Unless you’re new to the Maryland scene or have been living under a rock then you should know the name Kelly Bell. Imagine Muddy Waters wearing a Bob Marley T-shirt riding on Black Sabbath’s tour bus on their way to a Parliament Funkadelic concert, listening to Sammy Davis Junior on an 8-track tape humming a Run DMC song - that would be close to what he does (according to their bio). Check out the latest installment of our 10 Questions Series with the man himself!
1. Tell us about your musical background, how you got into songwriting, and any current projects you have now.
Many moons ago, I was in a band called Border Patrol (a heavy metal cover band, fresh out of high school). After that, I was a rapper in a band called Caprice, and then I had a hiatus from performing, before joining the Fat Tuesday band, where I was strictly a background singer and percussionist. 20 years ago, an opportunity presented itself to Fat Tuesday through one of my bouncer jobs at the 8x10 in Baltimore City to back up Bo Diddley. The members of Fat Tuesday declined the opportunity, but Automatic Slim said that I should put a band together myself. Thus the Kelly Bell Band was born.
The first song I ever wrote for the band was called “Say Hey’, which only appears on our first cassette tape (haha dating myself on that one!). My song writing style is a hodgepodge of life experiences, both mine and others. Sometimes I sit down to purposefully write about an experience, and sometimes it happens while I’m in the bathroom!
Our current project is mixing and mastering the Kelly Bell Big Band for our 11th release, which is a live recording from Quiet Waters Park this past summer. It includes a 22 piece big band playing Kelly Bell Band favorites from the past 20 years.
2. What influences you as a songwriter?
My most powerful influence as a songwriter has been my complete and utter failure at relationships. I write great songs, but I’m sure as any one of my ex’s would tell you that dating me is like being Goldilocks breaking into the 3 bears house. Life is first too hard, then too soft, and rarely as the last choice, just right.
3. What do you think about the current state of the music industry? Do you think it’s more difficult to build a career in music today than say 20 years ago?
Yes and no. Long gone are the days of big expense accounts for record execs developing new bands, molding them and shaping them into money making machines. Long gone are the efforts to make a complete album that flows from beginning to end, taking you on a ride and challenging your emotions. Music listeners are more eclectic these days and that presents a challenge to record companies who attempt to force feed us what our ears are supposed to enjoy. Our song “Popstar” is about just that.
4. Who are some of your favorite songwriters right now?
Corey Taylor from Slipknot, Willie Dixon (bass player of the Muddy Waters Band), and the guy that wrote the Spongebob theme.
5. If you haven’t already, are you open to working with another songwriter or a team of songwriters?
The Kelly Bell Band is a team of songwriters. Although it’s called the “Kelly Bell Band”, every song is very much a collaborative effort of everyone in the group.
6. How important is outside opinions of your working songs?
I recognize as an entertainer, my job is to provide a relief from people’s everyday struggles and hardships. I’ve been lucky enough to make the music I care about, with people I care about, and have other people just happen to care about it too.
7. If you could collaborate with any artist, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Bobby Blue Bland because when I saw him as a child, he completely captivated me. At the end of his first performance, every woman in the building was fanning themselves frantically, from 18-80. At the time I didn’t understand what flustered meant. My father explained to me one day it would all makes sense to me. I can’t say that I understand women, but I definitely can tell you something about the Blues.
8. What’s the most unique location you’ve ever written a song?
The USS John C. Stennis. We have been honored to have provided entertainment for all branches of the US Military for the bulk of our career. The KBB was flown on board the Stennis by Navy Entertainment to entertain the troops for the last leg of their deployment, for the “Tiger Cruise”, where family members are also allowed to board the ship. We had started writing “Don’t Go”, and a service member heard the writing process- and insisted we play the song that night. So we finished the song, and performed it at our first show.
9. You guys have played tons of shows, what is one of the most memorable moments you’ve had playing live?
After we opened for James Brown, and the 9:30 Club treated my Mom like royalty, they put her in the front row of the balcony, front and center. When I went to check on her to see if she needed anything, and asked her how she felt, she said “I’m watching James Brown, the man I have admired in music for as long as I can remember. And my baby child brought this opportunity to me by opening the show. This club is treating me like a Queen. How do you think I feel?”
10. What’s your favorite song of 2015 so far?
This is not a slight to all the songwriters who work so hard to put out music today, but when I listen to an Otis Redding album, I just don’t hear anything today that stands up.
Wow! What a colorful background in this crazy business. Thanks again to Kelly and we wish you and the group continued succes.