Following the release of their album Know My Name, the unforgettable ensemble that is The Kelly Bell Band kindly joined us for an interview. We talk live shows, instrumental variety, jamming, songwriting, creative disagreements, and much more. Here’s the conversation in full.
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Hi – what a pleasure to be able to chat with you. How has 2019 been treating you so far?
Well honestly it has been a world-wind… with the release of our album Know My Name. The band has enjoyed a different level of commercial success. Embodied in that is a lot more responsibility; that is probably the most honest answer I could have. But please do not mistake this for complaining, we are all thrilled!
How long have you been jamming together, and what first prompted you to start?
24 years strong! For anyone who doesn’t know the history of the Kelly Bell Band, we were originally a formed backup band for the late, great Bo Diddley.
What’s the live music scene like where you are, and how is the response right now to this kind of genre-fusing, passionate full-band sound?
Baltimore is an eclectic hodgepodge of artistic freedom. We have long stood with one foot firmly planted in the Blues but aspire to seamlessly pivot from genre to genre. I can’t stress how important it is to keep that other foot firmly planted in the Blues!
Do you ever think about expanding the band even further – any additional instruments or elements you’ve been craving?
More cowbell! No really..when you listen to one of our records it is like going on a journey of multiple destinations. So we have used balafons, djembes, poetry, didgeridoos, Latin instruments, horn sections, mandolin, string sections, choirs, 2nd graders (our cover of the Sponge Bob theme song on our album Reincarnated), comedy bits, and special guests including Big Jack Johnson, Gibb Droll, Robert Lighthouse, All Mighty Senators, Deanna Bogart, Big Jesse Yawn, the Legendary Bobby Parker, the Legendary Nighthawks, and G. Love and Special Sauce.
So we have experimented with so much instrumentation over 13 albums that we feel like Phat Blues Music is the omega. An example of this is our album Live From Quiet Waters. It is our big band double live record. That is right! All of our songs done big band style with a 23 piece big band!
What does the song Long Train represent for you?
Well to answer that, I would ask your readers to go to YouTube and check out Kelly Bell Band Long Train. The video is indicative of the band’s sound, persona, and live energy.
How do you get started when writing or creating a brand new song – and how do you know when it’s truly finished?
I could say something corny like “a song is never finished” but that would be a load of poop. The songs come to us in a multitude of ways. From a guitar riff, to a melody in someone’s head, to a story of a friend, or the recall of life’s best and most harsh moments, a song could come from anywhere. In regard to finishing – you just kinda know.
What does it mean to you to be able to make music and perform together as a group?
Man…I have the greatest job in the world! I make music that I care about with people that I care about for people who care about it! How can that be bad?
Do you ever disagree creatively, and if so – how do you overcome that?
Often. Damn often. It’s a balance. In this business it’s real easy to buy into any amount of hype and lose yourself in it. To surround yourself with folk you trust it’s easier to let down those creative walls and sometimes allow someone else to finish what you started.
What are your thoughts on the mainstream music world at present?
When Devo pioneered that computer tech sound, it was the novelty everyone needed. Nowadays technology seems to be robbing the listener of true musicianship. I bet every single one of us has met someone at a party who claimed to be a “producer” of some sort, only to find out that the guy makes beats on his laptop in his mom’s basement.
I’m not saying that today’s music has nothing to offer I just want today’s artists to care more about their product and less of the potential perks. *Wink* *Wink*. James Brown would often perform without floor monitors because he thought it was important in the show for people to be able to see his feet move while he danced.
What’s one of your greatest aspirations as a band?
To have played for every member of every branch of the United States MILITARY! We have worked with Navy Entertainment and MWR in our aim to do just that for many many years now.
If you could share the stage with anyone at all, past or present, who would you choose—and why?
Easy! Don Rickles and Bobby “Blue” Bland. Don Rickles was the trailblazer for insult comedians. And Bobby “Blue” Bland is very likely the greatest Blues singer of all time.
What’s next for you?
Bed! Sleep is hard to come by these days! Ha ha!!
Is there anything else we should know?
The new album will make you smile, make you cry, challenge your thinking, move you, swoon you, and heal you for about 58 minutes. Dig it!
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