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Part 2 (1970 – 2008)

Click here for the Part 1 (1956 – 1969)

Click here for the William Bell Discography

Click here for the William Bell CD Shop

  In the late 60s William had earned Stax Records national hits with some beautiful and wistful ballads such as Everybody Loves a Winner, A Tribute to a King and I Forgot to be Your Lover and with a more perky duet with Judy Clay called Private Number.  However, since William wasn’t signed to Stax as a writer or a producer those days, he was free to look for other outlets for his creativity as well, and as a result he became the co-owner of a new label in Atlanta, Georgia.


  “I got a new management with a young man named Henry Wynn out of Atlanta.  Peachtree was formed by me and Mr. Wynn in 1969.  When he signed on as a manager for me, I was doing a lot of his tours and he saw that I was different from a lot of acts.  I was always trying to cram knowledge of the inner workings of the music industry, because Sam Cooke was one of my heroes and when he expressed that there’s money to be made in publishing – ping!  I’m thinking ‘okay, I’ve given all my publishing away.  Now let me renegotiate, and get half of the publishing at least’.”

  “Henry suggested that he had some opening acts that he was putting on his tour that didn’t have record deals, but they were good acts like Johnny Jones, Jimmy Church and all of those guys.  So he said ‘why don’t we form a record label, and you handle the production end and I’ll handle the promotional end’.  So I was doing the writing and producing for Peachtree and he was handling the marketing end of it, and we put these acts on tours with us.”

  Of the twenty plus singles on the label, the most popular ones were Mitty Collier’s five records and James Fountain’s Seven Day Lover, which since its initial release in 1970 has become a firm northern favourite.  Other acts included Peg Leg Moffett, Eddie Billups, Gorgeous George, Susie Rainey, Emory & the Dynamics/the Four Dynamics, the Velvetones and Clyde Terrell

  However, there were no national hits.  “A lot of times, if the acts don’t take their careers seriously enough, no matter how you push – if it’s all one-sided pushing, if you’re not pushing together – it doesn’t happen.  Mitty, of course, was already an established artist, sheer talent.  She had been with Chess.  She’s an evangelist now and doing the gospel thing.  James Fountain was hungry and he wanted success.  Johnny Jones was more into it.  The other acts wanted the excitement of show-business, but there’s a lot of working machinery that goes on behind the business that makes you successful, and they weren’t really into it enough to make that happen.”

  The last single on Peachtree came out in 1972.  “We didn’t close down, but we didn’t have any more releases.”  In 2006 Grapevine Records out of the U.K. released an illustrative 20-track compilation titled William Bell Presents Atlanta Soul: The Peachtree Records Story (GRPE 3009). 


  The only solo single William released on Stax in 1970 was a cover of Jerry Butler’s small hit ten years earlier, Lonely Soldier (Stax 0070), and, although it’s a beautiful longing song, aptly interpreted and warms the heart of an old-schooler, it went almost unnoticed.   One possible reason is that musically it belongs to another era.  It was backed with a beater titled Let Me Ride, with Judy Clay.

  In 1971 there were already two singles released, but still no chart action.  A Penny for Your Thoughts (0092) is a melodic beat-ballad, written by Bettye Crutcher, and on the flip there’s another but more cutting beat-ballad called ‘Til My Back Ain’t Got No Bone, composed by Eddie Floyd and Al Bell.  Both sides of the follow-up (0106) – All for the Love of a Woman (by William) and I’ll be Home (by Eddie again) – are uptempo, almost rocky movers.


  William’s third Stax album, Wow…(Stax 2037), hit the street the same year and - besides those four ’71 single sides above - it contained his biggest hit so far, I Forgot to be Your Lover, which had come out already three years earlier.  Consequently it’s the only track on the album produced by Booker T. Jones, who had left Memphis for the West Coast in the late 60s.  Booker is also the second voice on the track.

  The rest five songs on the album don’t appear on any singles, and two of them were jointly written by Bettye Crutcher and one of Memphis’ ace guitarists those days, Bobby ManuelI Can’t Make It (All by myself) is a catchy mid-pacer, whereas My Door Is Always Open is a pretty and romantic down-tempo song.

