Friday, August 21, 2009

Al Bell Back in Memphis

There was a great piece in the New York Times the other day about Al Bell, the one-time owner of Stax Records, who has now returned to Memphis to head the Memphis Music Foundation.

There are some great stories in the article, like the tale of his time with and then ultimate separation from Dr. King:
After high school, in 1959, Mr. Bell went to work under Dr. King at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He spent a year in Georgia until “breaking rank” with the nonviolent-resistance ethos at a march in Savannah, Ga. When a hostile bystander spit on him, Mr. Bell pulled a switchblade from his pocket and plunged into the crowd. Fellow marchers restrained him, “fortunately,” Mr. Bell said, but Dr. King was not pleased.

Earlier, Mr. Bell said, he had brushed aside Dr. King’s concern about his switchblade by joking to him, “Well, Doc, Jesus had Peter with him, and Peter carried a sword.” But Mr. Bell said that after the march Dr. King, calling him Alvertis, rebuked him for his increasing advocacy of self-defense against the police and their dogs. “So I said, ‘O.K., Doc.’ And I left the next day, with love.”
Or there was his little gambling run in response to Otis Redding's death:
On Dec. 10, 1967, when Mr. Bell was attending a radio industry convention in Las Vegas, a loudspeaker announced that Redding, 26, had died in a small plane crash near Madison, Wis. “I lost it,” Mr. Bell said. That night he drank himself into a stupor while playing craps. He learned the next morning that he had made $85,000. “But Otis was still gone,” he said.
His roles in bringing Stax artists to the Apollo Theater in Harlem, the production of Isaac Hayes' Hot Buttered Soul and the 1972 Wattstax Festival in Los Angeles are described in the article, too. And finally who can beat the buttery radio sign-on described here:
Back in Little Rock, Mr. Bell, while attending college, resumed his radio career, eventually graduating in 1961 to WLOK in Memphis, where he used this sign-on: “This is your 6 feet 4 bundle of joy, 212 pounds of Mrs. Bell’s baby boy, soft as medicated cotton, rich as double-X cream, the women’s pet, the men’s threat, the baby boy Al” — and then he rang a bell — “Bell.”
Oh, that is so good!

Also, in an example of the New York Times getting itself involved with awkward expressions because it won't print bad words, there was this:
his [1975 bank-fraud] trial included testimony that a local banking official had bragged, using a racial slur, about “running those” blacks “and especially the chief” black “out of town”....
The trial ended in acquittal for Bell, by the way.

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