It’s purely coincidental that we should be hearing the best soul singer you’ve never heard of on the heels of Johnny Rawls’ latest album title, “Where Have All the Soul Men Gone.” Not only that, but the title of Sonny Green’s album is stated practically as a response – “Found! One Soul Singer.” Leave it to the folks at Little Village Foundation, whose mission is to bring attention to the overlooked and in some cases forgotten artists. With Kid Andersen in the production chair as well as on guitar alongside his trusty partner, organist Jim Pugh, and a full horn section, Sonny Green brings an impact not unlike when Z.Z. Hill burst onto the scene in the early ‘80s. (and, there’s a connection too)
Sonny Green is now approaching 80. He began singing as a teenager in his native Louisiana but has long lived in Los Angeles where he has been performing regularly for over 40 years. Remarkably, Green’s never had a full-length album until now, however. He did record a few 45s during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s that are already highly sought after and will become increasingly so. One of his songs from 1971, “If You Want Me To Keep on Lovin You” came out of the Hill label owned by Matt Hill, Z.Z. Hill’s brother. Here they render the song in a stirring updated version. The backing, along with the principals mentioned, features Chris Burns (Clavinet, piano), Endre Tarczy (bass), Ronnie Smith, D’mar (drums) along with violins, a three-pieces horn section and guest saxophonists Terry Hanck (“Cupid Must Be Stupid”) and Gordon Beadle (“I Got There”) with vocalist Alabama Mike’s penned “Trouble.”
Like the best classic soul singers Green navigates the gritty, down-home and the seductive smooth crooning approach as the song demands. His barroom philosophizing has been compared to his contemporaries Johnny Taylor, Bobby Patterson, and Little Milton to name just a few. Yes, put Z.Z. Hill in that group too. Some of these are drawn from classic soul hits (I’m So Tired” and “Blind Man”) associated with Bobby “Blue’ Bland, Syl Johnson’s “Back For a Taste of Your Love,” Ted Taylor’s ballad “Be Ever Wonderful” and early Willie Nelson “Are You Sure?” (sounding much like Willie’s tune “Funny How Time Slips Away”). Two songs have never been on record before – the sweaty duet workout of Alabama Mike’s “Trouble” and one the two Rick Estrin tunes, “I Got There,” Estrin also contributes “I Beg Your Pardon.”
There are no gimmicks or tricks. This is classic unadorned soul music, just the way we remember it and sounding both classic and fresh at the same time. Assuming your familiar with the work of producer Kid Andersen and his Greaseland Studios as well as the high standards set by the Little Village Foundation, you know this will sound great.
Considering there was a lengthy article in Living Blues in 2015, it’s somewhat surprising that it took this long to get Green on record. If you are interested, you can access that full article here.
Green is not the first bluesman to revive his career around the eighty-year mark. We think of Leo “Bud” Welch immediately. There are others too but if Green can have a similar buzz and response to Welch, he’ll be doing just fine.