  You’ll Want Diamonds is a big ballad and an early composition by the California-based Kenny Nolan, a singer and a song-writer, who in later years would enjoy success with such songs as I Like Dreamin’, Lady Marmalade, High Wire, Get Dancing and My Eyes Adored You – some co-written with Bob CreweWinding, Winding Road is a mid-paced jogger (by Eddie Floyd, Al Bell and Booker T. Jones), while Phillip Mitchell’s Somebody’s Gonna Get Hurt is a slow-to-mid-tempo, fully orchestrated track.

  Wow… is a solid and enjoyable album and it’s worth purchasing now that it’s still available as a back-to-back CD with William’s previous set, Bound to Happen.  For the most part the album was produced by Al Bell.  Dale Warren arranged the strings – the Memphis Symphony Orchestra – and Wayne Jackson together with Andrew Love did the arrangements for the Memphis Horns.

  Most of the rhythm tracks were cut at Muscle Shoals Sound.  “When Stax got in trouble, after they left CBS, we lost all of our catalogue, so we were trying to record as many songs on the artists that were left as possible.  Of course, the Stax studios couldn’t handle all the recording activities, so Al Bell said ‘well, I know you’ve been already writing and producing yourself.  I’m gonna give you a budget, go to Muscle Shoals to cut’.”


  Like two years earlier, also in 1972 there was only one single release from William, Save Us (0128).  Co-written by William, this thundering and slightly psychedelic uptempo number was not only musically unlike anything William had cut before, but also it carried a social message.

  The same pattern was extended onto William’s ensuing album, Phases of Reality (Stax 3005; ’72), where four out of the eight songs on display convey concern and express criticism about the state of society.  You could call it a semi-concept album.  “There were some social things going on there, because when looking around and being a little bit older and a little bit wiser about life… wow, what is happening!  When we were kids growing up, everything is sunshine and bright, and when you see the dark side of it you go like ‘wait a minute, I’ve got to regroup here’.”

  The other three songs in the same category are Fifty Dollar Habit, a beater with even a rock guitar on it; Phases of Reality, an easily pulsating jam; and The Man in the Street, a mid-tempo easy listening song, something the 5th Dimension could have cut.

  Besides the mellow and Caribbean-flavoured Lonely for Your Love, the rest three songs are all slow ones.  True Love Don’t Come Easy is a gentle and melodic beat-ballad, What I Don’t Know Won’t Hurt Me reflects a more resigned state of mind and finally If You Really Love Him is another gentle and touching ballad.  It was also the b-side to Save Us, and the last two songs were co-written by George Soule.

  Phases of Reality is largely William’s own project.  He produced the set, arranged the rhythm (the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section) and wrote or co-wrote six tunes.  Johnny Allen arranged the strings and horns, and the Sweet Inspirations handle the background vocals.  The album is available on CD together with William’s next set, Relating.


  William was one of the performers in the Wattstax concert in August 1972, although you couldn’t tell it by the documentary film released a year later.  In 1973 he moved permanently to Atlanta.  “I had been going back and forth to Atlanta performing and fell in love with Atlanta, too, but I still had home in Memphis.  After awhile we could see the handwriting on the wall, and we knew that Stax just wasn’t gonna make it.  Booker moved to L.A., and I was saying ‘well, I need a change of scenery’.  We were like a family.  We never thought Stax would end.  We all went there as kids, and all of a sudden it’s crumbling around us… and not because we didn’t have hit records.  It was just that some other political things were happening.  First I got an efficiency apartment in Atlanta.  Henry Wynn was one of the promoters that worked all the Motown acts and the Stax acts and stuff there, and he had become my manager.  He kept asking ‘why don’t you move to Atlanta’, because he knew I was just disillusioned with the music business.  I had had that incident with Meteor earlier on in my life, and here we are almost twenty years later – Stax is grumbling.”

  Ironically in the summer of 1973 William had his first nationally charted record on Stax in four years, when Lovin’ on Borrowed Time (0157) hit # 22-soul and # 101-pop.  This slow and haunting ballad about forbidden love was written by William together with Joe Shamwell and Homer Banks (at different times, though), and it was backed with The Man in the Street from the previous Phases of Reality album.  Still later that year the follow-up, a mellow floater titled I’ve Got to Go on without You (0175), reached # 54-soul (b/w a dancer named You’ve Got the Kind of Love I Need).


