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DEEP # 5/2017 (September)

  It’s always a pleasure to talk to Mr. William Bell.  He’s an easy-going gentleman and – considering his over 60-year career – he has great stories to tell.  Furthermore, when watching his energetic show on the stage, it’s hard to believe that’s the same calm and laid-back artist you just conversed with.  I conducted an update interview with him three weeks ago.  In the latter part of the column three CDs are reviewed, including two fine compilations.

Content and quick links:

Interviews:
William Bell

New music:
Ms. Jody: (I Got That) Thunder under Yonder

Compilation/Reissue CD reviews:
Wilson Pickett: Sings Bobby Womack
Various Artists: Mainstream Modern Soul 2



WILLIAM BELL

  Picture a huge tent, which houses over 1,500 seated people, by a beautiful bay in the centre of the city.  Soon out of that tent thrilling soul sounds start sweeping across the bay.  William Bell has hit the stage with his 8-member entourage.  As part of the Helsinki Festival (http://www.helsinginjuhlaviikot.fi/en/), William’s concert took place on August the 23rd in 2017.

  His 15-song set consisted both of his big yesteryear hits – You Don’t Miss Your Water, Any Other Way, Everybody Loves a Winner, Eloise (Hang on in There), Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday, Private Number (with Suzie Furlonger) , I Forgot to Be Your Lover, Tryin’ to Love Two, Easy Comin’ Out (Hard Goin’ in) – and numbers from his latest award-winning CD, This Is Where I Live, including the title track, The Three of Me, Born Under a Bad Sign, Poison in the Well, Mississippi Arkansas Bridge and I Will Take Care of You.  It was an impressive show, truly dynamic hour and a half.  William was in a strong voice and he especially masters the moments, when he brings the band down.  In an almost total silence and with the audience practically holding its breath, William manages to keep the atmosphere highly charged and never lets the emotional intensity drop.

  Introduced by the MC as “the legendary Strax label recording artist”, this wasn’t the first time William had hit our shores.  Actually the last time he was here at the Pori Jazz Festival in 2008, we went through his whole career, and you can read the complete story at http://www.soulexpress.net/williambell.htm.

A RECENT GRAMMY WINNER

  William’s critically acclaimed CD from last year, This Is Where I Live, delightfully turned also into a commercial success.  William: “It was like a shining armour as far as the career – very helpful and rewarding – and, of course, a Grammy for it helped an awful lot, tremendously (“Best Americana Album”).  We hadn’t done a CD in a while, so it was good having it back on Stax.  Actually last year was an award-winning year for me, because I got quite a few prestigious awards: Memphis music award, the Grammy award and the Americana award.”  William was inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame on November the 3rd in 2016 and he received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting at Americana Music Awards on September the 21st in Nashville.

  His August visit to Europe was a short one this time.  “The movie Take Me to the River (http://www.soulexpress.net/deep2_2016.htm#river) had been very successful and that triggered awful lot of other events along with the touring.  We have a tour coming up, starting in September and going all the way through November.  It’s got Bobby Rush, Charlie Musselwhite and Stax Kids on it.”

  The 7-week “Take Me to the River” tour in the U.S.A. this fall consists of over thirty concerts.  “I try to keep my body in good condition.  At my age I have to.  It’s going to be gruelling to a degree, but we’re used to years of travelling and touring.  We’ve been actually very busy the beginning of this year.  I think we’ve been to Spain three times, to the U.K. a couple of times, to Amsterdam and quite a few other places.”

  You might associate the Take Me to the River DVD with William’s short acting career in the 1970s.  He had a role in Michael Schultz’s 1972 movie Together for Days.  “We had some other things that I don’t think were released, but Together for Days was.  It didn’t make a big success out of it, but that was the first one we did and that was the first for Samuel L. Jackson also (laughing).  Actually Take Me to the River was supposed to be just a documentary, but then we added some other stuff like working with the kids and broadened it a little bit.”

  William studied acting at the Academy Theater in Atlanta in the mid-70s.  “I was there for two and a half years.  We went to a lot of classes.  I studied filmmaking under a lady by the name of Mary Nell Santacroce, who acted in a lot of movies.”  William, however, didn’t embark on an acting career, but returned to recording in 1976.  “This was the time of blaxploitation movies, and the only scripts that I got were to play pimps and hustlers (laughing).  I just wanted something with more substance.  So when Charles Fach at Mercury asked me about recording again, I was a little reluctant because of the Stax situation.  Finally he convinced me and I agreed to do four songs and I got a million plus seller record from those songs, Tryin’ to Love Two.  I did a cameo part in a little movie out of the U.S. last year.  It was on one channel for a couple of nights, so I’ve been dabbling in it for awhile.”

