By Kristi Patton
At eight years old Steve Bell honed his skills as a musician, performing with some of Canada’s most notorious felons.
It happened while his father served as a chaplain at federal penitentiaries in Drumheller, Alta. and Stony Mountain, Man.
“I remember the first time the door to the chapel opened up and the inmates filed in. I was so disappointed how human they looked,” said Bell. “Jamming with them probably shaped my view of humanity more than anything else.”
Bell credits part of his success in the music industry –one that has led to a 25-year solo career– to those Saturday afternoon jam sessions. Those experiences helped him develop messages of love, hope and faith in his songs, stories and writings.
“These guys were well-worn but very human. They had spouses, children, and for whatever reason, got caught up in something. I learned that no matter what people are people and each one has a gift. We are all wounded in some way or another and the interactions I had brought this wide scope of humanity into my vision,” said Bell, who is about to bring his own gifts to Vernon Alliance Church Sunday.
Bell has gone on to release 18 albums and earn several accolades and awards including two Junos and three Western Canadian Music Awards.
His recording career began at 13 with his family’s gospel band, The Alf Bell Family Singers. After graduating from high school, Bell joined several bands, playing music ranging from folk to jazz-rock and country. He eventually left the Manitoba folk trio Elias, Schritt & Bell, which toured with the Pointer Sisters, and formed the Winnipeg-based independent record label Signpost Music and released his first solo album.
To celebrate 25 years behind a microphone, Bell has just released the four-album package, Pilgrimage, funded partially through a Kickstarter campaign. It comes with an accompanying keepsake book. On top of this, he’s the focus of a new feature-length documentary that shines the light on the ups and downs of his career, and tells the story of an impressive musical journey that has spanned a lifetime, and inspired countless lives.
Bell’s box set includes 12 new songs (on the album Pilgrimage), as well as songs selected by friends and fans that have been re-recorded with just vocals and guitar (Unadorned), songs recorded by his friends (Good Company), and 17 previously released songs remixed as instrumental versions (Landscapes).
“Each record is almost like a photo album, you listen to it and see what happened in your life at that time and it can be definitive of who you are at that point,” said Bell. “I’m at a shift in my life of looking backwards as much as I am looking forwards. I’m very reflective and put value on the things I have done while still adjusting my course into the second-half of my life and music can be very reflective in doing that.”
Bell says he is most appreciative of the contributions his musical friends have made on the album, Good Company. One of those songs includes Comfort My People, supplied by Jon Buller, himself a Juno nominated artist and current pastor of worship arts at Vernon Alliance Church.
“Good Company was the secret work of some friends that wanted to help me celebrate my career,” said Bell. “It creates affirmation for me when other songwriters choose to sing your songs. It was supposed to be a gift just for me, but after the secret got out we decided it should be included in the box set.”
Buller, in turn, says he is honoured to not only be a part of Bell’s album, but will also perform Comfort My People with Bell when he comes to Vernon.
“To everyone that I invite, I say the same thing, if you’ve got plans, cancel them and buy tickets for the Steve Bell concert. You will be thoroughly entertained by his sense of humour and story-telling, inspirited by his musicianship and songwriting and touched by his spirit,” said Buller.
Bell is currently on a 31-date tour across Canada, and performs at Vernon Alliance Church Sunday, Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 available at the church office, Wentworth Music in Vernon and at the door.
–With files from Kristin Froneman