’s doing now.”
Recorded at “Music Creation House” - an apt expression for Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios in San Jose, CA - besides playing guitar on the set, Kid also produced it. Among other musicians you can spot such names Jim Pugh on Hammond B3 organ, Chris Burns on clavinet and piano, Endre Tarczy on bass and Ronnie Smith and D’mar on drums... not forgetting the sweetening: violins (Mariachi Mestizo) and horns (Mika Rinta, Jeff Lewis, Aaron Lington, Terry Hanck and Gordon Beadle).
For the followers of blues and rhythm & blues music there are many familiar songs on this 11-track record. “Noel put the whole package together.” Bobby Bland recorded both I’m So Tired and Blind Man for Duke Records - in 1972 and 1964 respectively - and the first official cover of Blind Man was released by none other than Little Milton. Sonny’s interpretations are punchy and big-voiced on the former one and – as expected – intense and agonized on Blind Man. “I worked with Bobby Bland from the 1950s all the way up till he passed. I opened up for him. I met him in my home town, Monroe, Louisiana. He was a great man, and a hell of an entertainer, too.” Blind Man is also Sonny’s biggest favourite on this set.
If Walls Could Talk is a pounding blues romp, which Little Milton recorded in 1970. “He was great. He called me Little Green, ‘where did you get that voice with your little ole Little Green butt’” (laughing). A slow Bobby Bland type of a blues called I Beg Your Pardon was written by Rick Estrin and first cut by Little Charlie and the Nightcats in 1989. “Noel put that together, too. That’s my song, and when I holler ‘hey, Cookie’, that’s Beverly. Cookie is her nickname. She’s a beautiful lady.” Beverly Shields is Sonny’s lady friend, and I Beg Your Pardon is Sonny’s number two favourite on this album.
Are You Sure is a pretty and poignant country & western ballad, which Willie Nelson first cut 55 years ago. “I’ve never met Willie Nelson, but I love the song.” Cupid Must Be Stupid is a funky, “Jody” type of a song, which one of its co-writers, Terry Hanck, released in 2015 and also that track was produced by Kid Andersen, another co-writer. Cupid is Sonny’s third favourite. A torrid dancer titled Back for a Taste of Your Love is best known by Syl Johnson on Hi in 1973. “Syl is a hell of a singer, too.”
Sonny revives his own 1971 Mesa/Hill recording of a preaching blues called If You Want Me to Keep on Loving You. “I asked Noel to upgrade it and put more fervour to it.” A funky mid-pacer named Trouble – co-written by Jojo Russo – is a new song and a duet with Alabama Mike, whereas another new tune called I Got There is a more driving scorcher, composed by Kid Andersen and Rick Estrin.
The closing track is Ted Taylor’s signature song, Be Ever Wonderful. This romantic ballad derives from the 1950s and Sonny covers it rightly in high register. “Ted and I were on the road together. This was in Vegas. After we got off that Saturday night, he said ‘well guys, I’m gonna get on the road.’ He was going to ride from Vegas to Arkansas. I said ‘Ted, if I was you, I’d go to bed, get some rest and get up in the morning to hit that road.’ ‘Oh no, I’m good. I’ve been doing this all the time, Sonny.’ He left, and he fell asleep behind the wheel. He ran into the back of a trailer and was instantly killed. He always travelled back then. He would leave L.A. and drive all the way down to New Orleans. Ted was a beautiful character. He had a karate school in Los Angeles. He had a black belt in karate. He had a nice living going.” Ted perished in that crash in 1987.
FROM MONROE TO AMARILLO
Sonny was born on October the 29th in 1942 in Monroe, Louisiana, so he recently turned 78. “My childhood was beautiful. I was singing gospel before I started singing the blues. I had everybody in the church shouting.” Sonny’s “church career” started at the age of six. “I’ve never seen my dad, but they say that Oliver Green was a hell of a singer. Of my other relatives, there’s no more but me now in the music business. My biggest idols in the early days were Johnnie Taylor and Bobby Bland.”
Sonny’s professional career was launched in the late 1950s, when he became a vocalist in Melvin Underwood’s band. His classmate and another Monroe, Louisiana, home towner, Mighty Sam, replaced him a year later. “When I left Louisiana, Sam McClain took over, and that boy could sing! He did a hell of a job, too.” Mighty Sam also mentions Sonny in my past interview with him at https://www.soulexpress.net/mightysam.htm.