WILBE

  On William’s own Wilbe label there have been 23 album releases altogether since 1985, but the last one by Total Package came out already five years ago.  “Total Package is actually my touring band, and we got so busy touring that we couldn’t get into the studio to do creative thing.  Here I have actually a European band with me that I’ve been using for about two or three years.  Total Package is 14 members, so it’s a lot of money flying and everything.”

  In Helsinki William had Michael Summerland on guitar, Dave Lennox on keys, Dave Jenkins on bass and Peter Stroud on drums.  The horn section consisted of Greg Heath and Peter Lukas on saxophones and Kevin Robinson on trumpet.  Suzie was the background singer and co-vocalist.

  “We just completed another recording on Jeff Floyd and we’re working on Lola.  Jeff’s CD will come out very soon and Lola probably the top of the year.  We might have a single on her prior to the year ending.”  Jeff has released four albums on Wilbe so far (Powerhouse, The Power Is Still on, Keepin’ It Real and Watch Me Work), whereas Lola has only one, Give Her What She Wants (http://www.soulexpress.net/deep108.htm#lola).  One of the Wilbe artists, Fred Bolton, passed away in late 2009 at the age of only forty-one.  “His kidneys failed on him and it was a shock to all of us, because it was so sudden and he had been in sessions the whole week.  Then he went home and over the weekend he passed” (http://www.soulexpress.net/deep207.htm#fredbolton).  Wilbe Studios in the Atlanta region are used only for William’s artists and his own purposes.  “We also do a lot of songs for movies and stuff like that.  It’s not for outside activity.”

GOOD MUSIC ON THE RISE


William Bell together with Heikki Suosalo

  “I think that there’s a resurgence right now and interest in black music.  My success with this Take Me to the River project and the new CD on Stax, This Is Where I Live, has kind of triggered off that 60s and 70s sound, because a lot of the artists are getting back out there, like Charles Bradley.  I see a lot of younger artists gravitating towards that, so hopefully we have triggered off again a new era in southern soul and black music.  The music is so heartfelt.  It just needs to be perpetuated and kept out there.”

  “My follow-up will come out next year.  I’m doing some writing on it.  I have been in discussion with John Leventhal (the producer of This Is Where I Live), who has expressed an interest in working with me again on another project.  He and his wife Roseanne are doing some music for a Broadway show.  He’s been busy this summer and I’ve been going for shows, but we hopefully get together in September in New York and hopefully in the wintertime we’ll get into the studio and get another ready for next year.”

  “I’ve got such a great fan base.  They’re like my rock.  They’ve been with me all these years, as well as the disc-jockeys and the media people.  It’s just wonderful to know after sixty years in the business that you do have a following, because our business is such a roller coaster thing.  I would just like to thank everybody for being there for me and supporting my career, even the down times.  I’ve been able to ride the crest of the waves and then in the valleys too.  That’s why I strive so hard to put my best efforts out there for product, material, songs and everything, because I do know that as an artist we influence a lot of people and we have a lot of people supporting us.  So I’d like to take the time and thank them for that” (www.williambell.com).

(Interview conducted on August the 22nd in 2017; acknowledgements to William Bell, Charles Driebe and Laura Gottleben).

SOUTHERN SOUL STEW

MS. JODY

  When I purchased (I Got That) Thunder under Yonder; ECD 1173; www.eckorecords.com) and started listening to it, I was really delighted to hear the first track, an irresistible dancer and a guaranteed floor-filler called I’m So Confused.  I also liked the track # 2, a quick-tempo and brisk mover named Power Stroke.  But then came track # 3, Ms. Jody’s Energizer Slide, which possibly is inspired by her two earlier tracks – Energizer Bunny and Ms. Jody’s Boogie Slide – but which just repeats many age-old dance music clichés and introduces that unfortunate voice-distortion “filter”, which immediately puts me off.  This Slide simply is a non-innovative chant, in spite of the fact that Vertie aka Ms. Jody is again remotely flirting with zydeco sound.  This track may attract certain marginal groups, but a long-time Ms. Jody fan like me is not thrilled at all.  Unfortunately there are still two more similarly constructed tracks ahead, albeit more listenable and decent.

