"The second time around is never the same."
~ Eric Bell ~
Directly responsible for the rise and popularity of Thin Lizzy, not to mention coining the name for the band, guitarist Eric Bell will forever be remembered.
From his joyous barn-raising guitar crankage on "The Rocker"...to his definitive gentle and anthemic bar-bellowing "Whiskey In The Jar"...the "vagabond rocker" who provided the guitar fuel was loved and admired by fans and peers alike.
But after Thin Lizzy's fantastic 3rd album "Vagabonds Of The Western World" (1973)... Eric, who was struggling with personal demons I won't rehash, simply walked away.
For the longest time I had simply lost track of Eric Bell, until stumbling upon a wonderful little gem..."Lonely Nights In London" that he had recorded in 2010. Always a big fan, I was really fortunate to catch up with Eric and talk about the music.
ERIC BELL INTERVIEW - JULY 2015
Casey Chambers: Good to talk with ya, Eric.
Eric Bell: Casey, can I call you the "Wichita Lineman?"
Casey Chambers: Absolutely! (laughs) Eric, I forever became a fan when I discovered your guitar work all over Thin Lizzy's..."Vagabonds...". And it's still one of my all-time favorites.
Eric Bell: Sure.
Casey Chambers: One of many highlights from the album is your "modest" guitar announcement delivered on..."The Rocker." Exciting...and still fresh meat.
Eric Bell: Yeah, thank you. That was a new sort of chord I learned. (laughs) I was trying it out. The start of "The Rocker" has that chord in it, which I don't think I'd ever used before. It's a different voicing. It's in A. A Major but it's a different sorta shift.
I'm trying to do things like that at the moment. It's like going back in time really. Y'know, the Beatles started that song, "A Hard Day's Night" where George Harrison hits that strange G-11th chord. 'Baiiiiiiiiiiiing! It's been a hard...' (singing)
Casey Chambers: It almost startles ya, doesn't it?
Eric Bell: Yeah. And then Cream did it with another song..."I Feel Free." There's a jazz chord that Eric Clapton uses at the start of that song. E7 with an added 9th or something. (laughs) So it sorta seems to go on. And then I did it with "The Rocker." Sorta hit this pental chord.
"The Rocker" - Thin Lizzy / (Berlin 18-09-1973)
We recorded "The Rocker" live because Philip (Lynott) asked me, 'Eric, what way do you want to do this?' I said, 'why don't we try it like the way we play on stage?' I think that was the second take. And that's the one we used.
Casey Chambers: The second take...how about that!
Eric Bell: Yeah...yeah sometimes the things do work, as you know. Sorta quite easy. And other days when it's just like wading through treacle. (laughs)
Casey Chambers: That song was recently featured on a soundtrack for the movie, "Rush" (2013).
Eric Bell: That's right. About the racing car driver. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I have had people tell me that "The Rocker" was used.
Casey Chambers: Your last studio album was..."Lonely Nights In London." (2010) It's a bluesy-rock offering which is a real gem to spin. It rocks...but there's also moments of comfortable weariness to the sound. I find myself reaching for it a lot on late-nighters.
Eric Bell: Oh thank you. Yeah, that was recorded in Bernie Torme's studio...an Irish guitar player from Dublin who used to play with Ozzy and some other pretty big names. And he had a studio in England that was in the middle of nowhere. I ended up recording "Lonely Nights In London" there.
And it really was out in the sticks. I had to stay out there overnight and it was like a bed and breakfast. (laughs) Yeah, the album was pretty good. A lot of what I recorded live, y'know, like the way I'm bound to play on stage was just done as a three piece and I just basically started playing.
Casey Chambers: Well, it turned out great. And I especially enjoyed the songs that speak of quiet desperation. The title track...as well as "Belfast Blues" both capture the rabbit.
Eric Bell: The song "Belfast Blues" is about growing up, leaving school and joining the real world. I had a lot of trouble trying to work the 9 to 5 job and I had a lot of 9 to 5 jobs. (laughs) I always found it very strange and absolutely detested them.
