Great article on our ABS Honorary Lifetime Member William Bell.

Beyond Blues: Born Under a Good Sign
Recent National Heritage Fellow William Bell’s well never runs dry.
By Hal Horowitz, Creative Loafing.

Even if William Bell hadn’t just been named as a National Heritage Fellow, the prestigious award given by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), his late-in-life rebound — which includes a Grammy for 2016’s This Is Where I Live — is inspiring. But you can’t truly call renewed interest in the octogenarian’s career a comeback. He was never really gone.

The Memphis-born-and-bred singer/songwriter has had an historic career if only for his being the first male solo performer signed to Memphis’s legendary Stax Records, home of Otis Redding, Booker T. and the M.G.’s, and others who defined the spirited Memphis soul sound. Bell’s 1961 solo debut, the iconic “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” was the label’s first major hit. Others followed, with his songwriting reputation cemented in the blues world as the co-composer/lyricist of the resilient blues classic “Born Under a Bad Sign” — first a hit for Albert King in 1967 and for Cream shortly thereafter. When Stax closed its doors in the mid ’70s, Bell moved to Atlanta in 1974 where he has been based ever since, and from where he has continued to tour and intermittently record for a variety of labels, including Atlanta’s Ichiban and his own Wilbe imprint.

Bell was instrumental in buying the land in Memphis that had deteriorated into an abandoned lot where the original Stax Studio stood, then raising money to rebuild it from the original blueprints in 2003 into a nearly perfect reproduction of its ’60s prime. That project has now expanded into a Stax museum and most importantly a charter school. The latter provides training for young musicians to get a foothold in the recording industry. Bell feels he’s giving back in a tradition where he was once taught the ropes by elders. “I’ve been mentoring kids for a long time because B.B. King, Rufus Thomas, Bobby Bland, and others from that generation took me under their wings, so I like to give back to kids and help them realize their dreams,” he explains. Bell has been associated with the Berklee College of Music and the Take Me to the River Education Initiative, “telling kids the ropes and ins and outs of the music industry, and training them to be successful entrepreneurs in the business.” He saw firsthand how some of his talented peers didn’t navigate the choppy waters of the music industry, resulting with little to show for their work. “As time progresses, you have to … try to protect the value of your creations. That’s what we teach … so that the kids don’t think the performance end of it is the last word.”

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