  But she gets back on the right track on the mid-tempo and smooth Another Other Woman, on the gentle Let It Flow and on the mellow and melancholic You’re Letting a Good Man’s Lovin’ Go to Waste.  For variety, Stir it up is a Caribbean fiesta song and Where I Come From is actually straight country-rock.  I only wish she wouldn’t Slide anymore.

COMP-ART-ment

WILSON PICKETT *

  Sometimes everything falls into place.  The 2 ½-year collaboration between the singer Wilson Pickett and the songwriter Bobby Womack is one the highlights in the history of soul music, and it resulted in 17 outstanding tracks, which are all gathered on Wilson Pickett Sings Bobby Womack (CDTOP 467; www.acerecords.com; 20 tracks, 54 min.).  In the liners Cliff White, Bob Fisher and Tony Rounce reveal the peculiar and long-lasting history of the making of this compilation, and all I can say is that we’re lucky someone had persistence.

  These tracks were spread on six Wilson Pickett albums between 1966 and ‘69, but I’m in Love (1967) and The Midnight Mover (1968) are the core LPs in terms of both quantity and quality.  Among the eight funky and infectious dancers there are I Found a True Love, I’m a Midnight Mover and the more mid-tempo Remember, I been good to you.

  All nine ballads are first-rate.  If you’re not touched by I’m Sorry about That, Jealous Love, It’s a Groove or I’ve Come a Long Way, then perhaps real soul music is not your genre.  According to what Wilson said in our interview in the early 80s, I’m in Love is his own favourite out of all the songs he had recorded.  As a bonus there are both sides of Bobby Womack’s Atlantic single (Find Me somebody/How Does It Feel), recorded in December 1966, and Wilson singing Sam Cooke’s Bring It on Home to Me.  This, if any, is an essential compilation!

MAINSTREAM 2 *


  Mainstream Modern Soul 2 – 1969-1976 (CDKEND 468; 23 tracks, 75 min.; notes by Ady Croasdell) consists of releases from Bob Shad’s Mainstream imprint and its four subsidiaries.  Luckily Bob favoured full background sound and rich orchestration, which make these tracks all the more attractive.  Also Bob’s jazz background comes through in the middle of this compilation, where a parade of ballads is interrupted by three jazzy movers: Alice Clark’s Never Did I Stop Loving You, Bobby Earl WilliamsLet Her Know and Ellerine Harding’s I Know Something You Don’t Know.

  Some tracks were leased from cities like Detroit, Memphis and New Orleans.  For instance, that aforementioned ballad parade starts with the intense I’ll Never Trust Love Again by McArthur out of Detroit.  Lenny Welch’s When There’s No Such Thing as Love (It’s over) and Lenny McDaniel & the Last Nikle’s I’ve Been Trying to Love You are both big ballads, while I’ve Got to Tell You by Count Willie with LRL & the Dukes is the deepest one.  Nia Johnson’s You Are the Spice of My Life and SteptonesYour Love Is like the Rising Sun – again Detroit! – are smoother and more haunting ones. 

  Add to this parade still Lee Bates’ very slow Your Love Is Slipping Away (out of New Orleans) and Jeany ReynoldsPlease Don’t Set Me Free from her debut single.  Her brother Larry, aka L.J. Reynolds, sings on the background.  Special Delivery without Terry Huff “delivers” a sweet ballad titled Come Back with Your Love, and Terry himself without original Special Delivery members offers a pleasant and light disco dancer named Where There’s a Will (There’s a Way).  Other dancers include Randolph Brown’s – actually Randy Brown – You Can Be Cured and Chapter Three’s I’ll Never Be the Same, which bears a resemblance to some of those smooth disco hits that the Three Degrees used to excel on.  With Almeta Lattimore’s Oh My Love we travel to Detroit again, but You’ve Got a Lot to Give by Chocolate Syrup is not L.J. Reynolds’ group this time.  The compilation closes with Linda Perry’s fascinating neo-doowop ballad called Everyone Has Someone.  I listed almost every track simply because I enjoyed this CD and the well-produced music on it a lot.

 

© Heikki Suosalo

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