  The final Stax album, Relating (Stax 5502; ’73), was produced by William and Al Jackson.  Al is also on percussion, and James McDuffie and Carson Whitsett play piano and organ.  James co-wrote most of the songs with William and he’s also one of the arrangers.  Bobby Manuel, Harold Beane and Horace Shipp, Jr. play guitar, and with Horace William worked already on the previous album.  Duck Dunn is on bass. 

  Other arrangers are Lester Snell (the Memphis Symphony Orchestra) and James Mitchell (the Memphis Horns, Inc.).  The set was engineered by Pete Bishop, mixed by Larry Nix and Rhodes-Chalmers-Rhodes took care of the background vocals (the Temprees were on one track), and that rounds up the impressive list of craftsmen that worked on this project.

  The album spawned one more chart record, when in early summer of 1974 a swaying beat ballad called Gettin’ What You Want (Losin’ What You Got) (0198) peaked at # 39-soul.  A melodic mid-pacer on the flip titled All I Need Is Your Love came from the same source, as well as Nobody Walks Away from Love Unhurt, a Latin-flavoured mid-tempo song, which ended up as the flip to William’s final Stax single in 1974.  William’s swan song for the company was an atmospheric, almost sophisticated ballad named Get It While It’s Hot (0221).

  There were still four non-single sides on the Relating album – a jolly beat-ballad called Such a Fever; a meditating “lounge” song titled Drinkin’ and Thinkin’; a quite strong soul ballad named You Don’t Want a Man and as a closure a piece of uptempo funk, Nobody But You. 

  That concludes one era, and we have William’s Stax career wrapped up – in 13 years 32 singles and 6 albums, including duets.


  “Music saved us all.  We were ghetto kids growing up in the projects and in the rough neighbourhood, and, if it had not been for Stax and the music, a lot of us would have been lost.  Music was like a place, a refuge, where we could go and stay out of trouble, and of course we loved the music… and we didn’t know we would create something that would last for fifty years.  But we knew that here’s a family atmosphere, where somebody cares about you, and you can go in there and the police aren’t chasing you” (laughing).

  In 1974 William didn’t renew his contract, and soon after that Stax collapsed.  “I think it was more than one person, one entity.  I think it was the whole corporate structure breaking down.  Stax went under about two-three years after Wattstax, and we were generating millions of dollars.  We had records on the charts, when we filed bankruptcy.  There were forces that wanted to get us out of the competitive market.  I see it that way.  It didn’t matter, if we had a hit record on the charts.  Systematically Isaac Hayes, or William Bell, or Soul Children, or somebody would ship a hundred thousand records, because they were known to sell two or three hundred thousand records.  So instead of shipping 100,000, they shipped 25,000, so already your cash-flow is strangled.  And that’s what happened with Stax.  There were some bad choices made, because they trusted too many people in the industry.”

  There’s been a lot of speculation also about Johnny Baylor’s role in the downfall, too.  “Johnny was an outside entity, but I don’t think he was the cause of the collapse of Stax.  There were some choices made that were not right for Stax.  One was leaving Atlantic, because they knew our music, they knew the artists.  Then for the sake of trying to get into the movie industry and all that, they changed from Atlantic to Paramount, which was a big mistake, because them being out of California they knew nothing about what we were doing at Stax.  So even though the financiers were at Paramount, the support was not paramount.”


  As an aftershock William’s good friend, Al Jackson, was shot to death on October 1 in 1975.  “Al spent the weekend with me in Atlanta, and we were getting ready to do a production on Major Lance.  I drove him around looking for a home, because he loved Atlanta.  He wanted to move to Atlanta.  I put him on a flight going home at seven o’clock that evening, and about an hour and a half later I got a call from Duck Dunn.  He got off the plane in Memphis, picked up his car and drove home, and there were guys waiting on him outside.  I don’t know if Al had a habit of carrying large amounts of money on him.  I don’t know if that was the case.”

