Posted January, 2012
Some people think that rock and roll is dead. Judging by some of the new music being released by certain labels and artists, I might be inclined to agree with some of those dire statements.
However, as evidenced by the many interviews and reviews that I’ve written on this and other publications will attest, I am not quite ready to pronounce a time of death for the rock genre. There’s just too many great artists who ARE rockin’ to declare rock dead. They’re just not being recognized to the level that rock once was.
That is what Boomerocity is here for.
To that point, I was recently introduced to a rocker who has rock and roll oozing out of every little pore of his body. His name is Kris Bell. Remember the name and buy his work because this guy will be around, rockin’ us, for a very long time to come.
A little background on Kris:
Kris Bell was born and raised in San Diego, California. He began playing guitar at the age of seven and, at the age of thirteen, wrote his first song. He honed his guitar chops playing all over SoCal and developing a name for himself as a pretty darn good axe handler.
In 2005, Kris took the big step of packing up and moving to the great city of Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville is a pretty tight town, musicians-wise, and can be kind of tough to elbow your way in to good gigs. However, it didn’t take Kris long to land the Lead Guitarist slot for Bo Bice.
After a couple of years rockin’ the world with Bice, Bell took his next huge career step and launched his solo career, introducing his brand of “American Rock” to rockers like us all over the country. Already, Kris has the dubious distinction of having already shared stages with some pretty big names. Folks like Hank Williams, Jr., Lynyrd Skynyrd, 3 Doors Down, and Blackfoot, to name just a few.
Kris gave me a shout recently from his Nashville area home to tell me what he’s been up to and what’s on his radar in the future. We first started chatting about the new album he’s working on.
“It’s going really well! I’ve been in the studio with Geoff Koval from Wilderside Studios. He’s a good friend of mine. He co-produced the first record that I put out last year, Turn It On, Turn It Up. So, we’re back for round two this time. Recently, Wilderside Studios moved into The Castle Studios in Franklin (Tennessee) so we’ve been taking advantage of a world class studio without having to break the bank to pay for it. It’s just going really well. Geoff just – we just click! He’s a rock guy. He knows what I want even before I open my mouth. It’s really, really, really an exciting, fun and creative environment to be in. I think the band and I are laying down our best stuff right now.”
Regarding when this work will be made available, Bell adds, “We’re going to release an EP of it in the spring, with more songs to come later on in the year. But we’ll have a good seven songs finished by March and we’re probably going to release a single within the next month or so – either by the end of this month or by mid-February we’ll have our first single out.
“Like I said, the album’s coming along really well. The music’s a little more aggressive – a little bit heavier edge but still that ‘American Rock’ style that I was doing on the last record. We’ll have our ‘peaks and valleys’ and our dynamics in songs are what I really like to emphasize – great melodic hooks and melodic guitar solos. You know, just good, straight ahead rock n’ roll!”
As you heard Kris mention, his last album, Turn It On, Turn It Up, is straight forward rock and roll. I would add the word “great” before the word “straight” because, in my opinion, it’s that good (catch the Boomerocity review of it here). I asked Kris what the response has been to the record and to its tunes by live audiences.
“Just really positive stuff. Luckily, I had a pretty dedicated fan base when I went into to record it and we’ve been adding to that base. It comes in waves. Sometimes you get a lot of fans – sometimes you get them trickling in. The more we play out and the more the people are hearing the newer stuff – even the people hearing Turn It On, Turn It Up material for the first time – really seem to be attracted to it and supportive of it. It (the audience) seems to be missing the style of rock that WE play – it’s been missing in mainstream music and people are hungry for it again, which is a good thing.”
That comment resonated with me and prompted me to ask Bell to expound on that comment a little bit more.
“Once MTV changed formats and, then, MTV2 went that same way and VH1 followed – they’re all owned by the same company – it really did a number on the rock genre itself – classic rock, current rock – it all changed. The videos were a mainstream marketing tool in the 80’s, 90’s and even in the early 2000’s. But it just isn’t that way anymore. So, now, rock is almost an underground kind of thing. There’s definitely still rock out there, but now it’s mixed with pop. Pop and rock are kind of together now. You’re hearing the Foo Fighters on the radio next to Lady Gaga. It’s a little frustrating and a little confusing.
