Jesus Rock Classics — August 28, 2014 at 6:34 pm

Jeannie Greene – The Greatest Unknown Vocalist of Jesus Music?

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Jeannie Greene first came to my attention one day when, as is always a musical education at Jesus People, I walked down the hall past various open rooms on a hot summer day. A gravelly yet magnificent voice sounding suspiciously like Janis Joplin came belting out of John and Tina’s room. But that was no Joplin song.

Hey all you sinners
I’m talkin’ to you
I want you to listen
Because I am one, too…

Inquiries were made. John informed me the LP was 1971′s “Mary Called Jeannie Greene,” and I wasted little time getting myself a copy. But I knew next to nothing about her, and there was apparently no follow-up album. Every once in a while I’d get out “Mary Called…” just to hear that amazing voice again and maybe to take a trip down memory lane and my younger years.

What I did not find out for a very long time was that Jeannie Greene was no unknown as far as other musicians were concerned. It was in 1958 that Chet Atkins helped her land a recording contract. In the next three years, using the moniker Jeannie[*] Johnson (her birth name was Mary Elizabeth Lee), she released three singles which all sank instantly into obscurity. ’65 and ’66 saw two more singles, also ill-fated, under the name Jeannie Fortune.

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During that era, she met Marlin Greene who became her husband (Marlin would also record at least one quasi-Christian LP in the early 1970s, but we digress). Jeannie began to get a reputation as an excellent back-up vocalist, and sang backing vocals for Elvis Presley on approximately 18 different records. She also recorded with Boz Skaggs and Cher, to name just two more. In 1968, in contrast to what she would be recording only a few years later, Jeannie Greene released a single called “Sure As Sin.” It was about a “bad” woman interested only in her man, hardly a stellar outing on any level.

Knowing her history, and looking at the diminutive red-headed white lady, there was simply no warning for her astonishing 1971 LP “Mary Called Jeannie Greene.” The voice is gritty, spanning a range going into low alto to soprano and offering both churchy croon and blues/rock thunder. The album, part of an effort to capitalize on a sudden popularity among southern rockers, did not sell well. It is extremely hard today to understand why. Produced by Don Nix at the famous Muscle Shoal Studios and with their first tier of musicians, “Mary Called…” is a nearly-perfect gem.

The love song “Joa-Bim” offers an example of her quieter side (see first video below) while the short but quickly intense “Peter Put Away Your Sword” gets right to it! Have fun listening to both.

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* She used both one and two ‘n’s in Jeannie… I stuck with the two.

2 Comments

  1. Doug "D.R." Storm

    Thank you for this wonderful post on Jeanie. I am actually a friend – and possible, undetermined relative, of Jeanie’s, and have been for many years. I just found your post tonight as I like to scan the internet every once-in-a-while to glean any new photos or information about her career — because as you said so yourself, that it is hard to find information. Jeanie’s resume is so vast that I think even she herself has forgotten all who she has worked with. It’s a bit surreal when you’re listening to the radio with her, and a song will come one, and all of the sudden, it will trigger one of her memories. “I remember working with them on that song”, she would say.

    Jeanie, at the moment, is in a nursing home in a long term recovery from a series of ailments that sadly, struck her down last year. At this time, she is doing much better, but not strong enough to return to her normal routine, but we are praying that will be soon.

    I actually put together a three-part interview I did with back around New Year’s 2012 and placed in on my youtube channel. Jeanie had so many wonderful stories to tell, and they just seem to be disappearing into oblivion. I leave a link to the first video at the bottom. The last installment is my favorite because I was able to capture Jeanie as she worshiped her creator while listening to some recordings of Mahalia Jackson. It was a side I wanted desperately to capture from this woman who genuinely loves the Lord with all her heart.

    Thank you so much for this wonderful post. God Bless you, my friend. Please feel free to look at my channel as there are many videos of Jeanie. There are even two videos of some reunions when she reunited with the other members of Southern Comfort — the backing group that sang with Elvis on several of his albums during the late sixties and seventies.

    This is the link to the first one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAelgeuZ9QI

  2. Conrad Shull

    This has been one of this 62 year old heathen’s “desert island discs” ever since I picked up my first copy in 1973. “Put your good on the line, and let it show, and take whatever comes.”

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