  Although William didn’t cut any records on himself for two years, he was no way idle.  He co-produced an album on the Counts in 1974 (Funk Pump on Aware 2006), and he returned to one of his favourite hobbies, acting.  “I had done a part in Together for Days (directed by Michael Schultz in 1972).  That was Samuel Jackson’s first part… and Clifton Davis’.  Nothing ever materialized out of it that much, but I did do a couple of cameo things and studied acting at the Academy Theater in Atlanta.”

  William knew how to play guitar and piano, and in Atlanta he started taking drumming lessons as well.  “I formed the production early on, when we started doing the Peachtree label.  I wanted to more or less start a company, so I officially incorporated Wilbe Productions early on, I think like in ’72.”  Wilbe is William’s nickname.


  “Charles Fach was the Executive Vice-president of Mercury, and they distributed the Peachtree label for a while.  I’m one of those people that like to be comfortable.  I don’t like to watch over my shoulder a lot, so Charles and I became very good friends.  I was going to exit the music business, except writing and producing.  That’s why I started acting, but I agreed to do four sides for Charles after he had worked on me for about a year (laughing).  I had a budget, but no material, so Paul Mitchell and I sat down and wrote.  Tryin’ to Love Two, of course, was one of them, and it pulled me back.”  Paul Mitchell used to work as a jazz pianist in the Atlanta area.

  With those four songs William approached Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn, and the rhythm tracks (by the Chocolate Milk) were laid down at Sea Saint Studios in New Orleans.  All the vocals and sweetening were cut at Sound Pit in Atlanta.

  After its release in late 1976, Tryin’ to Love Two (Mercury 73839) - an easy on the ear, mellow and memorable mid-pacer - shot up to # 1-soul and # 10-pop, sold gold and became the biggest record in William’s career.  “When I write, I usually have ideas floating around in my head for two or three months longer.  It’s just a matter of sitting down and formulating them into verses, choruses and all that.  I had that idea in my head for quite awhile, but I was not recording.  I didn’t have a deal.  When Charles insisted, I said ‘okay, I’ve got this song and I’ve got a couple of other things’.”  On the flip to Tryin’ to Love Two there was a very slow, almost late-night type of a song called If Sex Was All We Had.


  A monster hit called for an album, which was released in March next year.  In the wake of a smash also the ensuing LP, Coming Back for More (Mercury 1-1146; ’77), became William’s biggest album peaking at # 15-soul and # 63-pop.  But it’s a good record in its own right, and not just a package that’s been hastily put together after a hit.  It was released on CD in 1995.

  The songs were produced, arranged and for the most part written by William and Paul Mitchell.  For the rest of the rhythm tracks they used the United Sound studios.  The title song, another mellow mid-pacer, was chosen for the next single (73922), but it didn’t fare that well anymore (# 66-soul) presumably because it lacked the simplicity of the predecessor and the controversial subject many could relate to.

  The three uptempo dancers on the set (Relax, Malnutrition, I Absotively, Posolutely Love you) were no doubt cut under the pressure from discos, but the three cover songs make you stop at your tracks.  A very slow and more inspirational rework of You Don’t Miss Your Water - William’s first Stax recording in 1961 - gives you another angle to the song, and Eli Fountain’s alto sax solo gives it a special touch.  Eli is featured also on another atmospheric slowie, Just another Way to Feel.  Slowed-down versions of I Wake up Cryin’ and You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me are equally impressive.


  The third and final Mercury single (73961) in late ’77 was Easy Comin’ out (Hard Goin’ in), an effortless and melodic dancer, which became a disco favourite (# 30-soul) and still today is one of the most popular numbers in William’s concerts.

  The album to go with it was titled It’s Time You Took another Listen (Mercury 1-1193; ’77) and again William and Paul are the main architects.  It was partially cut at Ardent Studios and many Memphis musicians are involved this time.  Only this time the music sounds more superficial, more lightweight, and neither such slow-to-mid-tempo tunes as I Don’t Want Nobody to Love Me (But You) and Shed a Little Light on the Subject, nor dancers like Yesterday I Lied, Today I Cried and Satin Sheets rise to the level of William’s previous work.  The b-side to the single, Your Love Keeps Me Going, is a funky number.