“But, when people come out to see us for the first time, they’re impressed by us. More and more people come up to me and say, ‘Man! You’re just straight ahead rock ‘n roll! You just rock!’ And that’s what’s cool to hear: People being excited and, like, ‘Oh my god! I just saw a real rock band – straight up, real rock band!’ Like I said before, it’s missing nowadays. There’s not a lot of bands out there that are doing it. There’s a lot of bands that are using loops AND weird effects or too heavy or too light, but there’s just not that straight ahead, American Rock genre that was pretty dominant back in the day. Now, it’s almost like a dying breed.” But bands like us, our friends Blackwater James, The Cold Stares and Sexstone are working hard to get it back into the ears of hungry listeners.
We also discussed the related matter of venue availability.
“It’s difficult. There’re so many acts and so many different artists and bands that are trying to get into the same venues and compete for the same venues – and they’re not competing directly against each other on purpose but everyone wants the good time slots, the great day and the great bill. It’s really difficult now more than ever because, for one, the economy’s down so talent buyers don’t want to pay bands what a lot of bands think they should be paid. It’s harder to get guarantee’s nowadays versus just ‘door’ deals – especially if you’re just coming into a newer market that you haven’t played much, you gotta sacrifice. You’ve gotta bite the bullet and play some shows for free or for a real limited budget in order to break in there and get into the clubs that you’re really trying to get into - playing gigs on Thursday nights at midnight or Tuesdays or whatnot.
“We still do that today. We’re trying to break into different markets – we played a gig in Birmingham last month and it was a Tuesday night and we went on at 12:30 that night. It’s just one of those things we had to do because we knew we wanted to try and break into that market and, luckily for us, the sound guy really liked us and put a mention into the booking agent to have us back. Sometimes, even when it’s a slow night and really late, you never know who’s going to be there so you’ve always got to do your best.”
I listened to Turn It On, Turn It Up countless times before speaking with Kris and felt pretty sure that I could pick out his musical influences. However, just in case I was mistaken, I asked Kris tell me who those influences were and are. Without a nanosecond of hesitation, he replied:
“Lynyrd Skynyrd, first and foremost was probably the biggest influence on me and my playing. But there’s a ton. Early on when I first started playing guitar, I only played classical guitar for the first five years and I started when I was seven. I was playing Bach and Beethoven and stuff like that for awhile. Then, I got the itch to progress and I bought an electric guitar and I really got into Chuck Berry, Ritchie Valens, and the Beach Boys, The Ventures were huge. I learned pretty much every single Ventures song. Pipeline and Walk, Don’t Run. I just loved that stuff – old 50’s and 60’s music that I would sit and listen to and just play over and over after school.
“It just kept progressing to a lot of blues like Robert Johnson, who was a huge influence, and Muddy Waters, Lightning Hopkins, Hubert Sumlin and B.B. King – all of those old blues greats - and, then, Stevie Ray Vaughn.
“Then, I started diving into the dynamics of learning guitar solos and crafting guitar solos. It was Stevie, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers, Robin Trower – all those great guitar players – and, obviously, Jimmy Page and Hendrix. I was just trying to grab and take from them whatever I could and take whatever I could. Those core artists really helped craft my sound and style of playing growing up.
“But I was also influenced by the current music of that day, too. I listened to a lot of Soundgarden and I listened to a lot of Pearl Jam. Metallica was a big thing for me. So, it was kind of cross genres throughout the ages of music. There wasn’t anything that I was directly ‘stuck’ to versus something that I would never listen to.
“I was in bands growing up. I was in a band all through high school and after high school. I was in a pretty serious band for 12 years in San Diego called ‘Fifth’ and we did a lot of great things. We were all on the same musical level so influenced each other a lot, as well.”
