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Interview with Vince Bell

 

May 3, 2004
Jinelle Boyd interview with Vince Bell
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Vince Bell is a Texas Music icon.  But you already knew that.  Even before the
horrific car crash that changed his life forever, Vince's music was
powerful enough to garner a mass following of fans world-wide.  His
autobiography, "One Man's Music", is an intense read into his world
following that fateful day and how he emerged again when it seemed 
all hope was lost.
Knowing that he was about to tour Texas again prompted us to 
find out more about him.  
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Jinelle:
You've recently relocated from Nashville to New Mexico.  How was the
move for you, musically?

Vince:
As my pal Bob Neuwirth said, "so...now you're an artist.  Live with it."   
Given that, I'm probably better qualified to talk about where I've been as
opposed to where I'm going.  And no knock on my old Tennessee town, but  
Nashville is a company town.  The big fish eat the little fish.  You're not
 quite freewheelin' in that large a pond.  żAre you the entree, or are you the bait?  Regardless, the dinner is not in your honor.  It's more like a privilege just to 
survive the vortex, like a flushing toilet, of show biz.   The clock on the wall 
moves like the wind there.  Or, it's rigid as if frozen for as long as you think 
you can hold your breath.  And a good tune (blub, blub) will, ironically, make 
you as many jealousies as it will friends.  It'll put up some formidable walls 
between you and the many music business types you play it for until you cut 
them in on the copyright.
Nashville is very traditional, and in the family.  If you knew how hard work
 is to come by in music it would seem obvious why it's that way.  Like a wise
old man I know once confided, "you only pay your friends, V-ince (two
syllables)".  So you spend lifetimes of moments there trying to become a
friend and belong to one family, or another just so you can get the lonely 
songs digitized you brought to Nashville in the first place.  And no one is 
paying you to do this.  And this has nothing to do with music.  It's more like
an introductory course in first year business slight of hand, social skill,
and personal empire building.  So Nashville demands, and gets, a lotta
glad-handing, and gadabout.  Many there that look preposterous but good 
doing it, should have taken shop in high school.  And gotten a good day job.  
Back to bartending at Springwater. 
"Hi, may name is Vince Bell and I write with...".  It's a ladder that begins
in the basement.  And like the ambling DNA helix it's not very certain at all
where it goes for most of the folks that end up in cowboytown.  Nashville,
where the song is still king, will teach you what's ultimately important.
Crafting the tune, then campaigning it yourself for a year, a decade, or a
lifetime.  Or, from time to time, pressing some pretty clammy flesh in pursuit
of the hit recording.  They are worlds apart.  They are the high ground for
your efforts.  It depends on how you measure success, but quite honestly, like
a big ol' hungry catfish lying ominously, undetectably on the bottom of a 
sandy stream, Nashville eats it's most prized songwriters in a gulp, and a
bubble.  Daily.  Ask Johnny Cash.
You can imagine the constriction of conversation down at the one delicatessen
in that two lane town among the coffee drinking, famished looking writers
sitting in the same booth seats they were signed and fired in by some
hulkingly senseless major label that didn't bother to release their CD outside
the city limits.  The same booth seat where those poor songwriters gave 50% of
their publishing away on the chance they might get anything at all recorded by
some good looking rodeo cowboy that doesn't know a bridge pin from a bridle.
But he sells a South American country's worth of CD's.  There's really not a
lot to talk about since everyone in the room is probably being bent over by
the same lawyers from the same music row law firm that office next to the
publisher that made off with your copyright.  They're cud-spitting distance
two doors down from the label that fired you that's losing money on every act
they produce... except that cowboy.  No wonder people park cars.