  There are, however, one melodic and story-telling ballad from Paul Kelly titled Hollywood Streetwalker and two stirring down-tempo songs – Morning Glory (8:37!) and Let It Shine – that along with the single invite you actually to “take another listen.”  Morning Glory and Let It Shine are melodies that could easily derive from the spiritual side.  “I never left too far from my gospel roots.  I started there, and my mom always wanted me to record a gospel album for her.  I might eventually do it.”

  Although Easy Comin’ Out evolved into a sizeable success, William’s stint with Mercury came to an end.  “One of my deals in going back into the business of music was – and I put a clause in the contract that says – I’m here as long as Charles Fach is here.  So when Charles exited the Mercury corporation, I wanted out… even with Easy Comin’ Out going up the charts.  I went to the headquarters and I realized that nobody there really knew the real me.  I was a number.  One of the execs told me in the hallway ‘you’re making all the money’.  I said ‘well, I’m doing all the work.  I’m writing it, I’m producing it, I’m bringing it up to you on a silver platter.  All you do is manufacture it’.  I realized at that moment that it’s time to go.”  Due to contractual reasons William had to deliver Mercury still one more album, but after he insisted on leaving they never released it and it still remains in the can.


  It took six years for William to record again.  “After I left Mercury - and having the Stax experience and then that… – I started writing and producing some other people.  I did a thing a Jackie Moore production for CBS, the song Personally (Columbia 10779 in ’78; # 92-soul).  Actually I was still acting and touring, because - thank goodness - I had enough fan base out there.  And I built a little studio.”

  His next album appeared on the Atlanta-based and CBS-distributed Kat Family label in 1983, and it was aptly titled Survivor (FZ 38643).  The songs were produced, arranged and for the most part written by William and Michael Allen Stewart, with a little help from Nat George.  “Mike Stewart was the young kid I met at a music seminar.  I was one of the speakers.  He came over and he wanted to get into the music business.  He was a great keyboard player and an arranger, so I took him under my wings and took him on.”

  “The Kat Family label came about with my attorney and I.  Joe Katz was a prominent musical attorney.  For the sake of having some records out we established a label called Kat Family and Bell-Kat Music.  Then I realized later on that he was doing it at the tax shelter, and I was doing it to make some money.  He had success, because he had Bertie Higgins ( and a million seller and some other stuff (Key Largo, Just another Day in Paradise), and I had the Survivor thing on it.  It was then sold to a gentleman, who had finances but no knowledge of the music business.”


  Already prior to the album in early ’83 they released as a single a smooth beat ballad called Bad Time to Break up (03502), which notched up # 65-black and was backed with a melodic mid-tempo ditty titled The Truth in Your Eyes.  The gentle and laid-back follow-up titled Playing Hard to Get (03995) flopped.

  Among the rest of the tracks on the album there’s the funky and rocky title tune, two disco dancers - Smiling Ain’t Gonna Be Easy and Trying to Get to You – and a lilting ballad named I Might As Well Be in Love.  According to William, his partner on the brisk Private Number this time is Rubi Burt, and this is not the last time they join in a duet on this particular song.  “I think we remixed it later.”

  Kat Family was a short-lived, only one-album-long period.  “I left and I figured I might just as well start my own label and that’s when Wilbe came about.”  First Wilbe was distributed by Jewel-Paula-Ronn conglomeration, but soon William switched over to Ichiban.  “Jewel had strengths in a different area.  Their strength was more in blues – traditional blues and older re-releases – and I’m doing more modern sounds in r&b and soul.  It just never clicked.  I talked with John Abbey and I teamed up with him.”  These days Wilbe is independent.


  William’s first album on his own label in 1985 was called Passion (Wil-3001) and it went as high as # 39 on the Black charts.  It was once more produced by William and Mike Stewart, but this time a musician by the name of Albert Burroughs joins them and Albert also co-wrote with William most of the tunes.  Those three mostly take care of the instrumentation and programming, too.

  For the first single (WRC 201) William surprisingly chose his slowed-down remake of Lovin’ on Borrowed Time, which suffers somewhat from rumbling synthesizers.  But already the follow-up (202) was something else.  William, Henderson Thigpen and James Banks wrote a melodic, country-tinged ballad called I Don’t Want to Wake up (Feelin’ Guilty), and here William shares vocals with Janice Bulluck (sometimes spelt also Bullock).  This became the first nationally charted record for William in three years (# 59-black).  Janice is singing also on the disco flip, Whatever You Want (You Got It).  “Janice is semi-retired and she’s back living in North Carolina, and she’s doing well.  I did one song with her duet-wise, and then we did an album on her” (Don’t Start a Fire; Wil-3003).

