Contact: admin(a)
(c) 2007
Finland Suits Lurrie Bell

25 March 2007

The Finnish myth about Lahti being the "Chicago of Finland" isn´t just a myth with no foundation, although the comparison isn´t strictly blues-based whatsoever. Lurrie Bell and his band blasted a real Chicago-Bomb at The Grand Blues Festival.

Lurrie Bell & Chicago Blues Band headlined the Grand Blues Festival in Lahti on Saturday. The band played a really hefty and electric set for an enthusiastic and nicely large audience.
English Home   Finnish Home
Grand Blues
Lurrie also performed an acoustic duo-set with harmonica player Ismo Haavisto earlier in the evening. And there was also time for a surpise appearance at the legendary restaurant Torvi in Lahti, where Lurrie, bassplayer Melvin Smith, and the drummer Willie Hayes took the stage with The Honky Tonk Men during Honky Tonk Men´s set.

"Finland is one of my favourite places in the world, this is a really beautiful country!" Lurrie praised at Saturday afternoon's press-conference as he watched the inquirer straight into the eyes, with a slight bit of a frown under his brow. "It seems like the Finnish people really appreciate this music and seem to especially like Chicago Blues. From Finnish musicians I know
Pepe (Ahlqvist) - brilliant harmonica player! And also Ismo Haavisto and the rest of The Honky Tonk Men are good."

Life hasn´t treated Lurrie with silky gloves. Lately, he had to face his wife´s death. But he doesn´t believe in worrying. "When you travel this far away from home, you´ll have to find good spirits and vibes. You´ll have to have enthusiasm in what you´re doing. You´ll always have to believe that when you´re on the road and at the gig, you´re gonna have a ball!"

Carey Bell (70) has naturally been a key influence in Lurrie´s career. "My dad used to have his band rehearsals at home, so I literally grew up with the blues. I started playing guitar at the age of five and the tool has been with me ever since." Lurrie´s other important influences were the three Kings: B.B., Albert and Freddie. Bobby "Blue" Bland was also an important vocal influence.

The fruitful surroundings also did the trick for Lurrie´s brothers. They are all blues musicians: the now Mississippian brother
Steve Bell, bassman Tyson Bell and the drummer James Bell, who also plays on Lurrie´s "Second Nature" album, are all traveling the same path of the blues.

The electric guitar is naturally important to Lurrie, as it is for Chicago Blues. "But I also like the acoustic guitar a lot. I like to play
Robert Johnson-style music. My technique also developed playing an acoustic guitar. I started pickin´on with my fingers and I have never even played the electric with a pick. The techinque is all my own, and by picking with my fingers, I feel  I´m much more in control, and the straight connection with the strings is also important for me".

Drummer Willie Hayes has played with many hotshots in the business and as a man with a healthy sense of humor, he says playing with
Sonny & Cher has been his biggest musical experience ever. But being more serious, he says playing with Koko Taylor´s Blues Machine has been especially great. The band was on the "Blues Explosion" compilation album and won the Grammy for the best traditional blues album with it in 1984.

Magic Sam found me and took me along with him on the road", Hayes explains. "Unfortunately, I had to watch close his premature passing". Magic Sam died in 1969. He was only 32 years old.

Lurrie Bell revealed his plans about releasing a new record: "I´m producing it myself and it is going to be released on an independent label. Right now I don´t have a record deal. The big record companies getcha! We are now shuffling through the new material, and after that we´ll pick the right musicians. I believe the release is out in about 3-4 months on."

Lurrie Bell´s albums for Delmark are probably his best recorded works, but Lurrie himself says his personal favourite is the 2004 release of "Cuttin´ Heads". "The Hammond B-3 organ gave the album a really good atmosphere." A concert with father Carey Bell captured last year, is going to be released by Delmark on cd & dvd during the spring.

Lurrie says he enjoys many different music styles. Jazz and Rhythm´n Blues are naturally closest to his heart, as is the gospel of
Blind Boys Of Alabama and The Sensational Nightingales. Even hip-hop finds it´s way for Lurrie. "In Chicago the blues is on the air 24 hours a day. The young talents just seem to be more at home with hip-hop, but players like Michael Coleman, Chico Banks and Carlos Johnson take care of the future of the blues." 

Foundations from the classics, expression from the heart

The musical greetings for Lahti from the Windy City by Lurrie Bell & Chicago Blues Band were hefty. Their set rolled on easily over 2 hours, and the band was clearly delighted by the cheerful and loud acceptance by the audience. The concert was built mostly on classic songs, as Lurrie doesn´t have original material in his sleeve too much. But classics such as "Hideaway" and "Hoochie Coochie Man" rolled on just mighty fine.
Lurrie´s picking tehnique is truly one of a kind. The thumb of his right hand does almost all the work, while the other fingers have only a side-kick function. The same style is also applied on his acoustic playing. The Vip-only acoustic duo-set earlier in the evening was an intensive recipe, the ingredients of which contained tried´n true staples such as "Five Long Years", "Key To The Highway" and "Sweet Home Chicago". Lurrie and Haavisto seemed really to be on the same wave-length.

Besides Bell, the driving force in the band seemed to be the drummer and showster Willie Hayes. He greatly takes the advantage of his drumset´s depth and width. This man really knows where the stick and the skin should meet. Hayes was a cheerful sight in his grand hat, luxury suit and his funny arm-choregraphies.

The bassplayer Melvin Smith, who has known Bell for nearly 30 years, is little bit of a puffy looking guy, but worked his 5-string mojo with no fuzz. The keyboard player
Tom Vaitsas, who has been bouncing between jazz and blues in his career, is a very calm guy. In live situations the keyboard too often gets under the way of the others, but in Lahti everything was mixed perfectly.
On the smaller stage, especially Jo´Buddy & Down Home King III kept the party going. The raw and primitive power of the duo got the jinx all over the crowd. The girls dug it big time, too. Jukka "Wang Dang Dude" Mäkinen appeared as a guest harp player. At the Arena stage also appeared the never failing Seppo Valjakka and his band. The new force in the Lahti music scene, Jesse Lepistö Group, opened the night with a Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan-heavy set. The wonder from middle Finland, Willie And The Wolves, brought the great night to it´s end.

The Grand Blues Festival, brought to by the Lahden Blues Mafia association, was a great success compared to last year, when too few folks came to see and hear the great
Campbell Brothers. As the clock´s were turned into summertime during the night, it is safe to say Grand Blues Festival ended the winter season in Finnish blues with class and style.

Text by Pasi Tuominen
Translated from Finnish by Sameli Rajala
Photos by Jarmo Montonen
Lurrie & Ismo (click to enlarge)
Lurrie at Grand Arena
(click to enlarge)
Jo' Buddy
(click to enlarge)