Master of the Blues Harmonica
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
CHICAGO, May 7 — The distinctive Chicago blues harmonica player Carey Bell, who performed with both Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon, died here on Sunday. He was 70.
The cause was heart failure, according to Alligator Records, which released several of Mr. Bell’s albums.
The label’s president, Bruce Iglauer, described Mr. Bell as a transitional figure between early blues players like Marion (Little Walter) Jacobs and Big Walter Horton, and those who followed, like Billy Branch.
“Carey took the big tone that Little Walter brought with amplifying the harmonica in the first place and using distortion from the microphone to thicken the sound of the instrument, and he combined that with a funkier, more contemporary rhythm feel,” Mr. Iglauer said.
Carey Bell Harrington was born on Nov. 14, 1936, in Macon, Miss. He wanted a saxophone but his family could not afford one. Instead, his grandfather bought him a harmonica. (When he performed in later life he referred to the instrument as a Mississippi field saxophone.)
He was playing the harmonica by the age of 8, and in 1956, at 19, he moved to Chicago with his godfather, the pianist Lovie Lee. Soon, he was supporting himself as a professional musician, playing on the street for tips, Mr. Iglauer said.
He met and learned from both Mr. Jacobs and Sonny Boy Williamson II, but found a special fatherly mentor in Mr. Horton, Mr. Iglauer said.
Mr. Bell spent 1971 traveling and recording with Muddy Waters, and can be heard on his “London Sessions.” He worked regularly in the 1970s with Mr. Dixon’s Chicago Blues All-Stars.
Mr. Iglauer produced several of Mr. Bell’s albums, including “Harp Attack” — which also featured Junior Wells, James Cotton and Mr. Branch — along with the solo records “Deep Down” in 1995 and “Good Luck Man” in 1997.
Mr. Bell is survived by 10 children, including the blues guitarist and vocalist Lurrie Bell, with whom he recorded the 2004 album “Second Nature.”