William Bell 

click to enlarge feat41_william_bell.jpg

Style: Soul and R&B

Friday: 7:45-9 p.m., the Community Foundation Stage.
Saturday: 1-1:45 p.m. at the Community Foundation Stage, 3:30-4:45 p.m. at the Dominion Dance Pavilion, and 8:45-9:30 p.m. at the Altria Stage.

Even if you don't think you know Memphis soul and R&B singer William Bell, chances are you know his music.

Considered a pioneer of the Stax-Volt sound, Bell was a triple threat: singer, songwriter and producer. He wrote the seminal song, "Born Under a Bad Sign," recorded originally by Albert King and since covered by artists as diverse as Cream, Big Mama Thornton, Jimi Hendrix and Rita Coolidge. One of the most recorded blues songs of all times, it's included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of 500 songs that shaped rock 'n' roll.

Growing up in Memphis, Bell's hero was Sam Cooke, but he's a fan of Sinatra and Nat "King" Cole, too, spawning a lifelong love of ballads and love songs. He began recording for the Stax label in 1961, turning out hits such as "I Forgot to Be Your Lover," about the difficulties of touring, and a duet with Judy Clay called "Private Number" that mimicked the musical chemistry of Motown's Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.

But his highest chart-topping hit was 1976's "Tryin' to Love Two," a song that made it to No. 10 on Billboard's hot soul singles chart. Subsequently, he was introduced to a different generation when the 2010 sci-fi thriller "Repo Men" featured his 1967 song, "Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday."

But his biggest chance to become a household name came just last month with the release of the documentary "Take Me to the River," a salute to the Southern soul sound that defined the Memphis music scene. The film is a behind-the-scenes look at studio recording sessions pairing legendary Mississippi Delta and Memphis musicians, including William Bell, with rising young singers and rappers.

Director Martin Shore said he wanted to document the assemblage of legendary musicians with up-and-comers while providing an opportunity for the old masters to pass along their magic while they created a historic album. Bell, used to a lifetime of touring, has been as far as London to help promote the documentary.

So you can see the Memphis Music Hall of Famer and soul legend at the Folk Fest and then see him again when "Take Me to the River" touches down in Richmond. But for best results, always see an old master's magic live first.


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