“You Don’t Miss Your Water (Till Your Well Runs Dry)” was a B-side of a 1961 single by William Bell, recorded for Stax, which snuck into the bottom reaches of the Top 100 pop charts. While the sound was early Stax soul, the lyrics, a lament from a playboy after his woman leaves him, had the feel of a bittersweet country song:
I sit and wonder
How can this be
I never thought
You'd ever leave me
But now you've left me
Oh, how I cried
You don't miss your water
Till your well runs dry
Bell had an up-and-down career after that. He wrote or co-wrote some popular songs (“Born Under a Bad Sign”) that often turned up in unusual places (“I Forgot to Be Your Lover” was later a hit for Billy Idol, while Bell’s own version was sampled by Ludacris for “Growing Pains”). But it was “You Don’t Miss Your Water” that made the biggest, longest-lived impact.
Otis Redding performed it on his classic album, Otis Blue. (When Otis died, Bell recorded a heartfelt “Tribute to a King”.) The Wailers recorded a version in the mid-60s … Peter Tosh did a solo version ten years later. Taj Mahal sang it, as did folk singer Fred Neil and rock-and-roller Jerry Lee Lewis. But it was The Byrds who introduced the song to the hippie audience, on their classic Sweetheart of the Rodeo. That version was sung by Roger McGuinn, after Gram Parsons’ original lead vocals were replaced for legal reasons (or so they say … the Parsons version was eventually released a few decades later, while Parsons went on to sing along with Fred Neil on his version).
Yet another unexpected take on the song turned up in 1988 on the soundtrack to Married to the Mob, this time sung by Brian Eno.
Bell’s song worked, seemingly no matter who sang it, or what style they used. And he is still out there … check out his website, pick up something from his music store: http://www.williambell.com/
Here are links to various YouTube videos. First, the original:
Fred Neil with Gram Parsons:
The Byrds (Roger McGuinn version):
And finally, Brian Eno: