Thursday, May 10, 2007

Carey Bell 1936-2007

Steve Messick writes:

Carrie Bell was a wonderful harp player, and really, the last of that generation. He was no Little Walter, but nobody ever has been. I'm not sure if he was as good on harp as Big Walter, but he was a much better singer. Unfortunately, the one time I saw him, he wasn't very good and he was rude to me personally.

It was at an all-day blues thing about twenty minutes away. Bell was headlining (two sets), and hanging out, signing fliers, and generally being pretty cool. I didn't say anything to him, but we had nodded at each other. Somebody bought him a drink, and then some more. By the time he got on, he was lit up pretty good, and not focused, but playing well enough. He said that between sets, he would sign copies of his cds, available at the stage.

I had the cds at home, but hadn't thought to bring any. What i wanted was for him to sign a harp. I stood in line and when I got up, he looked at me like I was an idiot, and wanted to know why I didn't buy an album for him to sign. I said I had 'em at home. He said if I wanted him to sign something, I needed to buy one of those.

His second set was worse than the first, messing up and restarting songs, messing with effects to the point of distraction, and just kind of being drunk.

I found out later that his guitarist talked to some friends. Seems he had stopped drinking (more or less), but on that day, decided to indulge. They (his band) knew he wasn't playing well, and they felt embarrassed for him. The funny thing is, the crowd really couldn't have cared less.

It bugged me for a bit. After a while, I realized a) he was drunk. and b) he wasn't getting rich out there, and he probably needed every cd sale. All he saw was some fucker who wanted something from him, but wasn't giving anything in return. Fair enough.

I've talked to folks who met him in other situations, and swear he was one of the nicest cats in the world. I believe that. He just wasn't that day.

But he could play harp like a motherfucker. I got the albums to prove it.