"Cowboy" Mach Bell was born in Yellow Springs, OH, on January 23, 1953. Inspired by heroes such as Liberace, Leonard Bernstein, Bo Diddley, Keith Relf of the Yardbirds, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Noddy Holder, Dick Dodd, the Standells, Roger Daltrey, Eric Burdon, T. Rex, Howlin' Wolf, Brian Jones, Jeff Beck, Mark Lindsay, Jim Dandy, John Kay, Willie "Loco" Alexander, and James Brown, his stage show reflects the eccentricities of many of those legends. His first instrument was the cello, something Bell studied for four years. The Mechanical Onions was his first band in 1966 at the age of 13. AMG asked the future lead singer for the Joe Perry Project how he joined his first significant group, Thundertrain: "After several years playing the Middlesex County, MA, 'battle of the bands' circuit as a lead guitarist, I made the switch, in 1972, to lead singer. Drummer Bobby Edwards and I started playing the local teen centers as Biggy Ratt. I split that group in early 1974 and hitchhiked to LA. I spent weeks hanging out in Hollywood, on the strip, in front of the Whiskey and at Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco. The glam scene was in full bloom and I was inspired to bring some of the sunset strip vibe back to Boston. When I got home to Holliston, MA, I found Bobby was playing drums with bass player Ric Provost and his brother, guitarist "Cool" Gene Provost. They had just disbanded their successful club band Doc Savage. The four of us teamed up and moved into the basement of Jack's Drum Shop on Boylston St. Sussing out an ad in the Boston Phoenix, we found our lead guitarist, a disciple of Rick Derringer and Johnny Winter by the name of Steven Silva (who came from) down in New Bedford. Thundertrain (1974-1979) was born!"
Indeed, Thundertrain's metallic pop was like Slade meets the Rolling Stones, Bell giving further evidence of bandmember influences which molded their sound: "'Cool Gene' was a Keith Richards/Gram Parsons fan while 'Young Bobby' was into Kiss and Aerosmith. American garage rock was the first love of bassist Ric. On top of this thick mix I laid down my suburban Otis Redding impression, dressed like a chick...literally hanging from the rafters." In 1975, Thundertrain released one of the first singles from Boston's pivotal underground movement, "I'm So Excited" b/w "Cindy Is a Sleeper." That was followed by 1976's "Hot For Teacher," which featured Willie "Loco" Alexander of the Lost, Bagatelle, and the Velvet Underground on keyboards. Some say that Van Halen lifted much of the style and sound for their song of the same name which appeared on the multi-platinum 1984 album, released in that year. The single, backed with "Love the Way," was also released on Chiswick Records in the U.K. Jem Records pressed up a sampler in the U.S.A., which included not only Thundertrain's "Hot For Teacher" but the first appearance of the Sex Pistols on a U.S. recording. Van Halen had plenty of opportunities to hear what this important Boston band led by Mach Bell was up to. In 1977, Jelly Records, part of the organization which was involved with Duke & the Drivers, released a full length LP, Teenage Suicide. That same year the legendary Live At the Rat LP was produced, including live versions by Thundertrainof "I Gotta Rock" and "I'm So Excited." As Willie "Loco" Alexander was getting signed to MCA, a legitimate "bootleg" authorized by Alexander and his Boom Boom Band was released on Varage Records, a play on Boston labels Varulven and Garage. This limited-edition 500 copies, released incognito as the Sperm Bank Babies, included a live version of Chuck Berry's "Around & Around" by Thundertrain. Mach Bell was so infuriated by the actions of the club owner that he did a long rant before the tune opens the disc. The club owner's name is bleeped out repeatedly; it is a hilarious and legendary recording. In 1978, the group released a version of the Standells' "Dirty Water" on radio station WCOZ's The Best of the Boston Beat, a compilation of songs and bands played on DJ Leslie Palmiter's Sunday night program on 94.5 FM.
In 1979, lead guitarist Steven Silva left Thundertrain to pursue an acting career on the West Coast. The band continued to perform and record with Boom Boom Band guitarist Billy Loosigian as Silva's replacement, a group they called the Hits. After scoring heavy airplay with a tape of "Storm Brewing," "Cool" Gene Provost left the band. Ric Provost and Bobby Edwards continued with Mach Bell on guitar as the Mag IV. This band released a single on Pure And Easy, "Mag IV Go Monte Carlo" b/w "Man With No Name."