And I got very depressed over it. I started practicing the guitar very hard, putting a lot of work into it...but my family didn't see me having any future as a musician, y'know?
At that point in time, I didn't like living in Belfast and I left with an Irish showband and went to Glasgow, Scotland as a full time musician. And that's what that song is all about.
"Belfast Blues" - Eric Bell / "Lonely Nights In London" (2010)
Casey Chambers: There's a very nice YouTube of you performing that song on Eastside Sessions.
Eric Bell: Yeah, that was real good because it was at The Strand. Sort of a, what would you say... an old fashioned cinema. One of the old cinemas still going in Belfast. It hasn't got 9 small screens. It's got the one huge screen. And a balcony and big scarlet curtains that close over the screen. It's a really nice place. And that's where we recorded that.
Casey Chambers: In the mid '70s, you recorded a couple of albums with the Noel Redding Band (bassist - Jimi Hendrix Experience). The second album..."Blowin'" (1976)...was recorded here in the States down in Texas.
"Blowin'" - The Noel Redding Band (1976)
Eric Bell: Yeah, that's right it was. I think it was a place called Sugar Hill Studios. It was where The Big Bopper recorded "Chantilly Lace." So a few well known people had recorded there.
Casey Chambers: Well, any studio with a musical history has to be a good thing. Was this the first time you had recorded in America?
Eric Bell: That was the first time I was ever in the States. I missed going there with Thin Lizzy. And going to Japan and Australia. So my first tour in the States was with Noel Redding.
I didn't like most of the music in The Noel Redding Band. It didn't feel right. It didn't feel natural. 'Cause I was so used to playing with three piece bands and Noel's band had a keyboard player which was quite heavily pushed. A lot of keyboard playing. And I didn't know sometimes how I'd fit.
Eric Bell, Noel Redding, Les Sampson, Dave Clarke
Casey Chambers: One of the songs from the album was "Love And War"...a song you wrote while with the band.
Eric Bell: Yeah, I was actually just starting to write complete songs then and I didn't really know what I was doing. (laughs) Dave Clark, the keyboard player and songwriter...he had no more songs at that time...so it was just the management asking me, 'Eric, do you have any songs?' And I came up with "Love And War" which...it's not great but y'know, it was a start. I was trying to write songs.
"Hold On" - Noel Redding Band / "Blowin'" (1976)
(editors note: Could not find a YouTube of "Love and War" anywhere. Does anyone have one?)
I co-wrote a lot of stuff with early Thin Lizzy. Like Philip, he would play me a song that he had written and I'd sort of change quite a bit of it...put in new chords and all sorts of riffs and little fill ins and things like that. And I think doing that actually helped me to start writing songs. I'm much more into the songwriting now.
Casey Chambers: Thin Lizzy's definitive version of "Whiskey In The Jar" has grown to become a powerful and emotional anthem. And your gorgeous guitar work is all over the "Jar-o."
Eric Bell: Oh, thank you. (laughs)
Casey Chambers: Whose idea was it to record this one?
Eric Bell, Brian Downey, Phil Lynott
Eric Bell: That was a complete fluke. We were...Thin Lizzy...was rehearsing in a pub in London, which we used to do every week if we weren't out playing. And on this particular day there was nothing happening. We tried to work on some original songs but the mood wasn't there.
So Phil had started messing about with these...these silly songs and at one point he started singing "Whiskey In The Jar." (laughs) Myself and Brian (Downey) started playing along with him just out of boredom more than anything else.
Our manager (Ted Carroll) came in at that point with a new amplifier for me to try out and as we were looking at the amplifier our manager asked us, 'What was that song you were playing just before I came in the door?' Philip said, 'Ahh we were just messing about, Ted.' And Ted said, 'Yeah, but what was it?' Philip said, '"Whiskey In The Jar".' And he basically talked us into recording it.
