As soon as I dropped off my bags in Memphis Sunday morning, I immediately hailed a cab and headed to the south end of town. No, I wasn't going to Graceland (though I did visit there later in the afternoon.) My destination was the Full Gospel Tabernacle, presided over by the Rev. Al Green. Yes, that Al Green: Lifetime Grammy winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member, best known for saucy 70's ballads like "Let's Stay Together," and "Love and Happiness." Green founded the Full Gospel Tabernacle in 1976, and has been present there most Sundays (in a big easy chair with "Pastor" written on it) for the past 33 years.
Not surprisingly, the church has become something of a tourist destination: at the service I attended, visitors hailed from everywhere from Italy to Australia, with Green welcoming everyone to higher and higher shrieks of delight. At first, Green left the singing to members of the Gospel Tabernacle Choir: a group of a dozen singers, all with serious chops, backed by a full band (guitars, drums, etc.) But, once Green took over, any resemblance to a traditional church service dissolved and it became nothing less than a performance, Green strutting around the altar just like any other stage. As he preached, he would half-shout, half-sing; at one point, he slipped into his famous falsetto, and the crowd and choir all went crazy, everyone up and clapping along.
"I brought a little anointing oil with me here today," Green said with a grin, "just in case some of you might feel inspired."Believe me, I've had plenty worse offers. (More pics below.)