Thom Bell  

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"Disco producers, like the vocalists, have been marginalized for making the wrong music at the wrong time, but if respect is due to Thom Bell , Gamble & Huff, Holland/Dozier/Holland or Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, it's also due to Patrick Adams, one of the finest orchestral arrangers on earth, and to Michael Zager -- also one of the planet's finest orchestral arrangers."--Disco Queens: The '70s (1997) - Various artists, liner notes written by Brian Chin

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Thom Bell (1943 – 2022) was an American composer, songwriter, record producer, arranger, pianist, and singer known as one of the creators of Philadelphia soul in the 1970s. He found success as a producer and songwriter for the Delfonics, Stylistics, and Spinners.

He is known for compositions such as "Ready or Not Here I Come (Can't Hide from Love)" (1968), "La-La (Means I Love You)" (1968), "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)" (1970), "People Make the World Go Round" (1972), "I'll Be Around" (1972), and "Can't Give You Anything (But My Love)" (1975) .

Contents

Background

Thomas Randolph Bell was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on January 26, 1943, the son of Leroy Randolph and Anna L. (Burke) Bell. All of his grandparents were born in the United States except for Thomas Bedward Burke, his maternal grandfather, who was born in Kingston, Jamaica.

Career

Bell, classically trained as a musician, sang as a teenager sang with Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, and Daryl Hall (of Hall & Oates fame). Bell's first big break in soul music came with Cameo Records in Philadelphia where he worked as a session player and arranger. In 1967, he was introduced to a local group called The Delfonics, producing two singles for them on subsidiary label, Moonglow. Bell brought a mellifluous, hypnotic haut en couleur style to soul music and soon his production talents yielded several big hits for the group on the Philly Groove label, run by their manager Stan Watson. These releases included "La-La (Means I Love You)" and "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)", the latter of which was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1970.

Bell had also joined the fast-growing record production company operated by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff in Philadelphia, working as an arranger for acts such as Jerry Butler, Archie Bell & The Drells, Jerry Bell, The O'Jays, and Dusty Springfield. He arranged some of the early big hits, including the O'Jays' "Back Stabbers", on Gamble & Huff's own record label, Philadelphia International Records, which they launched in 1971. He also joined the two in setting up a music publishing company for their songs, Mighty Three Music.

By 1971, Bell had moved on to produce another local group, The Stylistics, this time on Avco Records. By then, he had teamed up with the Philadelphia-born songwriter, Linda Creed and this partnership, along with Russell Thompkins, Jr., the lead singer of the Stylistics, generated three albums full of memorable tracks. Bell and Creed became one of the era's dominant soul songwriting teams, penning hits such as "Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)", "You Are Everything", "Betcha by Golly, Wow", "Break Up to Make Up", "You Make Me Feel Brand New", and "I'm Stone in Love with You" (the latter with Anthony Bell).

In 1972, Bell agreed to produce The Spinners for Atlantic Records. The group, who had long been with Motown Records, had joined Atlantic after failing to get the attention they wanted. It was the start of a successful collaboration that lasted for seven years and eight original albums. Bell revitalized the group, producing five gold albums that included chart success with singles such as "I'll Be Around", "Could It Be I'm Falling in Love", "Games People Play", and "The Rubberband Man". In 1974, he was awarded a Grammy for Best Producer of the Year.

In 1975, Bell produced an album with Dionne Warwick called Track of the Cat, one year after he had teamed her with the Spinners on the song, "Then Came You", which topped the Billboard Hot 100 and reached #2 on the R&B chart. He also worked with acts such as Johnny Mathis (two albums), Billy Paul, Ronnie Dyson, Little Anthony & The Imperials, and New York City in the mid to late 1970s, but generally with less commercial appeal.

Subsequently, Bell had success with Deniece Williams, including her R&B #1 and Top 10 re-make of The Royalettes' "It's Gonna Take a Miracle" in 1982; James Ingram with "I Don't Have the Heart" in 1990 (Bell's second #1 pop hit); and Elton John, whose EP, The Thom Bell Sessions, featured back-up by the Spinners and produced the Top 10 hit, "Mama Can't Buy You Love", in 1979. Other artists Bell produced in the 1980s included The Temptations, Phyllis Hyman, Dee Dee Bridgwater, and he even re-united briefly with the Stylistics in 1981 on Philadelphia International's subsidiary, TSOP.

Warner Chappell Music acquired Mighty Three Music in 1990.

A December 2008 interview with Bell featured on the Philly Soul box set, Love Train, stated he would soon compose a piece for the Philadelphia Orchestra. Past Orchestra members played in MFSB, the house band who played on many Bell productions.

Personal life

Bell married Sylvia Bell in 1965 but they later divorced in 1984. He married Vanessa Bell 1986.

Bell died on December 22, 2022, at the age of 79. He died at his home in Bellingham, Washington after what was described as a "lengthy illness". No further details have been given. Bell's manager and lawyer, Michael Silver, announced his death.

Producing and songwriting




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