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Upcoming performance at Little Bear is homecoming, says musician

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By Sandy Barnes

Sitting at Moe’s Original Bar B Que in downtown Denver, Mark Bell talks about the beginning of his musical career.

 

“One day I just picked up the harp, and it came to me,” he said.

Bell remembers the actual day: On June 2, 1973, he started playing harmonica, and has been making music ever since with other performers.

“I’ve been around musicians all my life,” he said.

Bell will be seeing musicians he knows well while playing at the Little Bear in a couple of weeks — a performance he calls his homecoming.

“Little Bear was always a blast,” he said while talking about past gigs at the Evergreen saloon where Willie Nelson, one of his favorite musicians, used to play.

“I used to hitchhike from Breckenridge to Evergreen to Little Bear,” he said.

Adding to the sounds of Jay Boy Adams, the Jolley Brothers and White Mountain Express, Bell played his harmonica in a variety of styles from blues to rock ‘n’ roll.

Among the musicians Bell has known and played with are Stevie Ray Vaughan and Bo Diddley, one of the founders of rock ‘n’ roll.

“He would always hire me to play with him,” said Bell. “I would drive up from Colorado and play New York.”

Among Bell’s most memorable experiences with Diddley was playing in the 1986 Chicago Blues Festival with him. 

He also met well-known musicians of the day including Chuck Berry and Keith Richards, as well as a daughter of Diddley, whom Bell said he almost married.

Bell also has fond memories of Diddley, who died several years ago after a long career.

“He was a gentleman and took care of his family,” said Bell.

During his lifetime as a musician, Bell also has encountered performers who were participating in protests.  In 1978, he met singer Bonnie Raitt at Rocky Flats, where she and others were engaged in an anti-nuclear demonstration.

Bell said he also ran for mayor of Red Cliff while working there.

“In ’93 I moved to New York,” said Bell. “I made a lot of noise in New York in a short time.”

Before going to New York, Bell played with the Randy Handley Band, and with a group in the Florida Keys where he lived on a sailboat.

A Texas native, Bell has also lived in Los Angeles, New Orleans and in Europe, from which he has recently returned.

“Denver’s home,” Bell said. “It’s the place where you can pick yourself up.”

On Thursday, May 30, the well-traveled harmonica player will pick himself up and head to the Little Bear, where he will perform a mix of rock and blues with a group called Mark Bell and His So-Called Friends from 7 to 11 p.m.

Contact Sandy Barnes at sandy@evergreenco.com or call 303-350-1042.