Sometimes a solo artist can knock your socks off and Nathan Bell is one of these. With a voice and songs sitting alongside the likes of Townes, Guy Clark, John Prine etc.. Really!! - this guy's songs and voice hit you with a clarity not often encountered. Sharp edged songs, a voice of gravel and grit and whiskey and some rather accomplished guitar playing makes this guy pretty special."

A Box of Birds, New Zealand. 

From Nathan


I’ve been playing music since I was 12 (1972). The first album I bought myself was Neil Young’s Harvest. I still think it is the greatest single album ever produced. 

My only guitar teacher and mentor was a man named John Bowie. John died in 1977 at the age of 27. I borrowed John’s copy of The Rolling Stone’s Let it Bleed for over a year. I still miss him. 

I learned to play blues by listening to Lightnin’ Hopkins and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. 

I learned to write lyrics by reading Jack London, William Carlos Williams and Frank Herbert.

By the time I was 25 I had worked as many jobs as a gypsy laborer. I never paid attention in school. I went to college for a year and made a real mess of it.

During the 80’s I played acoustic music all over the country and in Canada with my partner Susan Shore. We had a wonderful band from the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area dubbed the Honky Tonk Dogs. We put out two albums; one on Flying Fish records and one on an independent label called ROM Records. 

In 1991 I moved to Nashville, married Leslie, had a great band we called “The Boot Licking Weasels” or “Art Fuch and the Art Fuchs”.  I recorded an album with Richard Bennett that has never seen the light of day. Things went sideways.

In 1993, or 1994, I gave up singing and playing and writing. I gave up reading poetry. I gave up listening to all music that wasn’t current and easy. I gave up Jazz. I gave up riding my road bike. I took a variety of jobs culminating in a position with Bellsouth Mobility. That job lasted 13 years.

By 1995 Leslie and I had one child, a boy. In 1997 we moved to the Chattanooga area. By 1998 we had a second child, a girl. 

2007

I played the guitar for the first time since 1995.

2008

What I did on my summer vacation. I got laid off.

I come by this naturally, by blood. My father writes poems about everything and takes the Marxist approach to art, that if you aren’t saying something about something then you are saying nothing about everything. He might disagree, but I know this is true.

He writes love poems that look like something else. I, too, can only write about love by surprise or accident. That said, my father has written the most plainly elegant love poem ever, “To Dorothy”, to my simply elegant mother. Read down to the bottom of the page and see if you don’t agree.

I wrote a song called “Blackbird” for Leslie. It is there at the bottom of the page. Fathers and Sons, eh?

I know my limitations. I can’t write poetry. I don’t play jazz. I can’t be told what to do, or to change, or what to learn. Polite society causes me to be particularly blunt. I am afraid of losing people so I forget about them completely.

I’m not much of a mid-fielder; I don’t like to hustle for hustle’s sake.  I am never half the player in practice that I will be in the game. 

I am the perfect embodiment of a striker. I don’t know how to show that I am “on board”. I have been taunted, cursed at, beaten, bitten, tripped, and threatened. I have angered my own coach. On reflection I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

I averaged more than a goal/game. 

Of course I have been talking about soccer. I’ve never been happier than during my time on the soccer pitch. Soccer is a game perfectly suited for restless people. 

I’ve been writing songs again. I record them in one day, play all the parts, mix them and move on. Like my first influence, Neil Young, I’m always working on something new. I’m musically restless.

I record all of the parts myself. I don’t use punch-ins or digital editing. I will use digital editing to clean up tracks. I never use pitch correction software. 

I think recordings should sound like they were made in a real room. I hate modern drum sounds and compression. 

I care whether or not my songs are important to the listener but I never think about the listener while I’m writing and recording. I think about the song. 

I love the work. 

I look angry but I’m deeply happy. 

I’m an atheist. I’m a Jew. I’m a lefty, liberal, gadfly.

Sometimes I think I am the Trickster, a Sin-Eater. Then I realize how conceited that sounds, but I still wonder.

I’m grateful.

To Dorothy

You are not beautiful, exactly.
You are beautiful, inexactly.
You let a weed grow by the mulberry
And a mulberry grow by the house.
So close, in the personal quiet
Of a windy night, it brushes the wall
And sweeps away the day till we sleep.

A child said it, and it seemed true:
"Things that are lost are all equal."
But it isn't true. If I lost you,
The air wouldn't move, nor the tree grow.
Someone would pull the weed, my flower.
The quiet wouldn't be yours. If I lost you,
I'd have to ask the grass to let me sleep.

-Marvin Bell

 
Blackbird

If I was a dream
I would be Montana
I would be a wild place
Of rivers and light
I would be a fool
If I would not love you tonight

If I was a heart
I could still be broken
I could still be broken
By stars that fall
If I was a blackbird
I would not miss you at all

If I was a word I would be your name
I would be your name
I would be your name
I would be a blackbird

If I was a song
I would be a sad one
To make you cry
Or sing along
If I was a tear
Your eyes would be where I belong

If I was a word I would be your name
I would be your name
I would be a song
And if I was a song
That would still your heart
I would be a Blackbird

-Nathan Bell