BELL & BAND
Bell - vocals & harmonica
Since the heyday of electric Chicago blues, almost every person playing the blues harmonica has been influenced by Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Big Walter Horton. Most players learned their licks by repeatedly listening to records.Carey Bell learned his licks first-hand by studying under and gigging with the masters. With his first full-length Alligator release, DEEP DOWN (AL 4828), Carey Bell's signature "chopped" harmonica phrasing and forceful vocals combine to form a classic Chicago blues album with just a taste of contemporary funk. The songs are filled with the toughness and grit of the city but are firmly rooted in the down home blues of the country. In his harp playing you can hear Little Walter's drive and melodic invention and Big Walter Horton's lyricism and subtlety. Bell incorporates their "old school" sound, but he doesn't sound like either. He sounds like Carey Bell.
DEEP DOWN finds Bell at the height of his powers. Backed by a stellar band of old friends, including guitarist Carl Weathersby (Sons Of Blues), pianist and Alligator and Polygram solo recording artist Lucky Peterson, bassist Johnny B. Gayden (Albert Collins), drummer Ray "Killer" Allison (Buddy Guy), and Carey's son, mercurial guitarist Lurrie Bell, Carey Bell's singing and playing have never been sharper. The album was recorded in Chicago and was produced by Bell, Alligator president (and long time friend and associate) Bruce Iglauer, and dj/harp player Scott Dirks.
The 12 songs (seven of which are Bell originals) range from the soul-searing "Low Down Dirty Shame" to the flat-out resignation of "Tired Of Giving You My Love" to the sly humor underlying "I Got A Rich Man's Woman" (a song originally recorded by Muddy Waters). He pays tribute to his teachers Little Walter (with "I Got To Go") and Big Walter (with the classic instrumental, "Easy"). Bell's mournful, wailing harmonica blends seamlessly into his pleading vocals, giving every song a deep soulfulness reminiscent of recordings made 30 years earlier for another Chicago blue label, Chess.
Carey Bell Harrington was born in Macon, Mississippi on November 14, 1936. He taught himself to play the harmonica by the time he was eight, and began playing professionally with his godfather, pianist Lovie Lee, when he was 13. In 1956, Lee convinced Carey that Chicago was the place to be for aspiring bluesmen, and on September 12, 1956 they arrived. Almost immediately Bell went to see Little Walter perform at the Club Zanzibar at 14th and Ashland. The two became friends and Walter delighted in showing the youngster some of his tricks. Carey went on to meet and learn from Sonny Boy Williamson II, but it was Big Walter Horton who really bowled him over. "I liked that big tone he had," recalls Bell, "didn't nobody else have that." Big Walter became Bell's close friend and musical mentor.
Carey learned his lessons well but by the late 1950s and early 1960s the gigs were drying up for harp players as the electric guitar began to take over the predominant instrument of Chicago blues. Bell decided to increase his worth by learning and becoming a bass player. He quickly mastered the instrument and began getting gigs as a bassist with Honeyboy Edwards, Johnny Young, Eddie Taylor, Earl Hooker and Big Walter. While playing bass in Big Walter's band, Bell studied every harp trick in the book first-hand from of the all-time great harmonica players.
Bell recorded behind Earl Hooker in 1968 for Arhoolie, just before his friend Charlie Musselwhite brought him over to Bob Koester at Delmar Records in 1969, who promptly recorded Bell and issued Carey Bell's Blues Harp. Bell toured Europe frequently, and in 1971 spent a year traveling and recording with Muddy Waters (he can be heard on Muddy's The London Sessions and Unk in Funk albums on Chess). Willie Dixon chose Bell for the featured role in his Chicago Blues All Stars with whom Bell worked regularly throughout the 1970s, both touring and recording.
Even though Dixon kept Carey Busy, Bell still found time for his own projects. In 1972 he teamed up with his friend and mentor Big Walter Horton and recorded what was to be Alligator's Records' second ever release, BIG WALTER HORTON WITH CAREY BELL (AL 4702). In 1973 he made a solo album for ABC Bluesway and was featured in 1978 on Alligator's Grammy-nominated LIVING CHICAGO BLUES series (both with his own band and playing behind Lovie Lee).
By the 1980s Bell had become recognized as a giant among blues harmonica players. He recorded many albums as a leader and as a sideman for a variety of labels both in the United States and in Europe. In 1990 Bell, along with fellow harpslingers Junior Wells, James Cotton and Billy Branch, got together and recorded the W.C. Handy Award-winning Alligator album, HARP ATTACK (AL4790). Bell's legendary reputation as a disciple, not an imitator, of the greats was confirmed. And the record has become one of Alligators best-sellers.
Now, with DEEP DOWN, Bell's reputation as a master harpist will continue to grow. He's touring extensively with his band Tough Luck and also as part of the Muddy Waters Tribute Band (who opened shows for B.B. King during the summer of 1994). Like his teachers Little Walter, Sonny Boy, and especially Big Walter before him, Bell speaks with his harp from way down in his soul. And that's fine, because the deeper down Carey Bell goes, the higher his star will rise.
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