Al Green was part of an older generation of musicians who were raised to believe that they would literally burn in Hell for making secular music. Back in the day, if you were at all religious and you performed Jazz, Blues, Soul, Rock, R&B—really, anything other than Gospel music—you were made to understand that you risked your immortal soul to do so. Think about that a moment. Howlin’ Wolf’s own mother disowned him for playing “that Devil music.” Jerry Lee Lewis was convinced he was going to burn for all eternity. Muddy Waters’ grandmother beat him the first time she heard him play the Blues as a child. Elvis Presley received truckloads of hate mail informing him that he was a tool of Satan.
Al Green was a believer, and the conflict between his faith and his work was a torment to him. It came to a head when a former lover of his, Mary Woodson White, threw boiling-hot grits on him as he took a shower, then committed suicide. She blew her brains out right there in his Memphis home. Al Green took this to be a spiritual wake-up call. He began to lose interest in his R&B career, and became an ordained pastor—the Reverend Al Green.