Elton John World News: Bell's Bounty

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Songwriter/Producer is in The News

Friday 7 July 2006 @ 18:24 - GMT

Last month, a man who once worked with Elton, received awards at two different ceremonies.

In Philadelphia, he got the Entrepreneur honour at the Rhythm and Blues Foundation's Pioneer Awards.

And at New York's Marriott Marquis Hotel, he was serenaded by Paul Shaffer at the Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony.

Thom Bell is probably best known for creating ''the sound of Philadelphia,'' considered the heir to the dominant Motown sound of the sixties, with partners Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.

Born in Jamaica in 1941, he moved to Philadelphia as a child and studied classical music as a teen.  He also loved singing, and as a teen met up with and joined Gamble in the singing group the Romeos.  He learned to play multiple instruments and planned to become a classical conductor a profession that generally wasnt available to an African American man in the early 60s.  So instead, at age 22 he became a touring conductor for  Chubby Checker.  After two years he was approached by local Cameo Records, looking to create a Philly version of Motown.  He signed with Cameo and earned his first production gig for a local group called the Delfonics in 1968.  The combination yielded a couple of hits.

Bells early work set the stage for his style of production and arrangements.  He was known as being extremely organised and precise, but more importantly was quite adventurous.  He generally came to the studio with a specific sound in mind and tended to prefer precision over spontaneity.  However his exacting work was also groundbreaking, as he created unique arrangements using seemingly odd instruments, such as sitars and bassoons, to create first-of-a-kind Soul sounds that others would try to ape for years afterward.  His productions tended to be lush and orchestral (no doubt influenced by his classical background), but with hot, pulsating beats and excellent vocal arrangements.  While his work owed a debt to the ''Motown sound,'' he clearly took Soul music to a new and different level, and his work became the template for dozens of acts throughout the 70s, and was later dumbed down by some of the leading producers of the disco sound. 

1972 was a major year for Bell.  He produced the the Stylistics' debut album and provided production and arrangement work on the OJays Backstabbers album , and worked with the Spinners.

Over the next half decade he became one of Soul musics most prolific hitmakers, working with several acts including Billy Paul and Johnny Mathis.  He also was called in by Elton for an album collaboration that didnt materialise as planned, but resulted in a delayed EP and the hit Mama Cant Buy You Love.


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