Carey Bell is one of the finest harp players performing today. Approaching the age of 64, the Macon, Mississippi-born Bell commands the respect of his peers and his fans by maintaining the traditions of Chicago blues, while carving out new territory as one of the masters of blues harmonica.
On Saturday, June 10, I got my first opportunity to hear Carey Bell perform live at The BamBoo Room in Lake Worth, Florida. In the midst of a hectic weekend and a driving rainstorm, I arrived at one of South Florida's premier blues clubs looking forward to seeing and hearing Carey's signature harmonica phrasing and to forceful vocals. I am happy to report that I bountifully rewarded for my efforts to see this fine gentleman perform.
Despite the fact that Bell is still recovering from a recent broken hip (he thinks that he may need to have more surgery on his hip in the near future) and that he played seated for the entire evening, his musical skills were as powerful as ever. Backed by a talented three piece band, Bell captivated the crowd through two excellent sets, extending well over 90 minutes each. The Saturday night show at The BamBoo Room was the last on a ten day road trip before Carey and the band headed home to rest and prepare for a tour of the Northeast later in the month.
Two members of Bell's band appeared with him for his last appearance in Minnesota at Famous Dave's in 1998. Guitarist Steve Jacobs has been with Bell since 1988 and bassist T. A. James since 1995. The band's newest member, drummer Mark Tiffault, has been performing with Carey since January 2000. After a couple of fine instrumentals featuring Jacobs exceptional guitar, Mr. Bell approached the stage to demonstrate his harp magic in front of a packed house. The performance included a mix of tunes, all providing a wonderful platform for Carey to show his stuff. Songs like "Little Red Rooster," "Dealin' With The Devil," "Shake your Money Maker" and "Broke and Hungry," were extended to include multiple solos by Carey Bell and exchanges between Bell and guitarist Steve Jacobs. The band and Bell provided a perfect mix of sound, complimenting each other throughout the night.
While some harp players play through their songs, never taking full control of the stage, Carey Bell is a man who seems bound and determined to blow his listeners away with the power and fury of his chromatic harp barrage. Bell is definitely in an elite class of harp players who are able to take control of the stage and grab the full attention of an entire audience, regardless of size.
I know that everyone in attendance left The BamBoo Room happy to have heard Carey Bell, but all wishing for more (me included). I can only hope that Carey Bell's two year absence from blues stages in the Twin Cities area will come to an end very soon. When it does, I will be one of the first people in line to greet him!
This review is copyright © 2000 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.