In the summer of 2009 the venerable Ponderosa Stomp came to New York City for the first time. One of the most appealing features of a busy weekend was an outdoor show at Lincoln Center. The show featured a great Memphis band called the Bo-Keys, which included the legendary guitarist Skip Pitts (rest in peace). The Bobettes of “Mr. Lee” fame were there. They killed it that night as did Detroit soul man Harvey Scales who brought his unique brand of panache to the proceedings.
The headliner that night was Stax stalwart William Bell. He wasn’t just part of the Stax sound, he was one of its creators. Bell had his first hit for the label in 1961. As the videos that I shot that night will attest, it was 48 years later and Bell hadn’t lost a step. I’ve posted them below.
Bell is a Memphis guy, and he was part of a group called the Del-Rios in the late ’50s. He signed with Stax in ’61 and that same year had a small hit with “You Don’t Miss Your Water”, a scintillating blend of Memphis soul, and Nashville country. The record only reached #95 on the Pop chart, and seven non-chart singles followed, but Stax stuck with Bell.
The breakthrough for Bell came in 1966 with the R&B hit “Share What You Got (But Keep What You Need).” The following year he had an even bigger hit, but this time as a songwriter. Along with Booker T. Jones, Bell wrote the classic “Born Under A Bad Sign,” which is most identified with Albert King, and was later covered by Cream. In 1968 Bell collaborated with Judy Clay and they had a hit with “Private Number.”
Bell hit the charts again in ’68, this time on his own with “I Forgot To Be Your Lover.” Billy Idol had a Top Ten hit with the song in 1986 under the title “To Be A Lover.” Ludacris later sampled the song for his record “Growing Pains.”
When Stax folded in 1975 Bell moved to Mercury. He had a #1 hit on Billboard’s Hot Soul Singles chart in 1977 with “Tryin’ To Love Two.” In 1985 Bell founded his own Wilbe label which found most of its success in the UK. He kept recording until 2006 when his last album was released on Wilbe.
And that brings us to that night in New York City. I haven’t felt the urge to shoot many videos at shows, but Bell was a legend and I didn’t know how many more opportunities people would have to capture his performances on video. I sort of felt a responsibility to create a document of a performance that was all at once historic and very much up to date.
While I was shooting one of the videos, I can’t recall which one, I heard a loud voice coming from behind me. It kept getting closer and closer, and I began to realize that it was going to screw up my video. Finally, as the voice was nearly on top of me, I waved my hands behind me in an effort to shoo the person away. It was only later, when I noticed my friends laughing hysterically, that I realized that I had shooed away Paul Shaffer, who was busy gabbing on his phone when he should have been watching the show. Thanks for understanding Paul.