Lurrie Bell's Family Reunion

Many people have sung that they’re born with the blues, but only a few have actually been born to the blues. That’s the case with Chicago native Lurrie Bell, guitar-playing son of harmonica great Carey Bell. Bell the elder toured and recorded with Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon, embarking on his own solo career in the late ’60s. Naturally, Bell the younger found himself surrounded and inspired by notable blues musicians at an early age.

“When I first picked up the guitar, I had to be no more than six or seven,” Lurrie recalls. “My dad had a guitar around the house, so I took it and learned the I-IV-V chords and some Jimmy Reed songs. As a teenager, I sat in with Willie Dixon’s band a lot.”

Lurrie, 46, has his own impressive resume—including half a dozen scorching electric solo discs (not to mention lengthy stints with Koko Taylor, Lovie Lee, Eddie C. Campbell, and the Sons of Blues). But it’s his pairing with his father in an acoustic blues setting that may long be remembered as some of his finest work. Alligator Records issued Second Nature last summer after the tracks sat unreleased for almost 15 years. Recorded on a night off during a European tour in 1991, the cuts are rife with serious acoustic-blues guitar, not to mention some mean harp blowing by dad.

What were the Second Nature sessions all about?
My dad and I had a tour lined up in Finland. Chip Covington, the guy who booked the gigs, asked us right before the tour ended if we’d like to record an acoustic set. We went into a studio in Finland and recorded those songs. It was just me, Carey, and my teenage brother James—our drummer—on tambourine. We enjoyed it. It was a three-hour live session, and it came out good.

What took so long for these tracks to be released?
The record was in Chip’s hands, and he just forgot about it. But Chip was booking me recently, and he introduced the recordings to Alligator’s Bruce Iglauer.

Have you been doing acoustic shows with your father since this disc was released?
Oh yeah. We went to France, and we’ve done shows in the States. We’re going to Belgium in a couple weeks, and we’re going to do a tour in Italy later this year.

What acoustic guitars are you playing these days?
I have a Taylor 310ce, a ’70 Garcia classical guitar, and an Ovation 1111-4 Standard Balladeer—which was given to me by a writer who did a story on me years ago. That was the only guitar I had for a while. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what I played on Second Nature. That was a long time ago.

Even your electric style seems to have an acoustic country-blues influence. Was that where you started?
I was living in the country down south when I was young, so I learned the acoustic, country-blues fingerpicking style. I don’t even use a pick when I’m playing electric. I still play acoustic for a few songs at every gig. I’ll have the band take a break, and I’ll play solo acoustic for a few tunes, maybe “Key to the Highway,” or something by Robert Johnson. I’ll always play acoustic.