Music » Critics' Picks

Carey Bell

Saturday, January 11; BB's Jazz, Blues & Soups


"Paying your dues" is just a casual catchphrase for most of us, but for Carey Bell it signifies much more. Although he's now a renowned patriarch among blues-harp players and has, as a leader, released six acclaimed recordings since 1990, Bell spent most of the previous four-plus decades as a backing musician. When harp gigs became scarce in the '60s, he even gave up the harmonica for a time to play bass behind such legends as Robert Nighthawk and Big Walter Horton.

Born in Macon, Mississippi, in 1936, Bell became a Chicago-blues stalwart when he moved there in 1956 with his godfather, pianist Lovie Lee. The timing was critical for his development as a blues-harmonica stylist. Bell had the chance to learn firsthand from Little Walter Jacobs, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Horton, all of whom influenced Bell's distinctive sound: compact, stinging licks, often introduced by bloodcurdling moans.

Bell's virtuosity will be on display this Saturday night at BB's Jazz, Blues & Soups from 10 p.m. until 2:30 in the morning. It's the kickoff gig of a tour that will take Bell and his band across the Midwest and South (and even to Las Vegas) throughout January. If you're into blues harp, don't miss this one. When Carey Bell hits a solo, it's like a hot-wired connection to the roots of Chicago electric blues.

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.