I love all of Kris’s Turn It On, Turn It Up CD but there were two songs in particular that really commanded my attention. First and foremost, Destined caught me completely off guard. I thought it was about inattentiveness in the child/parent relationship but it’s something quite different. I asked Kris to tell me the back story on that song.
“Yeah, that was a tough one. I mean, it wasn’t like a tough song for me to write. I think it’s more of a tough song to play because I’m so attached to that song. It’s probably the most personal song that I’ve written. My father passed away in ’98 from a botched surgery. They were trying to take out a tumor behind his tonsils and they sliced his carotid artery and they gave him a stroke. There was three days there when he was in the hospital and they had to take him off of life support. After that, my mom, she was distraught, obviously. She was broken hearted. She moved from San Diego up to Temecula (California) and spent a few years up there. She passed away on New Year’s Eve of 2006 due to cancer. She lost her battle with ovarian cancer. It was a really quick thing. She was diagnosed in October of 2006 and she passed away on December 31st. So, yeah, it was really quick.
“Luckily, I was out there. I was off the road. I had toured with Bo Bice in 2006. I came off the road in October and I went in November, basically, right out to Temecula and I spent a month and a half out there with her. Along with my brother and sister, we were there.
“The dust kind of settled and I came back home and I decided to go into the studio and do my own thing. That song wasn’t even written. I was missing my parents and having my mom pass away brought up a lot of the feelings that I had when my father died, as well. So, one day, I was sitting here, fiddling around on my guitar and one of my friends called and asked if I wanted to do a little acoustic show down in Destin, Florida, with him and some other artists. I was, like, ‘Yeah, that would be great!’ They were going to leave out the following weekend.
“After I hung up from talking with him, that chorus just came. I have a picture of my parents in my studio. So, I was sitting there looking at them and I was like, ‘I’m destined’. I started singing the melody a little bit. Literally, I open my lyric book and I wrote that whole song in real time. So, even at the end in the last verse where it says, ‘I guess I should be going, I’ve got to pick him up from school’, I was really that! I had to leave and go pick Logan up from school.
“So, yeah, it was all these things that I wanted to say to my parents that I never really had said or got the chance to say. Having a son of my own, I guess that I understood more what they were trying to show me and teach me growing up now that I have a son and I’m trying to do the same thing; trying to keep their memory alive through me for him. He never knew my father and he was too young to remember my mom. But that song, I felt, would be part of him, as well. That’s why I put him on the track. It’s something, no matter what, will always be there for me and for him when he gets older. He asks me a little bit about my parents now – grandma and grandpa – and I tell him they’re in Heaven. He knows who they are but he doesn’t quite understand everything – the whole back story of what happened. That was the inspiration for that – where that song came from.
“We don’t play that live too much anymore but I do it during my acoustic shows. But we would play that out and a lot of the fans – by the time I was done with that song – they would be in tears. One of my good friends, Mr. Ray LeGrand – he’s a metal singer. He sings for a progressive metal band called Oblivion Myth. He’s a big dude from New York. He’s not someone you want to mess with, you know what I mean? He’s a big, tough guy. He sent me a message after he listened to that song the first time on his way to work and he’s, like, ‘Thanks a lot, man! I walked into work with tears in my eyes! You took me completely by surprise with that song!’
“That’s a situation where anyone who’s lost their parents or a loved one, for that matter, can relate to that message in that song. I’m saying, ‘I miss you and I wish you were here’ but, at the same time, it’s a message of hope and keeping their love alive and keeping their memory alive and passing it along for generations to come.”
I asked Bell to tell me the story behind another song that really piqued my interest, Losing Faith. The lyrics portray a crisis of faith and hope that I knew that there had to be a compelling story behind it.
“I wrote that for a friend of my brother. Her name was Bonnie. She was a really good friend of my brother back in high school and after high school. She had gone through some really difficult times with her boyfriend. He was kind of a bad seed type of guy. He was abusing her verbally and domestically. They had two kids. After a year or two of dealing with him, she was able to get out of the relationship and move back in with her parents and took the kids. She was a beautiful girl and really sweet. Always had a smile on her face no matter what was going on.
