jazz & blues music blog with news, reviews, concerts & more, with a Canadian focus

June 19, 2007

Canadian Blues, Roots Pianist Richard Bell Dies

Written by
cindy mcleod

blues, jazz, news, Canada

Toronto pianist Richard Bell Loses Battle With Cancer

The Canadian music community lost another giant this past week when Richard Bell, the Toronto keyboard player who worked with Ronnie Hawkins, Janis Joplin’s Full Tilt Boogie Band and many others, died.

Bell had battled cancer for years, succumbed to multiple myeloma at a hospital in Toronto last Friday. He was 61.

Most recognized for his piano wizardry, Bell also played organ, saxophone and accordion. He was also a composer and lyricist.

Richard Bell broke onto the scene in the 60’s as a member of Ronnie Hawkins band The Hawks. From there he went on to work with Janis Joplin’s Full Tilt Boogie Band, where he spent the next two decades, mainly in the States. He also appears on Joplin’s posthumously released album Pearl.

Following his work with Joplin he joined The Band, writing the title track for their comeback albumJericho. His work is also featured on the group’s High on the Hog and Jubilation albums.

As a studio session player, Bell worked with such legends as Bob Dylan, Bruce Cockburn, Bonnie Raitt, Judy Collings, Cowboy Junkies, Rick Danko, Paul Butterfield, Michael Kaeshammer and Joe Walsh. More recent work can be heard on recordings by The Cowboy Junkies, Rita Chiarelli, David Wilcox, Burrito Deluxe and Pork Belly Futures.

In the early ’90s, Bell began to play a more prominent role on the Toronto scene, collaborating on several projects with Colin Linden, and splitting his time to commute to Woodstock, N.Y. to work with a new edition of The Band with founding members Levon Helm, Rick Danko, and Garth Hudson. Bell also toured across Canada numerous times in concert settings with Bruce Cockburn, Linden, and Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, and most recently had been part of the Toronto jazz/blues group Pork Bellies Futures.

Despite undergoing rigorous cancer treatments and in spite of a poor prognosis, Bell resumed work this spring in a Nashville studio on a comeback album with The Flying Burrito Brothers. In May, Bell’s health had rapidly deteriorated and he was hospitalized in Toronto.

Born March 5, 1946, in Toronto, Bell was the son of esteemed Canadian conductor, musician and educator, Dr. Leslie Bell. A child prodigy, Bell began playing the piano at the age of four, and studied at Canada’s Royal Conservatory of Music.

Richard Bell is survived by his mother, sister and nieces and nephews. A memorial service is expected be held in Toronto on Wednesday.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.