TONI GREEN IS RED HOT
As a follow-up to Anders Lillsunde’s interview with the dynamic performer Toni Green in Memphis in 2008 (see article in Jefferson 156), Paul Harris caught up with her at the 2009 Porretta Soul Festival in Italy.
Anders’ interview was published in English on the Jefferson website where Toni was quoted as saying that she had been to Porretta ‘several times’. I had first seen her there in 2007 and believed the current visit to be her second. She confirmed that this was so and that she had meant that she had visited Italy several times.
Questioned as to whether that first Porretta visit had helped her get wider recognition, Toni Green said, “The many people that I have met, Italians, Germans, Englishmen, and some of the other countries, have been very, very, very kind to me. I think it’s a matter that we have a rapport with each other. They have really lifted my spirits and I’m very happy that things are turning out very good for me here.”
In Anders’ interview Toni had revealed that she performed in the States ‘very rarely’. Why was this? “I have no idea. Sometimes you can’t get what you need in your own place and you have to go somewhere else, and then come back around. It’s like going to a store looking for a new pair of shoes and the salesman doesn’t even talk to you. And then you go to the next store and the salesman brings the shoes to you and you find exactly what you’re looking for.”
Toni has a new 2-track single out and an album entitled ‘Undeniable’ is to be released shortly. The ‘A’ track on the CD single is a fine blues entitled ‘Hold On’ but, for me, the killer track is ‘Every Man Ain’t A Bad Man’ so it was a disappointment that in her two appearances at this year’s festival Toni performed only ‘Hold On’ and that only once. Regarding the album, Toni “wrote everything, produced it, arranged it and did background vocals. The greatest thing about the CD is that Willie Mitchell walked in as the recording session was going on and said, ‘I’ll mix it down for you’. He is so charismatic and funny. Then he turned around and looked at me and said, ‘Toni Green, there is nothing I wouldn’t do for you’ and I tell you, I was blown away. I cried all night. And that’s one of the reasons I couldn’t finish the CD at the time. Every time he blew in there he would do something and say something and it just touched me.
Then I had Teenie Hodges on guitar. He was ill but he got out of his bed to come and play on my CD. Then Leroy Hodges [bass], and all of them were people that I had started with on my first CD and my first single [‘What Have You Done With My Heart’ – 1970]. It was like phenomenal. It was like a little girl or boy waking up to presents and getting that special gift that he or she didn’t think mum or dad was gonna be able to get”. Regarding the backing instruments, “Everything is real – including me! I never liked synthesizers but [in the past] I had to do what I had to do financially. It was an easy source [for backings]. I didn’t like it because I grew up in the era when music was real music. Anyway, [back then] we got in the studio and we dug in and we came up with the [local] hit [‘Free’ taken from her last CD entitled ‘More Love’ - 2006] so we do whatever we got to do.
I’d never want to go back to it and I promised myself the next CD was going to be all live musicians and I have been given that. I think you’re gonna really get into this [new album] ’cos I’m giving you a little bit of the traditional blues, I’m giving you a little bit of contemporary blues, I’m giving you southern soul, I’m also giving you a little bit of the R&B flavour. I got a lot of dance songs on this CD, oh honey, y’all gonna rock! We’re trying our best to get someone to book us in England. We’re trying to check out different avenues plus trying to get someone to look into the CD as soon as I finish it, get someone to put it out on their label, and to distribute it”.
On her previous visit to Porretta Toni had brought her own dress designer, but this time “she didn’t make these dresses that I’m gonna be wearing tonight and tomorrow. These dresses were designed by me”. And striking they were, of similar style, one in white, one in black, the white being more revealing in certain quarters. Regarding the image that she aims to project onstage Toni said, “I like to be glamorous. There’s a saying like ‘This is a stage. You’re getting ready to perform’. When I was a little girl I liked playing with my dolls and putting them in different little costumes. When you wear a nice dress you feel good, even if nobody else thinks you look good, that’s true. Then you go out there and give your best. It’s just like you’re in church. I think people appreciate it when you’re not looking like you just rolled out of bed”.
The Soul Children was a top soul group from 1967 and lasted for about ten years. In 2008 it was reformed to make a new album entitled ‘Still Standing’ and included originals J. Blackfoot and Norman West plus Ann Hines and Cassandra Graham. How did Toni come to be a guest vocalist with this new unit? “I think they called and saw several people at the time and I was one of the people that they, J. Blackfoot and Larry Dodson, chose. As it turned out I had three or four songs on that CD [as lead singer] and I sang another with J. [Blackfoot] and Ann [Hines]. I’ve loved J.’s voice for years, great singer. Everybody’s been phenomenal as it worked out”.
Invited to add any comment she liked, Toni said, “I’d like to say to all of our readers, I’m gonna continue to give you the best that I’ve got to give and I’m gonna always remember that you and I are as one. If I stray from that it’s not because it’s something I wanted to do. It may be something that someone’s decided for me, but more than likely I will stay on course as I respect all those that’s believing in me. I just want to thank you all. I hope I don’t let anyone down tonight”. She didn’t.
Source: Interview with Toni Green by Paul Harris at Porretta Terme, Italy on 25 July 2009.
Thanks to Richard Tapp and Veronica Harris. All pictures by Paul Harris