William Bell modernizing the classic Stax Records soul sound

William Bell is performing at Hudson RiverStage Pier 97 on Aug. 6.

William Bell might not be a household name, but it’s almost impossible not to have heard one of his songs.

One of the first signees to the legendary soul label Stax Records, Bell wrote classics like “Born Under a Bad Sign,” “Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday” and “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” Those three songs alone have been recorded by artists including Otis Redding, Albert King, the Byrds, Cream and Carole King.

In June, he released his first album in 10 years, “This Is Where I Live,” a slice of classic soul that found him once again on Stax Records.

amNewYork spoke with the 77-year-old Bell.


You’ve talked about how it was important to you not to try to recreate the past on this album. What did you do differently?

The writing is a little bit more reflective. As we get older we look back on life and we’re able to express it in a different way. Working with [producer] John Leventhal brought a musical difference to it. We wanted to retain some of the nuances that the old Stax had with the sound, but wanted to bring it up-to-date and make it modern and broadly appealing rather than a regional Southern soul record.


How have you changed as a songwriter over the years?

I think I’m able to express lyrically what I’m doing and my experiences a lot better. As we get older, we do a lot of reflecting. You still write about love and love situations, but it’s not that hot and heavy passionate love thing that you have at 19 or 20. It’s more of a reflective thing — some mistakes you made, things you did right and what you can do better.


Do you enjoy hearing people like Ludacris and Kanye West sample your songs?

To me, it’s an honor when younger artists can come along and listen to something I created and find value in it and relate to it. … I love hearing their take on different songs.


What are you most proud of when you look back at the original Stax days?

I think the friendships and of course being able to hone a craft that we could earn a living at. … The camaraderie of working with Otis, Sam & Dave, Booker T & the MGs, all those guys. We all grew up together, so it was just like a family. That’s what I value most.

If you go

William Bell is at Hudson RiverStage at Pier 97 at W. 55th Street at 2 p.m. on Aug. 6, FREE

Hal Bienstock