McEY firstname.lastname@example.org_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2007-06-19 published
BELL, Leslie Richard (1946-2007)
Leslie Richard BELL passed away on June 15th, 2007. son of the famed Doctor Leslie BELL, Richard was regarded the world over as one of the greatest keyboard players. In a career that spanned 5 decades, he played on over 400 albums, and performed with artists including Janis Joplin, The Band, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, John Sebastian, Colin Linden, Paul Butterfield, Blackie and The Rodeo Kings and Pork Belly Futures. His music and his spirit will live on. Richard is survived by his mother Leona HELWIG, predeceased by Doctor Leslie R. BELL, step-son of Carl HELWIG, beloved brother of Janet MacEY (Gordon,) greatly missed by his niece Roz MacEY (Lori DEGRAW,) nephews, Richard MacEY, Doug MacEY (Leah HOMMA) and Gord MacEY. Many thanks to Doctor Gina PILIOTIS, Melba JOHNSON and all of the staff at the Sunnybrook Health and Science Centre who helped to make Richard's days as comfortable as possible. A celebration of Richard's life will be held on Wednesday, June 20th, 2007, at 2 p.m. at the Steamwhistle Brewery located just south of the C.N. tower.
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McEY email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2007-06-23 published
DAzzling keyboard artist found a place in rock 'n' roll history
Quintessential sideman accompanied Janis Joplin, Paul Butterfield, Bob Dylan, Ronnie Hawkins and others before returning to Canada to play with the likes of Toronto's Pork Belly Futures
By Nicholas JENNINGS, Special to The Globe and Mail, Page S12
Toronto -- Among blues-rock soloists and accompanists, he had few equals. An exceptional pianist, organist and accordion player, Richard BELL left his mark on more than 400 albums. Renowned for his dazzling keyboard chops, performed with such legendary figures as Janis Joplin, Paul Butterfield and Bob Dylan, and played a supporting role in some key events in rock 'n' roll history.
Following a stint in the Hawks under Ronnie Hawkins, the classically trained pianist joined Ms. Joplin's Full Tilt Boogie Band and toured North America.
In 1970, he accompanied the iconic Ms. Joplin on the Festival Express, the historic rock 'n' roll train journey. With Full Tilt, he also appeared on Ms. Joplin's Pearl, her bestselling and most acclaimed album.
Mr. BELL's early-session work included playing on John Sebastian's album Welcome Back, which contained the theme song for the hit television sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter.
He became a full-fledged member of The Band, working with Levon Helm and others, played on the group's final three albums (Jericho, High on the Hog and Jubilation) and performed at Mr. Dylan's 30th-anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden.
Not content to be a sideman - no matter how highly valued by others - he doggedly pursued his own projects, such as producing, arranging and composing a good number of record albums.
"He played with optimism, intelligence and humour, and that made him a fine accompanist as well as a powerful, energetic soloist," says Garth Hudson of The Band. "Richard followed in the tradition of great piano players we had, from Willard 'Pop' Jones and Richard Manuel to Stan Szelest. He was a big part of that lineage for us."
Like many Canadian musicians, Mr. BELL had been drawn south across the border to find work, but in 1989 he returned home, partly at the urging of the Toronto-born songwriter and guitarist, Colin LINDEN. As it turned out, the move was the beginning a long association with Mr. LINDEN, who, as a producer of records, ended up having him perform on more than 40 albums. "He had an incredible way of moving the air when he played."
The association with Mr. LINDEN led to constant session work with Bruce Cockburn, Cowboy Junkies, Sue Foley, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Pork BELLy Futures, and many others. He was also a member of the Nashville country-rock supergroup Burrito Deluxe, performing and contributing songs to its most recent album, Disciples of the Truth.
"He was completely fearless," says Mr. LINDEN. " When he had an idea, he wouldn't hold back - he'd always go for it."
The secret, Mr. LINDEN said, was that at the core of his friend's music lay great strength of character.
The son of Doctor Leslie BELL, a respected Canadian chorale director who founded the Leslie Bell Singers, but who also composed string quartets and played woodwinds in symphony orchestra, young Richard began playing piano at age four and studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. He attended Upper Canada College, where he excelled at music and was a member of the school's football, hockey and squash teams.
In 1962, his father died. After that, he began playing in local bands with older boys. "I was playing fraternity parties that would get raided by the police, and my mom would freak out," he told an interviewer recently. "But I kept going right through my teenage years."
Although he enrolled at the University of Toronto to study economics and political science, Mr. BELL found the lure of rock 'n' roll too strong and dropped out. He joined the local group Ritchie Knight and the Midnights and began gigging around southern Ontario.
In 1968, he was recruited to join Mr. Hawkins' band, an early version of the group Crowbar. For good measure, he brought along his friend Richard Newell, a vocalist and harmonica player who became known as King Biscuit Boy.
After that, everything happened in a rush. The following year, he appeared with Mr. Hawkins at New York's Fillmore East auditorium where they opened for Joe Cocker and Mad Dogs and Englishmen. He was spotted by Janis Joplin's manager, Albert Grossman, who sounded him out about joining the singer's new ensemble.