Pure and Easy Records then sent the group to Longview Studio (where the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, and other notables practiced and recorded), crafting the second Mag IV disc when Bell got a call. "Thundertrain's original producer, Earthquake Morton of Duke & the Drivers was on the line calling from manager Tim Collins' office. Tim had just signed Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry and he needed a new lead singer. I auditioned in February 1982 and days later I became the vocalist with the Joe Perry Project.
"Coming off of my rough and tumble experiences with Thundertrain, this was finally my opportunity to perform nationally, on a huge scale, rocking arenas and festivals as well as theaters and concert clubs. The Joe Perry Project was first and foremost a touring rock & roll band. Living like pirates, we criss-crossed Canada, South America, and the States. Our mission was to inject some guitar fueled rock & roll energy into the synth/new wave dominated early-'80s scene. Tim Collins and Joe Perry were finally able to ink a deal with MCA, who released the third and final Joe Perry Project album, Once a Rocker, Always a Rocker in September 1983. I contributed the lyrics to seven of the ten songs on the LP, (including) "Once a Rocker," "Four Guns West," "Crossfire," "King of the Kings" "Adrianna," "Walk With Me Sally," and "Never Wanna Stop." Joe Perry and Harry King produced."
In 1989, the Teenage Suicide LP by Thundertrain was reissued on Habla Records in Italy. In 1991, the radio hit "Counter Attack" was finally issued on CD on Varulven's Boston Rock & Roll Anthology, Vol. #15. 1993 saw the release of the MCA Joe Perry Project album Once a Rocker, Always a Rocker on compact disc and, in 1999, Raven Records of Australia released The Best of the Joe Perry Project: The Music Still Does the Talking featuring tracks from all three of the band's incarnations. But what was life for Mach Bell after fronting the band of one of his heroes?
"Joe Perry returned to Aerosmith in mid-1984, leaving me reeling. Joe Perry Project bassman Danny Hargrove and I teamed up with drummer Hirsh Gardner (from the group New England ) as the Wild Bunch. We spent two years opening for national acts and headlining clubs and then I split back out to Hollywood. I spent a few years out there doing some producing and searching for the next big thing. In 1989, I married Julia Channing (manager of the Cars' recording studio, Syncrosound ) in London. We moved to the Massachusetts' South Shore, and I'd gone on to other pursuits when former Buckingham guitarist Dave Zolla suddenly appeared in 1996. Together we put together Last Man Standing , a metallic quartet that grafts progressive chord structures and riffs to my raw-and-rowdy vocalizing. At the close of 2001, we released (the album) Last Man Standing, an 11-song album produced by Zolla. I wrote all the lyrics and Dave wrote the music. Former L-88 member Aartie Knyff handles bass and Jon Gutlon is on drums. My hope is that we can get out touring and keep the albums coming. I dig wild showmanship, over-the-top players, and a soulful rocking feel. It's up to guys like us to keep this kind of energetic music alive."
In 2002, Gulcher Records of Bloomington, IN, re-released Thundertrain's remastered Teenage Suicide LP, originally recorded in 1976. Pure & Easy Records founder John Visnaskas restored the work from the original tapes. Several bonus cuts are featured on the album. Thundertrain was Mach's launch pad, and he calls it "a great rocket ride. 1977 was probably our craziest year; we got tons of airplay, press, and found ourselves gigging with the Runaways, the Dictators, Thin Lizzy, and of course all the great Rat bands: Willie Alexander, DMZ, the Cars, Reddy Teddy, and so many more. Our credo was 'Thundertrain: unchained and shameless,' and from our band house to every stage we tore up we always lived the life of a true outlaw rock band." 16 Magazine called the 18-year old singer "sexy and sensational." Thundertrain got mentioned in Time Magazine's cover story on punk rock, and there has been a renewed interest in Bell's rock & roll career. All of his Thundertrain and Joe Perry Project recordings continue to be re-released internationally. Dozens of bootlegs, concert videos, and Internet fan sites have sprung up. "Black Velvet Pants," the MTV video featuring Mach with the Joe Perry Project has been replayed on VH1 and MTV. Let's hope the unreleased songs from the Once a Rocker, Always a Rocker album get their day in the sun, as well as a live album or two from that legendary unit. Mach Bell is a powerful stage performer with energy and vision, his past and his future are important pages in the history book of rock music.