TORONTO (CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — Renowned keyboardist and songwriter Richard Bell died on June 15 after a long battle with multiple myeloma cancer, at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, Canada. He was 61. An extraordinary musician, his resume stretched over 40 years, and included stints with some of rock ‘n’ roll’s most legendary performers, including Janis Joplin and The Band.
Bell began his professional career in the ‘60s as a member of the Toronto band the Last Words. He joined rockabilly artist, Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks as a keyboardist in the mid-‘60s. At a performance with Hawkins at the Fillmore East in New York City in 1969, he was approached by Albert Grossman, Janis Joplin’s manager, and was recruited for her Full Tilt Boogie Band. He played on her final studio album, Pearl, released posthumously in 1971. Bell joined The Band in 1991 and played piano on their albums, High on the Hog, Jubilation, and Jericho, for which he penned “Caves of Jericho.” He was an accomplished musician on piano, organ and accordion, and during his career, he played on over 400 albums and performed with Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Joe Walsh, Paul Butterfield, The Cowboy Junkies, Bruce Cockburn, and Bonnie Raitt. In addition, he produced a number of albums and worked on several film soundtracks.
At the time of his death, Bell was a member of the country-rock group, Burrito Deluxe, performing and contributing songs to their recent CD, Disciples Of The Truth, which was released earlier this year on Luna Chica Records. Reached for comment, band leader Carlton Moody stated, “During the brief time I knew Richard, I found him to be a very spiritual person who lived everyday to the fullest. Musically, he always inspired those around him to achieve a higher level. Once he entered your life, you were better because of it.” Bell also had been continuing his work on stage and in the studio with long-time collaborators, Colin Linden, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings and Pork Belly Futures.
Born March 5, 1946, in Toronto, Canada, Bell was the son of esteemed Canadian conductor, musician and educator, Dr. Leslie Bell. A child prodigy, Bell began playing the piano at the age of four, and studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music. He was classically trained; however, he was bitten by the rock ’n’ roll bug when he was influenced by blues pianist Otis Spann and Ray Charles. He began his professional career at about age 12 when he joined a band with some boys from school who were several years older. In a recent interview, Bell recalled, “I was playing fraternity parties that would get raided by the police, and my mom would freak out,” he recalls. “But I kept going right through my teenage years.”
Throughout his career, Bell participated in many epochal recordings and events of the rock ‘n’ roll era. He played on “Welcome Back” by John Sebastian – theme song for the popular television series Welcome Back Kotter. He played with The Band at Bob Dylan’s 20th Anniversary Concert at Madison Square Garden, and he participated in Festival Express, a legendary train tour festival across Canada in 1970, which featured Joplin, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, The Grateful Dead, The Band, and others. Bell also provided on-camera commentary for the DVD documentary about the tour, released in 2004, which the San Francisco Chronicle called “A backstage pass to the wildest and woolliest ride in the history of music.”
Bell is survived by his mother, Leona Helwig, sister, Janet Macey, niece, Roz Macey (Lori Degraw), nephews, Richard Macey, Douglas Macey (Leah Homma) and Gordon Macey.
Bell’s family will hold a “Celebration of Life” ceremony in Toronto, on Wednesday, June 20th, at 2:00 p.m. at the Steamwhistle Brewery located just south of the CN Tower.
A second service will be held in Nashville at a date and time to be announced. – CelebrityAccess Staff Writers