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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

William Bell -- "Three of Him" at 76 and Better Than Ever


 

He's had records that have sold millions, but William Bell had never been nominated for a Grammy award despite his 60-plus years in the music business.

That is, until now, upon the release of his sixteenth studio album.

Bear witness to a veteran soul hitmaker's journey back to the spotlight.

William Bell has been nominated for two 2017 Grammy awards. This Is Where I Live is nominated for“Best Americana Album” and his song“The Three Of Me” is nominated for “Best Traditional R&B performance.” With this, his first major release in almost 40 years, Bell has returned to his original home, Stax Records. He has come “full circle” back towards his early teenage roots. 
 
The legendary soul singer is known for writing and performing such standards as “Born Under a Bad Sign,” “You Don't Miss Your Water,” “Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday,” and “I Forgot To Be Your Lover.”

Bell co-wrote most of the songs on the new album with Grammy-winner John Leventhal, who also produced the album. Additional co-writing contributors are Marc Cohn, Rosanne Cash, Cory Chisel and Scott Bomar.

Music historian Peter Guralnick observes that the album, full of assured, subtle moments in its perspective of a certain tension “conveys truths from a perspective of age and experience that might not always have been readily apparent to a younger man.”

Bell confirms this understanding: “At my age (76), I’ve had a lot of experience, and I know what my limitations are, what my faults are as a human being, and I utilize that. When I approach a lyric or a melody, I’m brutally honest.”

No song on the album is more emblematic of this honesty than “The Three of Me,” featuring Bell singing of the different sides of a man who has loved and lost.

A National Public Radio reviews notes the following about the composition:

Age becomes Bell’s voice, which is still sweet and unwaveringly earnest; befitting the song’s conceit, he sings harmony with himself. It’s a pleasure to once again hear his reliable romanticism arranged astride the earthy simplicity of horns, Hammond organ and unfussy guitar riffs.” 
 
(Rachel Horn. “Songs We Love: William Bell, 'The Three Of Me.'” National Public Radio. March 24, 2016.)

Bell relates this insight about writing “The Three of Me” … 
 
We were sitting around in John Leventhal's studio and we were coming up with scenarios about how to write a different love song. And I think Marc [Cohn] had an idea of a title, but no words or anything. But the title kind of struck me, as if a man was just looking back over his life and trying to find out what he would do differently — the loves that he's lost or gained. And we just started writing, and this is what came out of it. It was written as a three-character series.”

By different, Bell says …

Well, sometimes as you grow older you kind of reflect on your life and the loves that you've missed or lost or gained. You write about the things that might have happened, could have happened, woulda-shoulda-coulda, that kind of thing. And what you would like for it to be in a very different situation.”

 

A Brief Bell Bio

William Bell was born in Memphis as William Yarbrough in 1939. He took the last name “Bell” as a stage name in honor of his grandmother, whose first name was Belle.

At first, Bell backed Rufus Thomas, and in 1957, he recording his first sides as a member of the Del Rios. Stax initially signed him, and after a stint in the military, he released his debut album,“The Soul of a Bell,” in 1967. It included a Top 20 single, “Everybody Loves a Winner.” He left Stax shortly before the company collapsed.

Bell then moved to Atlanta, Georgia in 1969 and started Peachtree Record Company, his short-lived soul label.

In 1985, Bell founded another label, Wilbe, and issued Passion, which found its most receptive audiences in the United Kingdom.

William Bell was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and received the Rhythm & Blues Foundation's R&B Pioneer Award that same year. In 2003, he received both the W.C. Handy Heritage Award from the Memphis Music Foundation and the BMI Songwriter's Award. He was inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame as part of the 2016 class.

Bell's songs have been covered by everyone from Linda Rondstadt to Homer Simpson. Other notable artists who covered him include Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Etta James, Carole King, the Byrds, Gram Parsons, and Warren Haynes.

Some of William’s recent live performance highlights include the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington D.C., the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, Lincoln Center in New York City, Ronnie Scott’s in London, the Porretta Soul Festival in Italy, Billboard Live in Tokyo, and at The White House for the PBS broadcast of “In Performance At The White House: Memphis Soul.”

I'm a late bloomer, I guess. But, you know, I've been in this business my whole life, since I was 14 years-old recording. So it's just rewarding. I guess if you stay in it long enough, sooner or later you hit a streak.”

--William Bell, 2016

Click herd for William Bell's, NPR Music, "Tiny Desk Concert"




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