“One night, she went on a blind date with a boy and got on the back of his motorcycle. They were just driving down the street to go to 7-11. They were up in L.A. A car pulled out and they t-boned it. She was catapulted right over the car and she died at the scene. It was the day before Easter. That’s why I referred to the fact that she didn’t return home to celebrate Easter with her kids. She died Easter Eve. My brother, he was so torn and so distraught. They were friends growing up. She was someone in our house quite a bit.
“I didn’t want to be so direct that I was blatantly using her name. That’s where the whole reference to faith had come in. There’s a double meaning to it. Faith could be the name of a person as well as you’re losing your faith in your belief in God, higher power or whatever. It’s more of a tribute to her and to my brother, as well. I can’t play that song without thinking of her, remembering her face the last time I saw her. It’s been years now since she passed away. It’s kind of like Destined where her memory lives on with that song.
“I’ve had a lot of people send me Facebook messages or direct messages off of my website, saying, ‘Losing Faith saved my life and helped me get through the most dark time in my life’. Stuff like that is what it’s all about. If I can help someone or give someone the inspiration to go on just by listening to my music, then I’ve done my job as a songwriter.”
While Bell’s career is relatively short compared to some artists, I knew that he’s jammed with some very notable names in music. I asked him who some of those folks are and who he has on his bucket list to jam with.
“Probably the biggest name I’ve played with – and was a dream come true – was Lynyrd Skynyrd. I got to play with Lynyrd Skynyrd in Atlantic City at the Trump Taj Mahal Hotel and Casino in the arena there. It was a ‘VH1 Classics Decades of Rock’ taping back in 2006 when I was playing with Bo. The way it worked out, he (Bo) was on the bill to play. It was Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bo Bice, 3 Doors Down and Hank, Jr. It was a huge, awesome, big deal that they did.
“It was really like a tribute to Skynyrd. Skynyrd would come out and play then 3 Doors Down would play a few songs they had out. Then they would play a Skynyrd song. Bo came out with Skynyrd and played a few Skynyrd songs and one of his songs, The Real Thing. Every time that Bo got to come out, I was invited out, as well. Bo worked it out to where I could get up there and play.
“So, I met the guys at sound check two days before. We jammed through a bunch of Skynyrd stuff. I got to hang out with Rossington, Ean Evans and the whole band. It was an amazing, amazing couple of days. The next night, we had the concert. Being up there on the stage standing in between Gary Rossington and Ean Evans and looking over at Rickey Medlocke and watching Johnny Van Zant and Bo go back and forth on vocals in front of 16,000 people in a sold out arena, knowing that it was going to be on TV in, literally, a week, was just amazing. It’s something that I will never forget!
“And, then, coming off the road and turning on VH1 Classic and seeing it played back – it was literally on the VH1 Classic rotation every other day for almost six months! It was always on. It was so cool – the coolest thing to go, ‘Wow! I actually did that!’
“I remember sitting in my room learning how to play Free Bird over and over, listening to that song and playing along with and going, ‘One day, I’m going to play on stage with those guys’ and it happened. It was really an amazing thing. All those guys in the band are so cool – down-to-earth, regular people. Having Billy Powell, who is one of the greatest piano players ever, coming down the hall and telling me what a great guitar player I am – you can’t ask for anything more than that!
“Other than that, I got the opportunity to front the legendary rock band, Blackfoot, about a year and a half ago. My buddy, Mike Estes, he fronts that band and there was a show in Iowa that he couldn’t do. He had a scheduling conflict so he called me up and was, like, ‘Man, can you fill in for me and do this show?’ and I’m like, ‘You mean you want me to be the front guy for Blackfoot?” I was really hesitant. ‘I don’t know, man. We’re talking about Blackfoot! I haven’t played those songs in awhile. I don’t want to screw up your gig.’ He’s like, ‘Oh, you’ll be fine! I wouldn’t ask anyone else. I know you can do it.”
