Bell at the Long Beach Blues Festival, 2003
|Carey Bell Harrington|
November 14, 1936|
Macon, Mississippi, United States
|Died||May 6, 2007
Chicago, Illinois, United States
|Genres||Chicago blues, Harmonica blues, electric blues|
|Instruments||Harmonica, bass, vocals|
|Labels||Delmark, Blind Pig, Alligator|
|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 from the late 1950s to the 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, the 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.
Having learned 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 performed 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.
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, the 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, the guitarist Scott Cable, Kenny Smith, Bob Stroger and Joe Thomas.
Bell died of heart failure on May 6, 2007, in Chicago.