What music did you listen to as a kid growing up in Arkansas?
Mahalia Jackson, all the great gospel singers. But the most important music to me was those hip-shakin’ boys: Wilson Pickett and Elvis Presley. When I was 13, I just loved Elvis Presley. Whatever he got, I went out and bought. But I liked “Love Me Tender” most.
How about books?
Only one book: the Bible. The story of Noah and his ark made a huge impression. My momma would read about the ark and all that rain comin’ down for 40 days and 40 nights, and I would say, “Gee, I hope it holds together.” [Laughs]
Apart from cultural influences, did coming of age during the civil-rights movement affect you?
I liked the ideology of Malcolm X. It was good that he got the statement “I am somebody” out there to the people. But I think Martin Luther King had the best approach. It was, “I am protesting my condition, but I do not wish to engage you in violence. I only wish to bring my condition to the forefront.”
Any other political thinkers or philosophers who influenced you?
Yes. From Martin Luther King, I got into Gandhi, and then from Gandhi, I got into Martin Luther.
There was a sense in your music back then that you
were trying to find out who you were. You were doing a lot
That’s right. I was searching for Al. I didn’t even know who I was. I would listen to a jazz saxophonist named Eddie Harris. Coltrane. Roy Orbison. [Sings] “Ohhhh, pretty woman!” The Beatles. The Doors. I think with every record I was getting closer to who I was. That’s me searching for me on those records. Isaac Hayes and I laugh a lot about that period now.
When you stopped doing secular music in the eighties, did you stop listening to secular music entirely? What music were you into?
I listened to everything. But I liked hip-hop a lot, especially Queen Latifah and Run-D.M.C. My parishioner would say [makes a scornful tone] “Reverend!” but I didn’t pay him no mind.
Do you watch TV or go to the movies when you’re not making music?
I watch The Apprentice. I like when he tells ’em “You’re fired!”
Have you ever fired anyone?
I got fired.
Who fired you?
Aretha Franklin. In Newark, New Jersey. I was her opening act. She says to her manager, “Go out there and tell that young man when he sings, he cannot go down off the stage.” The next show, the girls got screaming, and I went out in the audience. Aretha said, “That’s for me to do. You stay up onstage. You definitely won’t be going to Boston.” So I got the pink slip along with my check for the night.
Are there any other TV shows that you watch?
I watch me now, or I let the TV watch me. You should do the same. Take some notes, son.