After Underwood, Sonny toured for a minute with Big Jay McNeely in 1960, when he tried to sound like Little Sonny Warner on stage singing Jay’s and Sonny’s big 1959 summer hit, There’s Something on Your Mind. By then Sonny Warner had launched his solo career. “I met Sonny Warner in Rochester, New York. He was a nice guy, a beautiful guy.”
Sonny spent almost the whole next decade in another state, Texas. “I went there, because Monroe was so dead. It wasn’t doing anything for me. I had to get out. I was living in Amarillo, Texas, but I was touring all over Texas.” Amarillo is also the town, where Sonny cut his very first record. You can read more about his single releases during the next ten years and also listen to some of them in Sir Shambling’s fine bio on Sonny at https://sirshambling.com/artists_2012/G/sonny_green/index.php.
Backed by the Famous Shades, in late 1964 Little Sonny Green sang in high register his own song called People Talking Bout’ Me, and it was released on the local Whip label. The Monkey Funk on the flip is an instrumental by the Famous Shades. “One day we were sitting around talking and decided to put a song together. The song was fast.” The single went practically unnoticed.
FROM AMARILLO TO LOS ANGELES
“A lot of people from California would come down to Texas, stopping at clubs in Amarillo, where I worked. This one guy tells me ‘Sonny, you need to come to L.A., because ain’t nobody there that can sing the blues like you.’ I decided to give it a try. I came out here, and the first club I went in, they hired me. It was called Tiki, and after that I worked at Woody Louis’s nightclub and Bowling Alley.”
Sonny’s next two singles in 1969 were released on Charles Fuller’s Fuller label out of Los Angeles. The first one paired two slow blues songs, the self-penned I Can Ketch but I Can’t Hold and It’s a Game (by Fultwood). The two sides on the second Fuller single were actually lifted from the Whip single and the first Fuller forty-five, so in a way it was a re-release.
“Then I met Matt Hill, my manager. He recorded me first with United Artists, but then he turned around and put it on his label. Matt came to this club I was working at in L.A. My name was on the billboard, and he saw the big line of people trying to get into the club. He came in, heard me and said ‘I’m gonna give you a call tomorrow.’ I was so happy. Next UA gave me a cheque for 80 000 dollars. I couldn’t believe it!” Matt ran a couple of labels and for the most part he recorded his brother, Z.Z. Hill. “Z.Z. was a real quiet, nice guy. He told me ‘I got a thing coming out called Down Home Blues’, and it just shot in to sky like a rocket.” Sonny also adds that on those 1970s sessions, Miles Grayson was not only the main arranger but practically also the producer.
In the early 70s Sonny worked also with Tyrone Davis. “I left Los Angeles with Tyrone for 27 days. He was alright. He loved to gamble – ‘man, I ain’t got the money. I can’t pay you.’ (laughing). Tyrone was a hell of an entertainer.”
Actually the only single that charted during those ten years (1964-74) was Don’t Write a Check with Your Mouth on Hill Records in 1973 (# 89 in Billboard’s soul charts). “I don’t know why there weren’t other hits. I couldn’t understand that. But all these years I’ve been eating out of If You Want Me to Keep on Loving You. That keeps me eating. After Matt passed away (in 1975), I was going downhill ever since. I also tried to record an album called If You Want Me to Keep on Loving You. But now I’m so happy, because Noel has been so good to me.” During these past decades Sonny has been performing not only in the L.A. area, but also in Kansas City, Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas.
WITH RAY BROOKS
Prior to this new CD, besides those singles there’s also one live album that Sonny is singing on titled Ray Brooks & Sonny Green: Live. “In the 80s at the Babb Rickey’s Club, Ray wanted to record me and offered me a nice sum of money along with a new car.” This recording was released on CD in 2007, and Sonny is leading at least on Who’s Making Love, I’ll Take Care of You, If You Love Me Like You Say, That’s the Way Love Is & Ain’t Nothing You Can Do, I Worry about You and sharing leads on Disco Lady and I Found Ah Love, which was released also as a single.
Sonny is known also as “the Green Machine.” Somebody gave me that nickname and after that I had Green Machine written on the side of my car. I don’t play. I put on a show. I perform. I want to come over to meet everybody over there and have a good time. That’s what I’m focusing on right now.”
(Interview conducted on November 20, 2020; acknowledgements to Sonny, Beverly Shields, Noel Hayes and Anthony Paule. Sources: Living Blues, December 2015 and Bob McGrath’s book The R&B Indies).