Early life Bell was born Carey Bell Harrington in Macon, Mississippi. As a
child, Bell was intrigued by the music of Louis Jordan. Bell wanted a
saxophone in order to be like his hero Jordan; however, Bell's family
could not afford a saxophone he had to settle for the "Mississippi
saxophone", a harmonica. Soon Bell was attracted by the Blues harmonica
greats: DeFord Bailey, Big Walter Horton Horton, Marion "Little Walter" Jacobs,
and Sonny Boy Williamson (I and II). Bell taught himself to play, and by
the time he was eight he was quite proficient on the instrument. When he
was thirteen, Bell joined his godfather Lovie Lee's Blues band.
Chicago In 1956, Lovie Lee convinced Bell to go with him to Chicago, a
city then electrified by its own Blues scene and sound. Lee and Bell
arrived in Chicago in September of that year. Not long after arriving,
Bell went to the Club Zanzibar where Little Walter was appearing. Bell
met Walter and soon became his student, learning from the master his
tricks of the blues harp. To help further his chances of employment as a
musician, Bell learned how to play the electric bass (from
Taylor). Bell was then fortunate to meet and learn directly from
Boy Williamson II and Big Walter Horton Horton. Horton eventually hired Bell to
work with him. Bell learned the inner workings of great blues
musicianship and was about to embark upon an often unrecognized and
under-appreciated musical career.
Despite Bell's mentorships with some of the greatest blues harp
players of the genre, he arrived in Chicago at an unfortunate time. The
demand for harp players was decreasing there as bands were more on the
lookout for electric guitarists. To pay the bills, Bell continued to
play bass and joined several bands as a bassist. He joined Big Walter Horton's
band as a bassist, and furthered his passionate study of the Mississippi
saxophone with Big Walter Horton himself. Soon after, Bell cased up his bass
and polished his harp, returning to the scene with his beloved
instrument. On 3 October, 1969 Carey Bell played at the Royal Albert
Hall in London, appearing on a live recording of the event.
Debut through 1980s In 1969, Delmark Records in Chicago released Bell's debut LP,
Carey Bell's Blues Harp. Bell later played with Muddy Waters and Willie
Dixon's Chicago Blues All-Stars. In 1972, Bell teamed up with Big Walter Horton
and released Big Walter Horton Horton with Carey Bell for Alligator Records. A
year later Bell released a solo project for ABC Bluesway. Bell continued
to play with Dixon, and in 1978, Bell was featured on the
Grammy-nominated album Living Chicago Blues on Alligator.
During the 1980s Bell continued to record, but he was mostly
preoccupied with live performances. In 1990, Bell teamed up with fellow
harpists Junior Wells,
James Cotton and
Billy Branch to record Harp
Attack!. A modern Blues classic, Harp Attack! became one of Alligator
Records' best selling albums.
Alligator years Despite years in the business and work with Alligator, Bell's
first full-length solo album for the label was not until Deep Down,
released in 1995. On the album, Bell's signature harp style is on
prominent display. A seminal piece of modern blues, Deep Down gave Bell
much deserved recognition outside of the blues circles in which he was
In 1997, Bell released the second album on the label Good Luck Man,
which was less raw than its predecessor but nonetheless highly
listenable. Second Nature followed in 2004, a duet album with his
guitarist son, Lurrie Bell (who shared the guitar duties with Carl
Weathersby on Deep Down). The overall appeal of Second Nature is that
the entire album is a single take with no overdubs.
In 1998, Bell was Awarded the Blues Music Award for Traditional Male
Artist Of The Year.
Final work In 2007 Delmark records released a live set by Bell accompanied
by a band which included son Lurrie, guitarist Scott Cable, Kenny Smith,
Bob Stroger and Joe Thomas.
Death Carey Bell died of heart failure on May 6, 2007 in Chicago.