Some of the most notable blues musicians have come from Chicago, but NEPA residents won’t have to travel that far to see one its legends take the stage.
Lurrie Bell, son of the late blues harmonica player Carey Bell, will be headlining as well as performing an acoustic set at the 16th Annual Briggs Farm Blues Festival on Saturday, July 13 alongside The Kinsey Report, Mac Arnold, and Terry “Harmonica” Bean with The Cornlickers.
Picking up the guitar at only four years old, Bell is still prolific at age 54, recently releasing the album “Blues in My Soul” with his band and producer Dick Shurman. He talked with The Weekender about the connection between blues and gospel, how he chooses his music, and what it takes to be a true bluesman.
THE WEEKENDER: What was it that made you first try the guitar?
LURRIE BELL: My father Carey Bell played with Muddy Waters, and they were at my house a lot. One day when I was about four, I decided to pick one up.
W: Out of all the blues players you met as a kid, who was the most influential on you and your work?
LB: Pianist Lovie Lee and my cousin Eddie C. Campbell. They really took me in and helped me get going.
W: Anyone can pick up a guitar, but what do you think it takes to be a real blues player?
LB: Feeling and context.
W: Blues was considered the “devil’s music” in some places for a long time, so what made you blend the blues with gospel?
LB: When I was young, I went down to Lisbon, Ala., to live with my grandparents for a while, and they encouraged me to play in the church. I already knew the blues, so I would sing to the Lord and play blues with my guitar. Blues and gospel have a lot in common.
W: How does Chicago blues stand out from other types of blues?
LB: The modern blues sound originated in Chicago when Muddy Waters had Little Walter on harp and Otis Spann on piano, second guitar. I’ve always liked that full sound.
W: You made a huge comeback in the ‘90s with your Delmark records. What was the driving force there?
LB: I had to fix a lot of things, and Delmark was of great encouragement to me – a lot of musician friends as well.
W: How do you choose the songs you cover and perform?
LB: I listen and if they move me… And some are just favorites. Dick Shurman, who produced the new album, brought me over 200 songs to listen to.
W: What inspires you to write a song, and what inspired the songs you wrote on this current record?
LB: It’s important to let people into my life, what’s on my mind – the song “Blues in My Soul” talks about that. Everybody has their own cross to bear. Blues is where I go to find my peace.
W: What is your writing process like?
LB: I write my thoughts down as lyrics and then play with them in my mind and with my guitar until something fits
W: What was it like working with Dick Shurman on this latest record?
LB: Great guitar producer, and he always has a lot of ideas. We’ve been talking about making a record for years.
W: How do you think this latest record stands out from your previous records?
LB: Wanted to make a no-fuss Chicago record with my band, sort of what you will hear at shows and festivals.
W: Does your relationship with your father and his legacy still have an effect on your music today?
W: Looking back, is there any song or record that you’ve recorded that you’re most proud of?
LB: Not really. I like everything.
W: What do you have in store for this upcoming show at the Briggs Farm Blues Festival?
LB: It’s going to be blast. I get to play some acoustic in the afternoon, a little gospel and a little blues, and then for the main stage, we’re going to light it up.
W: Do you approach your acoustic sets differently?
LB: Not really, except to have a lot of rhythm going with my feet.
W: What are you most looking forward to about Briggs Farm?
LB: I’ve heard great things – real blues is what they serve.
W: What’s next for you after that?
LB: South America, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina. They love the blues down there, and things are exploding with it. I’ve been down there every year for five years.
W: Do you have any particular career goals you feel you haven’t accomplished yet that you’d like to?
LB: I would like to be able to play the blues for another 20 to 30 years. Don’t know what else I would do.
W: When people talk about you, they use words like “legend” and “national treasure.” What is your reaction when you hear something like that?
LB: I don’t know about “legend,” but I’m doing my part in keeping this music out there.