Here’s a clip of under-exposed soul man William Bell with his 1968 single “I Forgot To Be Your Lover”,which can be found on the recent Stax compilation album The Very Best of William Bell.

William Bell was born William Yarborough in 1939, initially serving time as a backing vocalist for other artists including Rufus Thomas.  He joined Stax as a staff writer, before recording his signature hit “You Don’t Miss Your Water” in 1961.
William Bell was born William Yarborough in 1939, initially serving time as a backing vocalist for other artists including Rufus Thomas. He joined Stax as a staff writer, before recording his signature hit “You Don’t Miss Your Water” in 1961, a version of which appears on his 1967 debut album, Soul of a Bell.

This tune packs a punch; a song of regret as expressed by a man who finds himself the victim of his own mistaken priorities.  His work has taken him away from focusing on the one he loves.  Will she forgive him, or is it too late?  In this song, we don’t get to find out.  We only hear the anguish of a man who knows he’s messed up, and that he has come to this realization, perhaps, too late.

This is a love song with a big helping of desperation, which really hits me whenever I hear it.  I’ve had my own troubles with losing sight of love, and what is important.  In this, I kind of find this tune reassuring; that I’m not the only one.

William Bell never gained the stature of an Otis Redding, or a Wilson Pickett. Yet the foundations of a great soul singer are evident in his passionate vocals that bring out the best in his material, putting the song first before any self-indulgent acrobatics by which so many soul singers are often known.

His work while with the Stax label helped to define the sound of southern soul music, and the sounds associated with Stax in particular.  His first album Soul of a Bell remains to be an undiscovered gem by many soul fans.

Bell was a songwriter previous to his role as a performer. His first hit was 1961’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water”, the self-penned song which remains to be the one for which he is best known.  He is also responsible for co-penning Albert King’s hit for Stax, “Born Under a Bad Sign” with Booker T. Jones, a song  which Bell himself recorded. The song is now considered to be a blues standard.

The tune was also covered by Cream in 1968 on the Wheels of Fire LP, proving that his material was open to interpretation as well as cross-over appeal.  Indeed, “I Forgot to Be Your Lover” was sampled by the hip-hop artist The Alchemist, featured in the track “Worst Comes to Worst” by Dialated Peoples.

William Bell continues to be a steady performer today, gaining a W.C Handy Heritage award in 2003, and having put out his most recent album in 2006, A New Lease on Life.

Enjoy!

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