by Jay Hardwig
Tyler Dee Bell
-- "T.D." -- prominent local guitarist and "godfather" of the local
blues scene --
died Saturday at the Austin Diagnostic Center Saturday of heart
and kidney failure
related to prostate cancer. He was 76.
22, 1922, outside of Dimebox, Texas, Bell first made his mark
as a bluesman
in the clubs around Rockdale, packing the house in town and in
communities of Elgin, Bryan, and Temple. In 1949, Victory Grill
Adams lured him to Austin with the promise of three shows a
week at the Victory;
Bell promptly quit his job at Rockdale's aluminum plant to
play music full
time. Bell was an instant hit in Austin, playing a savvy, uptown
blues in a town
that had scarcely seen an electric guitar.
"To come here
was a real thrill for me," Bell recalled in an interview this
I came [to the Victory], people would be standing in line out on
Adams limited his star attraction to three songs a night. "'That's it,'
'Don't give 'em too much,'" chuckled Bell.
T-Bone" for his take on T-Bone Walker's jazz-tinged guitar style, Bell
remained a staple on Austin's Eastside for 20 years, fronting his own band
the Cadillacs and sitting in with such touring guit-slingers as B.B. King,
Gatemouth Brown, Albert Collins, Bobby Bland, Freddie King, Lowell Fulson,
and the big T-Bone himself.
When the Eastside
entertainment district faded out in the early Seventies, victim of desegregation,
destabilization, and the politics of poverty, Bell laid down his guitar
and went into the trucking business, eventually building a small fleet
of his own. When local folklorist Tary Owens organized a Victory Reunion
in 1987, he pulled Eastside heroes like Bell, Erbie Bowser, and Grey Ghost
out of retirement, prompting local audiences to get reacquainted with a
few of Austin's living legends.
Bell formed the Blues Specialists with pianoman and longtime bandmate Bowser,
and the two settled into a popular Friday happy hour residency at the Continental
Club. In 1991, Bell and Bowser released It's About Time on Owens' Spindletop
Records; a sharp, satisfying collection of old-time Texas blues, it garnered
the pair a W.C. Handy nomination for "Best Traditional Blues Album," followed
by concerts at the Smithsonian and Carnegie Hall.
away in 1995 (Grey Ghost in '96), but Bell kept the Blues Specialists alive,
playing the Continental Club as recently as December 18, and performing
occasional shows at the Eastside Lounge and the revitalized Victory Grill.
A direct link to the past, Bell was also a link to Austin's future; current
local bluesmen W.C. Clark, Blues Boy Hubbard, and Matthew Robinson all
learned at Bell's fingertips, and just about every blues guitarist in town
made sure to check out his chops, well-aware that Bell was inventing Texas
blues before most of them were born.
Last week in this
space, Chronicle music writers were asked to name a "notable death" of
1998, to recall a figure whose passing had left a gap on the musical landscape,
whose presence would be felt long after they were gone. We can already
fill in the blank for 1999: T.D. Bell, rest in peace.