In landing the job, Mr. BELL signed on with a group that, like the original version of The Band, included three other Canadians. They were Ken Pearson on organ, John Till on guitar and Brad Campbell, a bassist who had previously played with two groups - The Last Words and The Paupers. The lone American was drummer Clark Pierson.
In early 1970, Ms. Joplin's Full Tilt Boogie Band began rehearsing and woodshedding - improvising harmony by ear - in San Francisco. Recalls Mr. Pearson: "I was already out there when Richard arrived. He knocked at the door and said, 'Hi, I'm Richard BELL from Toronto.' I asked him what he played, and he said piano. I thought, well, there goes my job. When we went to rehearsal, Janis goes, 'Don't worry, boys, I'm having both organ and piano.' So we flipped a coin and I wound up playing organ and he got piano. We forged a bond right then and there."
It was his work in Full Tilt that first brought Mr. BELL to the attention of Mr. Hudson. Around that time, The Band joined Full Tilt on the Festival Express (Full Tilt's performances from that tour are captured on both the Festival Express DVD and the extended reissued CD edition of Pearl).
Interestingly, the tour was also Mr. LINDEN's introduction to Mr. BELL's playing. Just 10 years old, Mr. LINDEN happened to see him perform with Ms. Joplin in Port Chester, New York "I was such a music fan that it really meant something to me, seeing these Canadian musicians up there on stage," he recalls. "It was a mighty band, and I immediately became aware of what a great player Richard was."
Full Tilt disbanded with the death of Ms. Joplin in October of that year. Mr. BELL moved to Woodstock, New York where he immersed himself in session work for the likes of Judy Collins, Karen Dalton, Eric Andersen and others. For the next two decades, he was kept busy with recording dates at different studios all over the United States.
During that time, he lived briefly in Alabama and in Atlanta, Georgia., where he was married briefly to Mary DEACON and where he gave up music to work for her father's drywall company.
By 1989, however, he had followed the sound of music back to Woodstock, and to the network of recording studios that had developed in the wake of the legendary concert 20 years earlier. There, he first met Mr. LINDEN and began to make a new string of connections. Recalls Mr. LINDEN: "He told me, 'I've been away from my family too long and really want to be with them, so I'm going to move back to Canada.' I suggested he give me a call."
Not long after that, Mr. BELL turned up in Toronto and found himself playing in Mr. LINDEN's band, and on a steady number of albums. "He'd show up at a session and be very relaxed and cool and easygoing," says Mr. LINDEN. " Then he would play, blow everybody away and then leave. He was like a producer's secret weapon, especially when he first came back to Canada and people didn't know that much about him."
And, perhaps because he was back in the game, and doing what he most loved, Mr. BELL never complained.
"He always had an incredibly positive attitude, never cynical," says Mr. LINDEN. " Once, my band was playing some horrible place where Richard had to haul his keyboards up three flights of stairs, and we'd get to the top and I'd say, 'How're doing?' He'd say, 'Well, sure beats drywall.' "
It was around then that he teamed up with such groups as The Cowboy Junkies and the enigmatically named Pork Belly Futures, a popular new band whose debut album, Way Past Midnight, had become something of a hit.
Paul Quarrington, the front man for Pork Belly Futures, says Mr. BELL was a musician whose emotions ran deep. "He played with heartfelt intensity.
"Ultimately, the essence of Richard was that he liked to be surprising," adds Mr. Quarrington, who also happens to be a Governor General Award-winning novelist. "He was musically sophisticated, but also profoundly silly - in the best possible way."
Despite such accolades, Mr. BELL remained a humble musician. "He was as modest as he was talented," says Mr. Pearson. "If you ever tried to compliment him, he wouldn't put up with it - he'd crack a joke."
According to those closest to him, Mr. BELL maintained an upbeat, youthful spirit through an eagerness to learn new things. A lover of gadgets of all kinds, he embraced computers, iPods and the latest music technology - sometimes to a fault.
"His keyboard systems could get very mutinous during recording sessions," says Mr. Quarrington. "I was always factoring in an hour or two for Richard messing around with his gear."
For his part, Mr. Hudson recalls how Mr. BELL's technological talents proved a boon to The Band. "He'd bring a computer with music-notation software and a printer with us on the road when he was writing horn parts for us … Then he'd print out the charts in the hotel room in between gigs.
"He was way ahead of us in the computer-skills department."
An avid reader, Mr. BELL loved to share favourite books with Friends and colleagues, whether it was Raymond Chandler novels or the latest bestseller. Says Mr. LINDEN: " Richard and I were both fans of the mystery writer James Lee Burke, who once wrote 'Never treat a brave man as anything less.' I thought about that so much with Richard in this past year, because he dealt with his illness with such incredible grace.
"I've never known a finer man or a better musician. It's as simple as that."
Leslie Richard BELL was born in Toronto on March 5, 1946. He died of cancer at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on June 15, 2007. He was 61. He leaves his mother, Leona HELWIG, sister, Janet MacEY, his niece Roz MacEY and nephews Richard MacEY, Doug MacEY and Gord MacEY.
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