Ed Bell: Complete Recordings 1927-1930 (Document)
Some areas are noted for their music, whilst others - just next door -
are, through the vagaries of history, barely represented in the
recorded legacy. Such a one is Alabama, which - despite its location
in the very core of the black belt - between Georgia & Mississippi -
was hardly touched in the early period of recording.
Yet, as the scant evidence demonstrates, there was no shortage of
talent. And, of that talent, the outstanding guitarist was undoubtedly
There’re few parallels to Bell's mature style on record - perhaps
Mississippi’s Reuben Lacy or the Reverend Edward Clayborn, in
different ways might be the closest - although, if we were to include
white mountain banjo players, other comparisons could easily be made.
Because, like those players, Bell’s style is, at times, uncannily like
that of African kora players, with their intricately looped arpeggio
lines that inevitably return to worry the same handful of notes.
There’s precious little role for harmonic construction in this type of
music - changes are alluded to more than made & if it wasn’t for the
vocal line, you'd hesitate to talk about chord changes at all in much
of Bell's core material.
Even at the time, Paramount billed him as “Ed Bell and his weird
guitar”. And, when you listen to his music, it’s not hard to
From his signature tune “Mamlish Blues”, to the strangely withdrawn
“Mean Conductor”, or the oddly syncopated “Frisco Whistle Blues” -
which sounds like it'd be easier to play backwards! - Bell's work is
nigh on unique. Because, despite the parallels I've alluded to above,
he's very much his own man.
Take my favorite, “Squabblin’ Blues”, for example. Pitting a
hypnotically pulsed rhythm against a syncopated descending line that
interlocks w/the vocal melody, it’s a tour de force by any estimation
- and one of the supreme moments in prewar blues. That it’s
little-known outside of collectors’ circles has more to do
w/geographical fetishism than anything else (you know - all great
blues comes from Mississippi?) and, if even one other person latches
onto Bell as a result of this review, then I’ll think myself amply
Because he was a truly great artist…
John Henry Calvinist