“So, I drove down to Florida and I met Greg T. Walker and Charlie Hargrett – the last two founding members of Blackfoot – and I rehearsed with them for a week. I knew the whole set like the back of my hand. They were blown away that I came in there like that. We flew to Iowa a week after that and played the gig. There were 1500 people there. We opened up for Molly Hatchet – it was a double-bill. It was just a huge, awesome thing to be up there for an hour and a half, playing Blackfoot tunes and being the front guy singing all the songs. I got to be Rickey Medlocke and Mike Estes for a night. It was pretty awesome!”
And, as for whom he would still like to jam with, Kris says, “I would say Clapton. Eric Clapton would be another one of those huge dreams that I’ve always had. He’s been such a huge influence. If you look through his career at all the things that he’s done, he really has stood the test of time since before I was born – as a guitar player, as a songwriter, as a singer, as a performer – he’s the full package. He can still sell out arenas now! I saw him last year when he came through Nashville and it was still an amazing show! So, to have the opportunity to trade licks with him would be just be a huge, huge dream come true.”
I shifted to the subject of guitars and asked Kris how many guitars he owns and if there was a guitar that he considered to be the “Holy Grail”.
“I have about 22 guitars total but I don’t play all of them. Some are put up. Some are broken and need to be fixed. Out of the ones that I do play, I have about 8 or 10 that are in and out of the rotation – acoustics and electrics. I have five Les Pauls, three Strats, a Tele, a Taylor jumbo acoustic, a Washburn electric acoustic, a couple of classicals and I’ve got a lap steel. I’ve got a lot of stuff going on around here! I’m predominantly a Les Paul guy but, depending on how our set is tailored, I break out the Strat quite a lot.
“But most of the time for our original stuff – our big rock stuff – I’m playing a Les Paul. The one that I play the most is kind of a tandem between my Class 5 Les Paul – my blue one – and then I have a honey burst Classic re-issue that’s really been my main axe ever since I’ve been 22 years old. Lately, I have this flame-top Les Paul Studio that I just put P 90 pickups in that has completely blown me away. I’ve taken that out a lot.
“But, as far as Holy Grail of guitars goes, I don’t really have one. I just love guitars. Every time I go into a guitar store, I could that guitar or that one and most of the time they’re either a Les Paul or a Strat. Most of my stuff is either Gibson or Fender. My wife’s like, ‘Do you really need another Les Paul?’ I definitely not need another Les Paul but I would really love to have a Silverburst Les Paul but I definitely don’t need one” Kris concludes with a laugh.
As for as what all Kris Bell has planned for 2012 and beyond, he says, “This year we’re going to be releasing our new record. We really want to focus on expanding our fan base and getting our music out to more people, hit new markets, target different markets like Atlanta, Austin, Memphis – some major cities where we can travel to and try to capitalize on our type of sound and where we think we’ll go over well.
“In five years I want to be selling out arenas and selling downloads. I want to be a viable artist in music. I want to be able to support my family through doing what I love. That’s the main thing.”
If you could make any kind of CD without any concern of its marketability, what kind of CD would that that be?
In the spirit of his song, Destined, I asked Kris how he hopes to be remembered and what his legacy will hopefully be after his life is over. I loved his response.
“I think, first and foremost, a great dad for my kids – a great father, a great husband. To those who don’t know me personally, I’d like to be remembered for my music – my songwriting and that I was able inspire people or help people or make people feel what I feel when I write a song. But, like I said, just a good person, a hard worker; a good father and a good husband.”
At the end of the day, those kinds of goals should be what all of us strive for in our lives.
You’ll want to keep up with all things “Bell” by going to www.krisbellmusic.com. While you’re there, you can see where Kris and his band will be appearing, get the latest updates on his projects and be able to purchase some great Kris Bell merchandise. You’ll definitely want to order or download Turn It On, Turn It Up by clicking on the icon on this page.