When I was working in a vintage guitar store, I used to hear rabid customers talk about how they put together their collections. Every single one of them had a yarn about some pawn shop owner selling a 60s Goldtop or a ‘51 Esquire for ten bucks. You could see the satisfaction on their faces, partly because they’d bought a guitar at a thousandth of it’s asking price, but mostly because they felt like they could appreciate it more than the person they got it from.
Serious music nerds such as myself tend to do something similar. We find something really great and then try to keep it all to ourselves, like sharing it will somehow cheapen it. We whisper about it to our closest friends, afraid that somehow others will hear about it. Maybe that explains the smug, panicky feeling that comes over me when I dig an old 45 out of a crate at a thrift store.
I have to drag the needle back to the top four or five times before I can feel what William Bell is really trying to express. First thing I notice once I stop gloating is a fuzzy, slightly distorted guitar played by Steve Cropper. Then Al Jackson Jr.’s drums start to register, a slow dragging backbeat full of those funky “Pretty” Purdie ghost notes. I hear Bell preaching, his voice rising and falling but never really letting go until the Memphis Horns join him in the chorus. The track peaks like a Baptist church, and finally fades out to that arrhythmic popping that serves as a cue to move the needle back to the top.
This time Bell’s lyrics start to sink in. He’s talking about a woman he loves, and how nothing in his life matters except how she makes him feel. He says he’ll give up his money, his job, and his house but won’t give up his girl. When he opens up his voice and hits that chorus he pleads: “Share what you got but keep what you need” and you can hear a kind of desperate possessiveness in his words. He can’t bear the idea of others being with the person he loves.
Now I don’t feel too strongly about this scratched black plastic I found in an old crate. I don’t care what it’s worth or what kind of condition it‘s in. But I do care deeply about what’s on it, the music that folks like William Bell make. That’s what I fall in love with, and sometimes it’s real hard to share something you love so much.
LORENZO WOLFF is a musician living in New York City. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org