Word circulated that Vincent “Vinnie” Bell passed away on October 3 at the age of 84. Bell’s is not a name you would immediately recognize if you’re looking for it on record labels. That is, of course, unless you happened to pick up a copy of “Airport Love Theme” in 1970, which lists him as the sole artist. The song, from the film Airport, made it up to #31 in the spring of 1970, which would make it tempting to list Bell as a one-hit wonder.
That, however, is not the case. If you just listened to the last link, you’re thinking “That sound is familiar.” For lack of a better description, it’s the “watery” guitar sound that was Bell’s trademark. Bell was as much an innovator as a musician; he’s credited with the invention of the electric 12-string guitar and the electric sitar. The “water” effect he kept as a secret.
Bell played on several recordings with Jean-Jacques Perrey, who passed in 2014. You may recognize that name from a track called “E.V.A.,” on which Bell added guitar work. (And why does that sound familiar? Fatboy Slim did a remix that you might recognize. It didn’t chart, but FbS did hit the Top 40 with “Praise You” in 1999. See how this rabbit-hole works?)
Vinnie played as a session musician on literally hundred of commercial jingles. Per his website, which has a whole list, I see Old Spice, Chevrolet (the Chevette ads!), Wendy’s, Burger King, Century 21 – it’s as if the youth I spent in front of the tube was accompanied by Vinnie’s guitar. Oh, yeah – he also played the guitar on the theme to “Twin Peaks” back in 1990, and for that alone he gets a nod.
What about hit records? How about this roster: “Walk Away Renee” by the Left Banke, “Mr. Dieingly Sad” by the Critters, “Both Sides Now” by Judy Collins (which needs its own post at some point), “Good Morning Starshine” by Oliver, “Lazy Day” by Spanky and Our Gang, “98.6” by Keith, “The Sounds of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel, a couple by the Lovin’ Spoonful, a few Cowsills records, and a whole huge list of Four Seasons records including adding the effect to “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” (That’s a record I will never play at a reasonable volume.) I could program a solid hour of Oldies just featuring Bell’s side work, and still have records left to spare.
But on this blog we pick one record, and it’s gotta be Ferrante and Teicher’s “Midnight Cowboy.” It’s from the soundtrack of 1969’s Best Picture winner, and it ended up as a #10 hit. (And no, F&T had several in the top 10; remember, “Exodus” was a #2 record.) This record is utterly forgettable, though, without Bell’s guitar work. If you want to explain what Bell could make a guitar do, this is the record you use as the example.
You can hear “Midnight Cowboy” by Ferrante and Teicher – and Vincent Bell – by clicking here.