Acoustic blues music is an introspective and intimate genre rooted in 400 years of history and tradition, fueled by honest emotion and deep feeling—something that real blues musicians learn while still in the cradle. To harmonica legend Carey Bell and his son, guitarist Lurrie Bell, the blues is second nature. The bond between Carey and Lurrie has always been tight and close, with each man bringing out the best in the other, creating music that captivates and entertains. Over the years, the two have released many critically acclaimed solo albums—with father and son oftentimes guesting on each other’s records and joining each other for live performances—but they have never released an acoustic recording of just the two of them. One could only imagine what it might sound like when Carey and Lurrie sit around alone together, swapping songs and just playing for the sheer joy of the music.
During a 1991 tour of Finland, lucky Scandinavian blues fans heard some of that magic as Carey and Lurrie began performing acoustic numbers together on stage as part of their set, often bringing the audience to their feet. The tour promoter, Chip Covington, decided he needed to capture this true blues acoustic miracle on tape. An impromptu recording session was set up and—with no rehearsal and no overdubs—Carey and Lurrie laid down the tracks for their first and only acoustic album, each in one take.
Now, 13 years later, Alligator Records releases this lost treasure, entitled Second Nature. The recording is timeless, sounding as vibrant and relaxed as the day it was recorded. The intimate session includes six original songs and spine-chilling versions of timeless blues classics—plus the gospel standard “Trouble In My Way” and the surprising Lurrie interpretation of Smokey Robinson’s “Here I Go Again.” With Carey’s harmonica alternating between raucous power and sweet sophistication and Lurrie’s guitar work moving seamlessly from raw intensity to smoky elegance, the two play off each other almost telepathically. And as both men sing with deep soul feeling, each and every song on Second Nature is a blues revelation.
CAREY BELL was born in Macon, Mississippi on November 14, 1936. A fan of Louis Jordan, Bell originally wanted a saxophone, but economic realities forced his grandfather to buy him a harmonica instead. He taught himself to play the instrument by the time he was eight, and began playing professionally with his godfather, pianist Lovie Lee, when he was 13. In 1956, Lee convinced Carey that Chicago was the place to be for aspiring bluesmen, so the two made their way north. Almost immediately, Bell went to see Little Walter perform at the Club Zanzibar at 14th and Ashland. The two became friends and Walter delighted in showing the youngster some of his tricks. Carey went on to meet and learn from Sonny Boy Williamson II, but it was Big Walter Horton who really bowled him over.
Carey learned his lessons well, gigging around the city’s South and West Side blues clubs with Lee. But by the late 1950’s and early 1960’s the gigs were drying up for harp players as the electric guitar began to take over as the predominant instrument of Chicago blues. Bell decided to increase his worth by becoming a bass player (learning the ropes from Hound Dog Taylor). He quickly mastered the instrument and began getting gigs as a bassist with Honeyboy Edwards, Johnny Young, Eddie Taylor, Earl Hooker and Big Walter. While playing bass in Big Walter's band, Bell studied every harp trick in the book firsthand from one of the all-time great harmonica players.
Bell, back on harp full-time, recorded behind Earl Hooker in 1968 for Arhoolie. By 1969 Bell was fronting his own band. His friend Charlie Musselwhite brought him over to Bob Koester at Delmark Records who promptly signed Bell and recorded Carey Bell's Blues Harp. Bell spent 1971 traveling and recording with Muddy Waters before teaming up with his mentor Big Walter to record what was to be Alligator Records' second-ever release, Big Walter Horton with Carey Bell. He followed that with Last Night, an album for ABC/Bluesway. Willie Dixon chose Bell for the featured role in his Chicago Blues All-Stars, with whom Bell worked regularly throughout much of the 1970’s, both touring and recording. Bell then made his first solo recordings for Alligator, in a featured spot in 1978 on the Grammy-nominated Living Chicago Blues series.
By the 1980’s, Bell had established himself as a giant among blues harmonica players. He recorded albums as a leader and as a sideman for a variety of labels both in the United States and Europe, and was constantly playing live. In 1990 Bell, along with fellow harpslingers Junior Wells, James Cotton and Billy Branch, got together and recorded the W.C. Handy Award-winning Alligator album Harp Attack!. In 1995, Bell's first full-length solo album on Alligator, Deep Down, secured his reputation as a monster harpist. His follow-up, 1997’s Good Luck Man, pushed the blues farther out with Bell's rich vocabulary of deep harmonica solos and tough city vocals fueling a mix of classic blues grooves and contemporary electric sounds. Bell continues to perform solo shows (often accompanied by his son Lurrie), and as part of the Muddy Waters Tribute Band.
LURRIE BELL was born in Chicago on December 13, 1958, growing up with blues as second nature. He taught himself to play guitar beginning at age 6, quickly becoming a skilled and individual stylist. Lurrie learned by listening to many of the blues giants who rehearsed and performed with his father, including Eddie Taylor, Eddie C. Campbell, Lovie Lee and Sunnyland Slim.
By the time he was 17, Lurrie was playing on stage with Willie Dixon as well as his father. He gigged and recorded with Carey and with many famous blues stars including Little Milton and Jimmy Dawkins. Along with Billy Branch and Freddie Dixon, Lurrie formed The Sons Of Blues in 1977. The band recorded three standout tracks for Alligator Records’ famed Grammy-nominated Living Chicago Blues series (and Lurrie went on to accompany both Carey and Lovie Lee on the series). In 1978 Bell joined Koko Taylor’s Blues Machine, and held the guitar spot in the band for five years, honing his chops and learning the ropes of being a traveling musician.
He recorded Son Of A Gun, a 1984 collaboration with his father for Rooster Blues and a solo album, Everybody Wants To Win, for JSP in 1989. Battling and defeating a series of personal demons kept Lurrie out of the studio and off the road for a spell, but he released a series of critically acclaimed albums for Chicago’s Delmark label beginning in 1995. Over the years he has added his guitar prowess on albums from Eddy Clearwater, Eddie C. Campbell, Sugar Blue and Lovie Lee, among others.
His elegant and intense guitar playing and passionate blues vocals have made him a favorite at clubs and festivals around the world, and earned him a reputation as one of the greatest blues guitarists working today. Guitar Player says “Lurrie delivers kingly bends, strange, stuttering phrases and long, spooling solos. His blown-speaker voice is rough and raw, his timing impeccable and his drive fearless.” When home in Chicago, Lurrie can often be found performing at the city’s famous blues clubs like Legends and Rosa’s. He also appears regularly at blues festivals around the world, including a 2004 appearance at the Cognac Blues Festival in France.