  The third single, a hypnotic mid-pacer named Headline News (204) evolved as a remix into a hit in the U.K., but also in the USA it reached # 65-black in the fall of 1986.

  The rest of the tracks on the set (Passion, That’s what you Get, Heavy on the Love Side) represent standard disco music, but two tracks – Let Him Pay the Band and I’m Lighting Somebody Else’s Fire – rise above others due to more interesting melodies and arrangements.

  For the festive season William still released one single, Please Come Home for Christmas/Everyday Will Be like a Holiday (205), towards the end of 1986.

  After the Passion album William concentrated on producing other acts for Wilbe.  Besides Janice, they released material on a duo called Vision (Vision Exposed, Wil 3002 in ’86) and in the 90s on Joey Gilmore.  “Fern was more of a pop act.  We released one album on Eddie Floyd (Flashback, Wil 3005 in ’88).  Darian – we cut the album, but it never came out, because he got out of the music business.  We did an album on Jerome Roberson & Prayz and released that (Sing in the Spirit, Wil 3004).  Two – nothing was ever released on them.”


  William’s next own album was called On a Roll (Wil 3007) and it was released in 1989.  William himself produced it, but Michael Stewart co-produced the three songs he also co-wrote.  The set was cut at William’s and Mike’s Sound Shop studios in Norcross, Georgia.

  Music on this set causes mixed feelings.  Earlier William had tested disco music to more or less successfully, but now he’s invading the funk territory (When you’ve Got the Best, If You Don’t Use It, I’m Ready, Short Circuit) and one can’t help feeling that this is not his field, especially when machines are involved.  “Actually, when it came into prominence, I wanted to get on the bandwagon and get the modern sounds.  Of course, being from the old school, some of the modern sounds worked, but I realized the heartbeat and the pulse of the business is from the comradeship of the musicians and the studio working up the rhythm.  So we cut live with live musicians.  Now if I want a certain sound, a certain modernistic sound to a song – and I let the song dictate – then I might add maybe a synthesizer or some electronic sound.”

  Besides one fiesta scorcher (I Can Do It), one rock-orientated mid-tempo beater (Holding on to Love) and one high-pitched beat-ballad (On a Roll), we are left with two slow songs that are arguably the best on the set, so logically they were picked up as the singles.  Getting out of Your Bed (508; ’89) is a soft and atmospheric ballad and I Need Your Love So Bad (515; ’90) is a swaying, mellow plea.


  Three years later, in the summer of 1992, William released Bedtime Stories (WIL 4128; # 96-r&b), which was produced and written by William and Reginald “Wizard” Jones, with some input from Thomas Martin Jr.  “Reginald was an artist that moved from Pittsburgh to Atlanta.  He and Tommy Martin were roommates.  I needed a keyboard player and a guitarist for a session.  Tommy plays guitar.  I met them in a club, and they were such good musicians, but they hadn’t done any studio work.  They came to see me, and it just worked out.  It was excellent.  Tommy went on to play and tour with Madonna for a while, and of course Reginald is still with me.”

  The CD spawned two singles in ’92.  Bedtime Story (619) is a soft and smooth slowie, almost in a Philly style, and Shake Hands (Come Out Loving) (624) is a more solid soul ballad and a duet with Rubi Burt.  On the album Rubi is singing also on the second remake of Private Number, but it’s still hard for me to believe that this is the same girl, who did a duet on the same song nine years earlier on the Survivor set.

  Another fascinating track on the CD is Paper Thin, on which William talks his way through the song and melancholy atmosphere is emphasized by moaning background vocals.  Downtempo material – including the swaying I’ll Be Around – is pleasant and soothing, although on a couple of tracks (Baby Don’t Rush and How Long Is My Love) the late-night mood may make you sleepy.

