Bell at the Long Beach Blues Festival, 2003
|Birth name||Carey Bell Harrington|
November 14, 1936|
Macon, Mississippi, U.S.
|Died||May 6, 2007
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Genres||Chicago blues, Harmonica blues, electric blues|
|Instruments||Harmonica, bass, vocals|
|Labels||Delmark, Blind Pig, Alligator|
|Associated acts||Lurrie Bell, Willie Dixon, Louisiana Red|
Carey Bell (November 14, 1936 – May 6, 2007) was an American blues musician who played harmonica in the Chicago blues style. Bell played harmonica and bass guitar for other blues musicians in the late 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s before embarking on a solo career. Besides his own albums, he recorded as an accompanist or duo artist with Earl Hooker, Robert Nighthawk, Lowell Fulson, Eddie Taylor, Louisiana Red and Jimmy Dawkins and was a frequent partner with his son, guitarist Lurrie Bell. Blues Revue called Bell "one of Chicago’s finest harpists." The Chicago Tribune said Bell was "a terrific talent in the tradition of Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter."
Bell was born Carey Bell Harrington in Macon, Mississippi. As a child, he was intrigued by the music of Louis Jordan and wanted a saxophone in order to be like his hero Jordan. His family could not afford one, so he had to settle for a harmonica, colloquially known as a "Mississippi saxophone." Soon Bell was attracted by the blues harmonica greats—DeFord Bailey, Big Walter Horton, Marion "Little Walter" Jacobs, Sonny Boy Williamson I and Sonny Boy Williamson II—and taught himself to play. By the time he was eight, he was proficient on the instrument. When he was thirteen, he joined the blues band of his godfather, the pianist Lovie Lee.
In September 1956, Lee persuaded Bell to go with him to Chicago. Not long after arriving, Bell went to the Club Zanzibar, where Little Walter was appearing. Bell met Walter and later learned some harp playing from him and from Big Walter Horton, his main Chicago teacher. To help further his chances of employment as a musician, he learned how to play the electric bass from Hound Dog Taylor.
Despite learning from some of the greatest blues harp players of the genre, Bell arrived in Chicago at an unfortunate time. The demand for harp players was decreasing there, as the electric guitar became the prominent blues instrument. To pay the bills, he joined several bands as a bassist. In the late 1960s, he appeared regularly on the West Side of Chicago with the guitarists Eddie Taylor and Royal Johnson, playing harmonica and bass. In 1969, Bell toured Europe with the American Folk Blues Festival and played at the Royal Albert Hall in London, appearing on a live recording of the event.
Debut through 1980s
In 1969, Delmark Records in Chicago released Bell's debut album, Carey Bell's Blues Harp. He played with Muddy Waters in late 1970 and 1971 and later with Willie Dixon's Chicago Blues All-Stars. In 1972, Bell teamed up with Big Walter in the studio and recorded Big Walter Horton with Carey Bell for Alligator Records. A year later Bell released a solo project, Last Night, for ABC Bluesway. He continued to play with Dixon and with his own groups. In 1978, he was featured on the Grammy-nominated album Living Chicago Blues, released by Alligator. Also in the 1970s, he contributed to two recordings by the Bob Riedy Blues Band.
During the 1980s Bell continued to record for various labels and to tour. In 1990, he teamed up with fellow harpists Junior Wells, James Cotton and Billy Branch to record Harp Attack!, which became a modern blues classic and one of Alligator's best-selling albums.
Despite years in the business and work with Alligator, Bell's first full-length solo album for the label, Deep Down, was not released until 1995. He released a second album, Good Luck Man, for the label in 1997. Second Nature followed in 2004 (recorded in Finland a few years earlier), in which he was accompanied by his son, guitarist Lurrie Bell (who also played guitar, along with Carl Weathersby, on Deep Down).
In 1998, Bell was awarded the Blues Music Award for Traditional Male Artist of the Year.
In 2007, Delmark Records released a live set by Bell, accompanied by a band which included his son Lurrie, guitarist Scott Cable, Kenny Smith, Bob Stroger and Joe Thomas.
Bell died of heart failure on May 6, 2007, in Chicago.
- 1969 Carey Bell's Blues Harp (Delmark)
- 1973 Last Night (One Way)
- 1977 Heartaches and Pain (Delmark)
- 1982 Goin' on Main Street (Evidence)
- 1983 Son of a Gun (Rooster Blues)
- 1986 Straight Shoot (Blues South West)
- 1988 Harpslinger (JSP)
- 1990 Dynasty! (JSP)
- 1991 Mellow Down Easy (Blind Pig)
- 1992 Breakdown Blues Live!, with "The Cat" (CMA)
- 1994 Harpmaster (JSP)
- 1995 Carey Bell & Spike Ravenswood (Saar)
- 1995 Deep Down (Alligator)
- 1997 Good Luck Man (Alligator)
- 1999 Brought Up the Hard Way (JSP CD 802)
- 2004 Second Nature (Alligator)
- 2007 Gettin' Up: Live at Buddy Guy's Legends, Rosa's and Lurrie's Home, with Lurrie Bell (Delmark)
With Louisiana Red
- 1980 Reality Blues (L+R)
- 1983 Boy from Black Bayou (L+R)
- 1984 My Life (L+R)
- 1993 Brothers in Blues (CMA Rec.)
- 1994 Live at 55 (Enja)
- 2004 The Blues Masters Bad Case of the Blues (Mojo Tone)
Collaborations with other artists
- 1969 Wanna Dance All Night, John Lee Hooker (Musidisc)
- 1972/73 Lake Michigan Ain't No River, with Bob Riedy Blues Band
- 1974 Just Off Halsted, with Bob Riedy Blues Band (Flying Fish FF 006)
- 1980 Blues After Sunrise, Heinz Sauer, Bob Degen (L+R 40017)
- 1990 Harp Attack!, with James Cotton, Junior Wells and Billy Branch (Alligator)
- 1991 Delta Bluesman, Honeyboy Edwards (Earwig 4922)
- 1994 Good Candy, Lovie Lee (Earwig 4928)
- 1996 You Can't Take My Blues, Doug MacLeod (Sledgehammer Blues 2-AQM-1041)
- 1998 Blues Blues Blues, The Jimmy Rogers All Stars (Atlantic)
- 2001 Superharps II, with Lazy Lester, Raful Neal and Snooky Pryor (Telarc)
- 2004 Family Album, with Wentus Blues Band (Bluelight)
- Biography on Allmusic
- Williams, Genevieve (October 2004), Blues Revue Missing or empty
- Knopper, Steve (29 August 2004), Chicago Tribune Missing or empty
- Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 90. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
- Carey Bell biography on Alligator Records website
- Bob Reidy discography
- Chicago Blues Harmonica Legend Carey Bell 1936–2007 (Alligator press release)
- "You Can't Take My Blues". Valley Entertainment-Sledgehammer Blues. Retrieved 17 February 2011.
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