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The Passing of Carey Bell (An Authentic Chicago Urban Blues Musician)

By Bob Riedy

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Carey Bell is that mischievous, happy, boyish man who always brightened up the room when he showed up for work. Even if the whole band was down in the dumps, Carey's arrival could turn it all around. Though I believe Carey left us way too soon, he still managed to leave something for us that is about the best inheritance one could possibly think of—he made it possible for me to hear him any time I listen to one of my own CDs. That is because he never missed one of the Bob Riedy Band recording sessions even when he didn't feel well. He was the only authentic Chicago Blues Artist that performed on every one of the Bob Riedy Blues Band recordings.

When Carey first played and recorded with us, it was difficult to coax him to play any leads on his harp or even sing a few lines of a song. But as the years went by, he learned to grab the leads as if out of the air and simply tear them up. Simultaneously, he developed a singing style that on fast songs showcased his mischievous behavior that was endearing in the way it teased you but never insulted you. For me his biggest accomplishment was that over the years he developed a unique ability to ring the pain and sorrow out of a slow blues song. With no embellishment, he simply told his story with a few words and deftly placed licks from his harp between vocal phrases. It's possible this will be his legacy; I don't believe there is a slow blues song performed by Carey that doesn't have the ability to bring your emotions to the surface. One song that comes to mind is "Last Night I Lost the Best Friend I Ever Had," but there are many more. This childlike man could make you cry if he just got a solid hold on a simple old blues song.

Carey Bell was the only Chicago musician who appeared on every one of the Bob Riedy Blues Band CDs and was a steady member of the group for over a decade starting in the 1960s. Carey grew up and blossomed before our very eyes. Before he was ill he had a twinkle in his eye and a playfulness on stage that always lifted our spirits. He is sorely missed especially as we listen to the Live CDs and play the songs he used to play with us.