Arts and Entertainment

LeRoy Bell: Singer-songwriter is optimistic about change

Like other musical artists, LeRoy Bell sees the problems of a troubled world and sings about them. What defines Bell is his optimism.

Bell's album "A Change is Coming," released in June 2008, was inspired by Bell's frustrations with the Bush administration.

"I just felt we needed a change," Bell said.

Incorporating soul and R&B styles, "A Change is Coming" was ahead of its time, penned before the Obama campaign had adopted change as its key message. Bell describes the mood of the album as multi-layered with a "little more edge" instrumentally.

"I always think there is hope and move forward. In my life I like to look at the positive. I don't see any rewards in looking at the negative," Bell said. "I like to keep things upbeat."

His song, "Dream of Peace," on the album "Two Sides to Every Story," imagines "a future where all of us live in a world of peace." The desire for peace in Bell's lyrics isn't a vague notion, but rooted in the protectiveness of a father and the realities of hate and conflict that exist in the world.

LeRoy Bell & His Only Friends perform Saturday, 7:30 p.m., in the San Juan Community Theatre.

Terry Morgan provides the heartbeat of the band on bass guitar. Morgan has performed with Dee Daniels, Pat Wright & The Total Experience Gospel Choir, Dave Lewis, and Thelma Houston.

Davis Martin, formerly of Maktub, is the drummer. Bell, who at the age of 13 traded his guitar for a friend's set of drums, admits he's picky when selecting a drummer.

"Being a drummer, I like what I like," Bell said. "(Davis) brings the edge that I wanted for 'A Change is Coming.'"

During performance, Bell takes his turn on drums, guitar, banjo, accordion, and a grab-bag of percussion instruments.

While Bell is a performing artist versed in many instruments, he has always been a songwriter.

Bell started songwriting with Casey James. The duo Bell & James authored songs including Elton John's hits "Mama Can't Buy You Love," and "Are You Ready For Love." In 2003, the mix of "Are You Ready For Love" by Fat Boy Slim was No. 1 in England and a European hit. Bell & James attained Top 10 status with the dance hit "Livin' It Up Friday Night" and collaborated with Thom Bell to pen songs for The Spinners, The O'Jays, Rita Marley, The Temptations, Johnny Mathis, and Phyllis Hyman.

During his career, Bell has performed with Etta James, Al Green, Paolo Nutini, India.Arie, Erykah Badu, LeAnne Rimes, Michael McDonald, Idina Menzel, Colin Hay, Mavis Staples, Keb Mo, Taj Mahal, Leon Russell, Sonny Landreth, Charlie Musselwhite, Los Lobos, and The Young Dubliners. He has played many West Coast gigs, including the Portland Waterfront Blues Festival, San Jose Jazz Festival, Vancouver Island Music Festival, and The Coldsnap Festival.

When B.B. King made a historic return to the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco in 2007, Bell opened the show.

Bell's music has been described as heartfelt, honest and much-needed in a world of many uncertainties. Bell's multiple perspectives of life enter his songwriting including subjects of social concern, youth, love, loss, and optimism about humanity.

"LeRoy Bell & His Only Friends will reach a group that perhaps we have under-served, the 30- to 60-age group that grew up with this soulful rock sound," said Barbara Courtney, director of Orcas Center, where Bell performs Friday night. "It's gonna be a unique experience ... We don't usually get this rooted rock sound through here as much."

Tickets for LeRoy Bell & His Only Friends are $24 for adults, $12 for student reserved, and $5 student RUSH at the door. A donor has made provision for tickets for anyone needing financial assistance to attend a theater event.

Call 378-3210 or visit www.sjctheatre.org.

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