  Although guitars and sax are live, keys and drums are programmed, and this becomes evident in an irritating way especially on the five uptempo beaters (I’d Rather Be Blind, Keep Your Body Warm, Movers and Shakers, Crazy ‘bout Your Love and Ain’t Nothing I Won’t Do).

  In 1994 Wilbe/Ichiban released Greatest Hits, vol. 1 & 2 (WIL 4196-97), two CDs with 21 tracks covering William’s whole career from You Don’t Miss Your Water through to I Don’t Want to Wake up, but they are all recent re-recordings – well done, though – some uptempoed but mostly true to the ones we have come to know.  “I did them mainly for business reasons.  I wanted to have control of my masters, because they were floating around all over the place with their original Stax names.  We cut them over again, but I tried to stay really true to the original versions.”


  It took as many as seven years for William to release a CD with completely new material on it, A Portrait Is Forever (WIL 2001-2; ’99).  “A young lady that works with me, Jeanette Calloway, does all of my graphic work.  It was not officially called A Portrait Is Forever, but she had done a portrait on me.  When I’m listening to the mix on the music, I think it’s like a portrait.  It’ll last forever.”

  Again produced by William and Reginald, William co-wrote all twelve songs – some with “Wizard”, some with Eric Richardson, Al Hayes and Ricardo McCants.  In instrumentation they’re using partly live drums and bass, live guitar (Darryl Smith is one of the players), but this time the programming is skilfully done, without any nasty voices.

  Melodies are mostly strong.  On the uptempo side, That’s My Job is a catchy, quick-tempo ditty, not unlike what Ecko has specialized in for years, and You Should’ve Covered Your Tracks and I Can’t Leave Your Love Alone are in the same bag.  Only the funky If You Can’t Handle the Finance fails.  The opener named Operator and Lifestyles of the Poor & Unknown are relaxed mid-tempo songs.

  Listen with My Mind, Come in out of the Rain, Take Advantage of a Good Thang and After the Paint comes off are so-so beat-ballads, but Like a Man and Just a Man (Working Hard) are more intense and touching soul ballads and actually among the best performances on record from William in three decades.

In 2003 William came up with an impressive vocal performance on Have I Told You Lately (That I Love You) for the Vanthology compilation, produced by Jon Tiven.


  Besides William, his Wilbe roster today includes Jeff Floyd, Wizard Jones, Fred Bolton and Lola.  You can read the review of William’s latest CD so far, New Lease on Life (WIL 2010; ‘06), with his own comments at

  Of the other artists recording for Wilbe today, Jeff Floyd has three CDs on the market – Powerhouse (2002), The Power Is Still On (2008) and Keepin’ It Real (2014),, and Wizard Jones has one, Roze’s Garden (2013).

  I interviewed Fred Bolton right after the release of I’m Gonna Git Mine (2011),, as well as Lola after her Give Her What She Wants (2012),

  “I have a project with the band that works with me, Total Package, because they’ve been with me for like twelve-thirteen years now.  I never want to become a big corporate structure again.  I honestly want every act on the label to be successful, and I don’t want to spread myself too thin.  I think I’ve got enough acts right now.  We have people calling all the time about signing, but I just want to do a good job on what I’ve got.”

  In 2003 William was awarded “W.C. Handy Heritage Award” and he belongs to the R&B Foundation and he’s been inducted, among others, into The Georgia Music Hall Of Fame, The Memphis Music Hall Of Fame, The Stax Museum Hall Of Fame.

  In addition to the CDs I’ve mentioned in the article, there’s a very good, 20-track Stax compilation available, The Very Best of William Bell (STXCD-30297), released last year.

  William will turn seventy next summer, but he still is one of the most dynamic performers around, as his three concerts at the Pori Jazz Festival here in Finland proved last summer.  The good news is that we’re promised a new CD most probably next year.

(Acknowledgements to Mr. William Bell, Matti Laipio, Mikko Peltola, Juhani Laikkoja, Pertti Nurmi, Aarno Alén, Pekka Talvenmäki, David Cole and Marc Taylor.

Sources: Rob Bowman’s exhaustive book, Soulsville, U.S.A., Bob McGrath’s The R&B Indies and Joel Whitburn’s Billboard chart books.

Click here for the Part 1 (1956 – 1969)

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Heikki Suosalo

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