Legendary Canadian keyboardist Richard Bell died June 15 at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto following a long fight with cancer. He was 61.
The son of Leslie Bell, a leading Canadian choir conductor/educator/ composer, Bell was best-known for being a member of Janis Joplin's Full Tilt Boogie Band, as well as being in a later version of The Band.
A child prodigy, Bell began playing the piano at age 4 and studied at Canada's Royal Conservatory of Music. He began his professional musical career in the '60s as a member of the Toronto pop band the Just Us. In the mid-'60s he joined Arkansas rockabilly Ronnie Hawkins, following the departure of Hawkins' previous band, Levon & the Hawks (who would gain fame as The Band.)
While performing with Hawkins at the Fillmore East in New York in 1969, Bell was approached by Janis Joplin's manager Albert Grossman and invited to join Joplin's new band. Bell can be heard on the singer’s posthumously-released album “Pearl.”
After Joplin’s death in 1970, Bell recorded or performed with Bob Dylan, Bruce Cockburn, Bonnie Raitt, Judy Collins, Cowboy Junkies, Michael Kaeshammer, and Joe Walsh.
Bell took over the piano chair in The Band in 1991 following the death of Stan Szelest, and had been a member of since then.
In the last 16 years, Bell also performed extensively and recorded with Nashville-based guitarist Colin Linden, also from Toronto, and was the keyboardist in the Toronto-based band the Porkbelly Futures.
Until recently, Bell remained a much-in-demand session player and producer in North America, recording with Big Bill Morganfield, the son of Muddy Waters; Burrito Deluxe in Nashville; and Toronto soul singer Danny Brooks.