b. 29 August 1910, Peoria, Illinois, USA, d. 31 December 1987, Peoria, Illinois, USA. A minor figure with few recordings, Bell was typical of the journeyman musician who plays what he must to earn a living, while harbouring greater ambitions. Beginning violin lessons at the age of 10, he moved on to the guitar, trumpet and trombone before settling on piano. Bell spent his early musical life around St. Louis, where he led a small group in the late 30s, Jimmie ‘Lightning’ Bell And His Swinging Cats. Prior to that, he had worked with bands such as Earl Van Dyke’s Plantation Cotton Pickers and Al Williams’ St. Louis Syncopators. In the late 40s, Bell formed the six-piece Gentlemen Of Swing, including Andrew Harris on bass. Harris and guitarist Leo Blevins accompanied him on a 1948 session that produced two singles, one on Aristocrat, the other constituting the third single on the then new Chess Records label. Although he claimed never to have been a user, Bell was imprisoned twice for possession of heroin. A further three years was served from 1970 for aiding and abetting an abortion. In 1978, he released three singles on his own GDS label, and was imprisoned yet again, this time for possession of counterfeit food stamps. His only album was made up of songs recorded in Shreveport in 1949, along with a 1978 concert at Illinois Central College and material recorded in his own home just before his incarceration.
Share this page