We already had a song for an A side called "Black Boys On The Corner" but we didn't have a B side. This was for our first single with Decca Records. Anyway, we went in and recorded "Black Boys On The Corner" and then everyone asked us what we wanted to do for the B side.
"Whiskey In The Jar" w/Gary Moore and Eric Bell
(Tribute To Phil Lynott - 2005)
We were sort of talked into trying "Whiskey In The Jar", so we went out and did it. And it took me forever to think of the guitar parts. It was just unbelievably difficult.
Casey Chambers: You worked it out and that song opened up a lot of doors for you.
Eric Bell: It did. Yeah, it really did. And we weren't prepared for it in a way, y'know? But it certainly started to pave the way for Thin Lizzy. There's no doubt about it.
Casey Chambers: And I saw the appearance you guys made on "Top Of The Pops" doing that song.
Eric Bell: Yeah. (laughs) It's very funny you should say that because one of my ambitions as a young musician was to be on "Top Of The Pops"...which I thought I would never ever do. I mean how do you go about it? A sort of an unknown musician from the backstreets of Belfast wanting to go on "Top Of The Pops" is like...What?!' And it happened and it was just...I couldn't believe it.
But I was just going through a bad time in my life at that point. So if I appeared on "Top Of The Pops" now, I would be very very excited about it. But then, I just wasn't. Philip was. Philip was over the moon about it. And so was Brian. But I was just going through this thing in my life and it wasn't such a big deal.
Casey Chambers: Was that the first time you had appeared on television?
Eric Bell: No. My first time was with a showband from Dublin. (The Dreams) We recorded a song written for us by a pop group called The Tremeloes. They used to be very famous in the late '60s in England. And they wrote a song for us called, "I Will See You There." And somehow our manager got us to appear on a TV show in...I think it was Hamburg. Anyway, y'know it was a German television show and we were just miming to the record. That was the first time I was ever on TV.
"I Will See You There" - The Dreams (featuring Eric Bell) (1967)
Casey Chambers: Do you remember the first album you ever bought?
Eric Bell: The first album I ever bought...it might have been The Shadows or Lonnie Donegan because I was completely nuts about them. I absolutely loved'em. I still do.
He was the first guy that I ever heard that was just...it was just so exciting. There was a lot of very square music being played on the radio, y'know? 'I'm a pink toothbrush, you're a white toothbrush' type of thing. (laughs) Very strange songs but they weren't great. And when you're 14...which I was, 14 or 15...you just don't want to listen to the same music your parents listened to. But that's all there was.
And then one day I heard this record called, "Rock Island Line" by Lonnie Donegan and I just...y'know, my life changed once I heard it. It was just unbelievable. But Lonnie Donegan...he interested everybody in England. John Lennon. Keith Richards. Eric Clapton. All the top guys.
"Rock Island Line" - Lonnie Donegan (1955)
If you look on YouTube Casey, you'll get all of this amazing black and white footage of him playing live.
Casey Chambers: I absolutely will.
Eric Bell: Yeah, it's really worth seeing.
Casey Chambers: Any chance you'll be heading into the studio again soon?
Eric Bell: Oh, absolutely. I did this blues sorta gig about nine months ago in Manchester for Andy Quinn. And after the gig he asked if I'd be interested in doing another album.
So about two months ago, I went in and recorded five tracks which are basically finished...but they have to be remixed. I was gonna finish up another five tracks later this week but I got the news his daughter had taken ill. So I plan to finish up recording in about three or four weeks. I'm trying to go for an atmosphere of moods in the songs.
Casey Chambers: That's gonna be some good stuff to look forward to. Let me know when the album wraps so I can add a link for readers to get their ears on it.
Eric Bell: Oh yeah, sure.
Casey Chambers: Well, I think I've taken up enough of your time, Eric. Thank you for all the great music you've made and thanks for hanging out with me this evening.
Eric Bell: Oh, you're welcome, man. You're the "Wichita Lineman."
Casey Chambers: Yeah, I'll own it. (laughs) Keep on bringing the sounds, ok?
Eric Bell: All right Casey. And thank you very much.
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