Richard Bell

TrackAlbum
Out Of The WildernessThrough The Storm... …(Colin Linden)
Southland Of The HeartDart To The Heart (Bruce Cockburn)
Me And Bobby McGeePearl (Janis Joplin)
Kentucky DownpourJubilation (The Band)
Good ThingsBack To Me (Kathleen Edwards)
Let’'s FrolicLet'’s Frolic (B&RK)
Love Comin’' DownLove Comin'’ Down (Sue Foley)
WichitaDisciples Of The Truth (Burrito Deluxe)
In A StationIn My Own Time (Karen Dalton)
Welcome BackWelcome Back (John Sebastian)

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Contributor: Jerry Tenenbaum

How do you present a sideman to Toppermost? You do it by recognizing the major contributions that Richard Bell has made to the headliners he has played with. Among blues-rock soloists and accompanists, he had few equals. A song in tribute to him by his long-time friend, Colin Linden, says it best: “Left hand like thunder, right hand of gold, tough like Chuvalo with Ray Charles soul.” He was a self-confessed ‘gearhead’, a musical gadget collector and renowned technophile and it is said that he “took delight in helping others less gifted solve problems with musical equipment and computer software” (David Wilcox –Toronto songwriter and guitarist, who worked with Richard Bell after meeting him in Woodstock N.Y in the 1970s).

Richard Bell was the son of renowned Canadian composer and musician, Dr. Leslie Bell. At age 4, Richard started to play piano and he studied music as a youth at Canada’s Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. His first recording may have been Work Song / That’s Alright by Toronto band, Ritchie Knight & the Mid-Knights. Following the departure of Levon and the Hawks from Ronnie Hawkins’ backup band, Rich Bell joined his group. He likely was on keyboards on Hawkins’ Mary Jane (1968). After that stint, that group of musicians recorded Official Music as King Biscuit Boy with Crowbar (1970). Bell then left Crowbar to join Janis Joplin’s Full Tilt Boogie Band, having received an offer from her manager, Albert Grossman. He played on Pearl and performed at the ‘Festival Express” train tour of Canada during that period. After Joplin died, Richard Bell moved to Woodstock, New York and worked as a session musician for a number of big names including Paul Butterfield and John Sebastian. Later accompaniment work included Joe Walsh, Bonnie Raitt, Judy Collins, Cowboy Junkies, Eric Andersen, Sue Foley, Karen Dalton and many others. His excellent work on the Pachecho and Alexander album in 1971 was well received. He played on the US #1 singles, Me And Bobby McGee and Welcome Back.

Richard moved to Atlanta in 1979. He played with various bands, including Jim Weider and Rick Pierce. In 1979, he married Mary Deacon. During those years, he played with a number of local bands. In 1991, when The Band reformed, he joined their lineup as a keyboardist, replacing Stan Szelest (who had died). Bell played on Jericho, High On The Hog and Jubilation and received songwriting credits for some of the songs. In 1999, when Rick Danko died, he ended his association with The Band. He had already, by this time, performed as keyboard player for the Canadian roots performers, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings (B&RK) as well as for the individual albums recorded by Colin Linden (South At Eight, North At Nine 1992; Through The Storm, Through The Night 1995) and others. I had the privilege of seeing him on occasion during this period and his contributions were tasteful and, as always, brilliant. His work on B&RK’s High Or Hurtin’ (1996) is stellar, and he continues on their Let’s Frolic (2005) and Let’s Frolic Again (2007).

Richard Bell was at the 1992 30th Anniversary Concert celebration concert for Bob Dylan and played on The Band presentation of When I Paint My Masterpiece (see main video clip above). He was also present and played at the inauguration of U.S. president, Bill Clinton, in January 1993. He also played with Bruce Cockburn and with Kathleen Edwards on their albums. He played with Levon Helm & The Crowmatix and can be heard on the 1997 Souvenir Vol.1. He is on Stephen Fearing’s Industrial Lullaby (1998) and That’s How I Walk (2003). He plays on Tom Wilson’s Dog Years (2006).

At the time of his death in 2007, Richard Bell was Toronto-based and had been performing regularly as keyboardist/songwriter and at times vocalist with Porkbelly Futures and Danny Brooks & the Rockin’ Revelators. He had produced two of Brooks’ albums. He was also a member of Burrito Deluxe and contributed songs to their Disciples Of The Truth 2006 release. Richard died in Toronto on June 15th, 2007 with multiple myeloma. He was a true ‘musician’s musician’.

Colin Linden said “Everything he played came from the blues. Whether it was a country song or a singer-songwriter ballad, Richard gave it gravitas, orchestral chords and a strong left-hand rhythm.”

David Wilcox said “He was as good a musician as I’ve ever met. He never played one note too many, never made much of technique. He created a mood, and he went deep.”

Fitting tributes to a great sideman.

 

Richard Bell tribute – a short documentary (Fenian Films 2006)

Richard Bell pictorial discography

A list of some of Richard Bell’s credits

A Richard Bell discography compiled by Peter Viney

Richard Bell biography (Wikipedia)

The Band (see Toppermost #2); Blackie and the Rodeo Kings (see Toppermost #183); Bruce Cockburn (see Toppermost #209); Bob Dylan (see Toppermost #8); Stephen Fearing (see Toppermost #176); Ronnie Hawkins (see Toppermost #231); Levon Helm (see Toppermost #33); Colin Linden (see Toppermost #215), Tom Wilson (see Toppermost #206).

TopperPost #231

4 Comments

  1. Peter Viney
    Mar 23, 2014

    Thanks for this, Jerry. Richard Bell deserves recognition. When he stepped up to the second keyboard chair with The Band for “Jericho”, the other pianists already on tracks on that record were Richard Manuel (RIP), Stan Szeleste (RIP) and Jack McDuff (RIP). Then there was Billy Preston, briefly his predecessor in The Band, but then incarcerated. His contribution to the 90s Band was significant, partly because like Richard Manuel and Stan Szeleste he was a powerful “rhythm pianist” but also because a lot of his other work had been on organ, not piano. He had keyboards on stage, which meant when Garth Hudson played saxophone or accordion you could have anything, organ or synth, not simply piano. Also, listening to concert tapes, he was more prominent in the Band’s stage sound, though that might be a difference in using a modern keyboard rather than a hard to amplify grand piano.

    When The Band played Cambridge in the 90s, I parked at the hotel, and wandered along to locate the venue. Ah, sound check! I hung around in the lobby (Is it OK to wait here? No … but yes.) listening to what I thought was the full Band jamming. Marvellous stuff. I was rooted to the spot. Then I spoke to a friend who was in the hall … it was only the three new guys, Richard Bell, Jim Weider and Randy Ciarlante.

  2. Calvin Rydbom
    Mar 23, 2014

    Its a wonderful thing when someone redefines something. Bravo Jerry, Bravo. You’ve opened up a whole new way to present an artist on Toppermost.

  3. Andrew Shields
    Mar 23, 2014

    Thanks for this great tribute to a superb musician…

  4. Bill Munson
    Mar 24, 2014

    Wonderful stuff, Jerry! As much as I liked his front men, there were times I went to shows mainly to see Richard in action. All soul, tied tightly to whatever song he was playing.

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