“We became this traveling family of gospel singers,” Steve Bell says. “Dad would preach, and we’d sing – we had matching outfits and everything – sort of like a Christian Partridge Family,” he chuckles and pauses dramatically, “I was Keith…”
This quote is an example of Steve Bell’s storytelling finesse throughout his prolific 25 year career. The classic excerpt was captured on tape by manager Dave Zeglinski and used on the 2006 album, Story and Song Vol. One. (You can listen to this story on the Soundcloud clip provided.)
Son of a prison chaplain, Steve Bell was born into a musical family that called themselves The Alf Bell Family Singers, and produced an LP album in 1972, of which Steve wrote his first two songs. Looking back, Bell was quite surprised that a young boy of twelve could write sincerely about “spiritual angst and holy longing.”
This year, Winnipeg’s Steve Bell is celebrating his 25th year since making his first solo album, Comfort My People.
Since that album was created, he’s recorded 17 independent albums (not including podcasts and DVDs), and has a range of stage presence and talent that began as a young man alone on a stool with his guitar, to performing with his band alongside the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (and other orchestras across Canada and the U.S.) to capacity crowds. He’s an engaging storyteller in addition to being a terrific songwriter, entertaining his audience with heartwarming and downright funny tales of life, love and God.
While the big stage and symphony accomplishments are wonderful, this boy – now veteran performer, father of three and grandfather of two young lads – prefers the solo stage and the rootsy song and story format of his early records. His 18th album, Pilgrimage returns to that era with one CD chocked full of memorable new songs – one an ode to his wife of 32 years, another, an upbeat instrumental called ‘Pop-Pop and the Lads’ (for his grandsons).
There are three other CDs in the 25th anniversary set. Unadorned is a partially fan chosen set of acoustic songs from his career. Landscapes is a CD of instrumental music hand-picked by his manager, Dave Zeglinski. Good Company (originally meant as a surprise gift to Bell, planned by friends Bob Bennett and Roy Salmond) is a tribute album by a long list of friends who have recorded their unique versions of Steve Bell’s own songs.
While Bell and manager Zeglinski have had to negotiate a bumpy road, encountering many changes in the music industry, they’re managing to survive and to keep up with the latest in technology.
In a bid to help fund the 25th anniversary project, they are testing the online waters in the new format of crowdfunding at kickstarter.com. They and their staff enjoyed devising ideas to use as rewards for the different levels of backers. Bell’s own daughter-in-law, Diana Pops, is a talented jewelry designer who has created art jewelry to be used as rewards for one of the levels, and Bell himself has personally designed a scenic photo book of his own photos from travels around the world.
One of the backer gifts is truly unique. Zeglinski and Bell dug around in the archival files from the musician’s past and found some treasures. The two songs that Bell originally wrote for his family album are included on a limited run, which is a 15-song commemorative archive album called Treasures from the Vault.
Other songs included are from other local bands that Bell played in as a young man: Dega, Elias Schritt & Bell, among other projects and his very first 45 RPM single, which was financed by a prize won in a Manitoba music competition sponsored by CFRY Radio in Portage La Prairie. And how could they not include a unique version of a Steve Bell classic, “Wings of an Eagle?”
Technically, the archives really are from a vault. The sound studio where Steve Bell and Dave Zeglinski work, Signpost Music on Erin Street, has an entrance that used to be a vault door – combination lock and all.
Locals who have followed Steve Bell’s career may be interested in the recorded memories, Treasures from the Vault, but this particular string of gems won’t be available for purchase. It is one of the unique rewards that can be obtained from the Steve Bell 25th Anniversary Kickstarter campaign. For a minimum of $20, backers will be awarded this CD with a story booklet as a thank you for supporting his work.
Steve Bell himself, is a treasure. Not only has he maintained his own career, he and Signpost Music have mentored others as well. Some of the names, past and present, include locals Diana Pops, Kerri Stephens (aka Woelke), Amanda Cook (aka Falk), Don Amero and The Bros. Landreth.
Twenty-five years and counting… Steve Bell’s career is far from over. Keep an eye out for the soon to be released documentary by Winnipeg’s Refuge 31 Films, who followed Steve Bell and Dave Zeglinski across the country for over a year to produce the 90 minute film, Burning Ember – The Steve Bell Journey.
Steve’s website: www.stevebell.com.