By Ellen Chappelle
I have to admit that TV shows featuring a singing competition qualify as guilty pleasures for my husband and me. Starting with “American Idol” and now including “The Sing-Off” and “The X-Factor,” we check in on all of them, even if we don’t watch every episode.
Now and then, a Seattleite will be among the competitors, giving us someone from home to support. The inaugural season of “The X-Factor” is no different, with several Western Washington contestants, including our favorite, Edmonds’ own LeRoy Bell.
An experienced musician loaded with talent, the 59-year-old Bell is hardly new to the music world. He has already had a long career, having performed with B.B. King, Van Morrison, Sheryl Crow, Etta James, Al Green, India Arie, LeAnne Rimes, Michael McDonald, Idina Menzel, Mavis Staples and many more, broadening his musical base along the way with an edge that crosses many demographics. And not only can he sing, he’s also got mad skills on the guitar and the harmonica!
In the late ’70s, Thom Bell, Bell’s uncle and member of Mighty Three Music (along with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff), opened offices in the Seattle area. As a young staff writer, Bell teamed up with Casey James and wrote songs that would be recorded by The Spinners, The O’Jays, The Temptations, Rita Marley and most notably Elton John, for whom they penned the hit “Mama Can’t Buy You Love.”
Songwriting royalties and performances with a cover band kept food on the table in the ’80s and ’90s, but Bell eventually took a job with the U.S. Postal Service in Tacoma and went back to writing songs, hoping to launch a solo career. Today, the new band, LeRoy Bell and His Only Friends, plays to good-sized Seattle-area crowds and sustains Bell full-time. But commercial success has continued to elude him.
New life was breathed into Bell’s career in 2003 as the Fat Boy Slim mix of Elton John’s “Are you Ready for Love,” (composed by Bell) reached number-one in England and most of Europe. Bell released the acclaimed EP “Spending Time” on his own label, Martez Music Group, reinventing himself as an emerging singer/songwriter. “Spending Time” quickly sold over 15,000 copies. Bell has since released “Two Sides to Every Story,” opening a new chapter in his music career.
Amy Sciarretto of UltimateClassicRock.com commented on one of Bell’s recent X-Factor performances, stating, “Bell infused ‘Make You Feel My Love’ (by Bob Dylan) with his own dose of raspy soul. He channeled emotion, pushing it up with a low, rumbling and terrific voice which undoubtedly rose from the depths of his heart and stomach. You couldn’t help but root for Bell, since he is so talented and likely frustrated by the inability to maximize his talent in the commercial sphere.”
Bell hopes his participation on The X-Factor will finally bring him that elusive big-label recording contract and showcase his impressive catalog of songs.
As the contestants on The X-Factor are whittled down in subsequent weeks, I know who we’ll be rooting for – the senior citizen with the timelessly smooth voice!
With a background in theatre and journalism, Ellen Chappelle is perfectly poised to covers the local arts scene for My Edmonds News. She also keeps busy writing and editing for artists and small businesses, publishing an informational site for dog owners and creating handcrafted jewelry. Please keep her posted about all things artistic in Edmonds by emailing her at [email protected]