Fronted by an imposingly large, dreadlocked singer, the Kelly Bell Band secured a place as the Baltimore area's premier live party band by the end of the 1990s. Formed in 1995 in a city with no less than eight colleges or universities, Bell's good-time blend of rock and funk found a ready, and usually intoxicated, audience. The band's first gigs included backing up Bo Diddley.
A Baltimore-area native, Bell has aided his band's reputation by forging a major public presence working as a mentor to troubled youth and appearing regularly as a featured sit-in guest on a popular local rock station's morning show. That act in itself held major significance. Baltimore has always been a musically segregated town dominated by white, working- to middle-class folks into classic rock and heavy metal. The regular appearance of a local black artist on the city's premier white rock station (one of the show's personalities is also black) signaled a leap forward in a city that has had a difficult time recovering from the death of hair metal a decade before.
KBB released their debut album, Phat Blues Music, in August of 1998 on the upstart regional distributor Fowl Records formed by Jimmie's Chicken Shack leader and entrepreneur Jimi Haha. It remained for the next two years as one of the best-selling locally released CDs in Baltimore's history and a staple of college dorm CD players across the city and region. Three years later, the group issued Ain't Like It Used to Be.