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Monday, May 07, 2007

Sad, Sad Day - Carey Bell Has Sailed Away

I just got the news from Scott Dirks that Carey Bell passed away yesterday - heart failure, probably due to diabetes. Carey was part of the first "post Walter generation" (I am referring to the two Walters - Little Walter Jacobs and Big Walter Horton). Carey was tied in with Junior Wells and James Cotton; only Cotton survives now.

Carey Bell Harrington and I share a birthday - November 14 - but he was born in 1936 (Mr. G is much younger, thank you). He left Macon, Mississippi for Chicago in September 1956. As a young harmonica player, Carey hung out with Little Walter, Rice Miller (Sonny Boy Williamson II) and especially Big Walter Horton. Carey and Big Walter were very tight - Carey taught himself how to play bass guitar so he could play in Big Walter's band. The two harp players also cut a record together in 1972 (on Alligator, the second release by the blues label). After playing bass for several years with folks like Hound Dog Taylor and Johnny Young, Carey switched back to the harmonica exclusively in 1968. He sat in the harmonica chair for Muddy Waters in the early 1970's and ended up on a couple of Muddy's records. He also played harp in Willie Dixon's Chicago Blues All-Stars band in the 1970's. Carey's career as a recorded band leader didn't really kick off until 1995 when he released his first full-length recording as a solo artist ("Deep Down" on Aligator Records).

Carey Bell was a senior member of a great multi-generational blues clan, the Bell/Harrington family. Blues guitarist superstar Eddy "the Chief" Clearwater is Carey's cousin, the great pianist, Lovie Lee, was Carey's godfather. Most of Carey's ten kids play the blues, I think - the best-known is one of my musical heroes, Mr. Lurrie Bell (see my recent entry about Lurrie). Lurrie continues to be recipient of the slings and arrows of bad fortune - his wife, Susan Greenberg, recently passed away, and now his father is gone, too. Carey and Lurrie played together from time to time - Delmark Records recently released a new DVD of a live performance of the father-son duo at Rosa's Lounge in Chicago.

It hurts to lose these harmonica blues giants - Snooky Pryor last year, now Carey. All of the Mississippi Saxophone fraternity is in mourning.

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