Deftly fusing blues, gospel, and soul, songwriter William Bell is one of the architects of this Stax sound. Seriously, there’s no denying his power: this is the guy who penned “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” “Everybody Loves a Winner,” and “Born Under A Bad Sign.”
His latest, 2016’s This Is Where I Live, was recently nominated for two Grammys, for Best Americana Album and Best Traditional R&B Performance. It touches on the classic sounds and themes he’s known for, and was in some ways a homecoming for him, his first album on Stax after leaving in the ’70s.
We phoned Bell at his home studio shortly after the release of This Is Where I Live for an episode of our Transmissions podcast. You can listen to that episode here, and below you’ll find a minimally-edited transcription of our discussion. The Transmissions podcast returns in this month with new episodes. Subscribe on iTunes or via RSS feed.
Aquarium Drunkard: Let’s start with the title of your new record, This Is Where I Live. It’s a very resonate title and it feels in some ways like it’s a comment on the kind of songs you sing, but also on being back on Stax after a long time apart. How does it feel to be back on the label after leaving back in the ’70s?
William Bell: It feels great. I’m coming full circle here back on Stax, and I started my career with Stax. It feels good, it feels comfortable.
AD: You were an essential part of building Stax. When you’re a young man, making records and working, I don’t imagine that you have much of a sense of how historic what you’re doing is. But looking back, signing to the label again, did you take some time to reflect on the legacy and the heritage and the history of what you guys built with that label back when you started?
William Bell: Of course…when we started we didn’t have any idea we would have the longevity that we’ve had. I did [reflect on history]… that was uppermost in my mind and [I was] almost always conscious of trying to — not to duplicate, but to recreate — some of the magic and make sure that we had some great songs with good lyrical content, good melodic structure, and all that. Because that’s what Stax was about, trying to keep it as honest and real as possible.