"żBerkeley?  Berkeley is my favorite part of west Texas."
I've always been far too independent to be easily led.  The move west for me,
and the girl was a must.  And it's good to have the pals we do back in
Tennessee.  We'll play for 'em again in September.  But the coast in
California is prohibitively expensive and, frankly, one lotta people between
the Pacific hills and the sea.  Three miles inland from the beach it turns
back into Texas.  I grew up on the plains and if you didn't have a bucket to
piss in, much less a view of anything worth looking at, at least your back
porch was a comfortable wasteland from the other poor fool's.  So we wagered
our loony bucks and headed for the Rocky mountains in the Jeep and a rent car
"for a place to call our own".  My guitar, Sarah's computer, two dogs, three
cats, and the continental divide like a Roadrunner cartoon.  I'm not this way
because I'm a musician.  I'm a musician because I'm this way.
Anatsa namea dat tune.

Jinelle:
Even though you don't live in Texas, you tour Texas extensively.  What
keeps drawing you back to the great state of Texas?

Vince:
I grew up in the grab 'em, stab 'em bars in dear old Tejas.  Been taking the
money out of those tip jars since I was a teenager.  I learned most everything
that I am dodging beer bottles, insults, and cancellations somewhere between
the Red and the Rio Grande.  It's where my people are.

Jinelle:
We carry Live In Texas, and Texas Plates on MyTexasMusic.com...
one was a recorded house concert, the other a studio project.  Do you
get a different kind of satisfaction from one over the other?

Vince:
I'm lucky they both have their appeal.  One is a studio version of Vince
songs.  Done for a fraction of a budget with a collection of the best
musicians.  Imaginative, an envelope pusher.  Rockers next to talkers.  And if
it ain't any fun, I quit.  The other, a challenge, financial and otherwise to
my authorship.   
For that one I rehearsed unendingly in front of the set list on the
refrigerator in the cabin out on the 100 Highway eight miles from Fairview,
Tenn.  No shoes, no shirt, gym shorts, draped with a dreadnaught guitar.
Two-a-days.  Sarah's down at the ballet with an art project of her own.
She's keeping us.
Then I drove 630 miles to Dallas.  Strung up a novel, brand new hardtop
dreadnaught guitar, and recorded the first 11 songs the next day at the house
concert at David Byboth's for my CD release that year, LIVE IN TEXAS.  Bruce Cockburn, who wrote one of the songs, calls it "a highly recommended private
release".  Now that's a piece of artwork.
Since I'm at it, CD-Rs have a bad rap.  If you've got something to say, or you
play it just like you talk it, there's no better way for an author of
music/lyric to keep the art form alive.  You shouldn't have to ask permission
of any record label to put your foot in it.  After a treasured saying,  "if
you are lead by authority, you are lead by a halter".

Jinelle:
Being the author of the book "One Man's Music", which chronicles an
incredible period in your life - can you tell us how writing that book was
different from your approach to songwriting?  In other words, did being
a songwriter help you organize the book?  Is there another book in you?

Vince:
The difference between poetry and prose is scale.  In the poem you write the
moment.  In the book you write the episode.  One happens line at a time till
it's over. Sometimes that takes twenty minutes, sometimes six years.   Prose
happens like a trail of recollection, or invention.  A long trail.  They both
have imageries, metaphors, and hooks enough to catch fish.
Forr my first book, ONE MAN'S MUSIC, the goal was a page a day.  It took 184
days to write the 206 page story of my head injury and recovery.  But, in the
end the same domino teeters over both, the poetry and the prose, till it falls
from the fingers of the artist.
My next book is called "SIXTYEIGHT TWENTYEIGHT",  essays and letters about the
life and times of a Texas writer and a flat top box guitar.

Jinelle:
The question, "Who were your musical influences?" is so cliche'...but you are in the 
unique position of having had two musical careers - tell us if your musical influences were different after your triumphant return to the stage.

Vince:
"It took a gypsy like you, to make a gypsy like me."
--from "Gypsy", my going away present to Townes

You know the drill.  Lennon was the paradigm, Van Zandt was my friend.
Learning the guitar the first time was a bitch.  Learning the guitar the 
second time was cruel.

Jinelle:
Who do you truly admire in the music industry today?

Vince:
A hundred years ago Thomas Alva Edison said, "some days I just ached to give
it all up."  I admire everyone that can hold on to a sense of humor about it.

Jinelle:

You've traveled all over the world performing your music - tell us how the different
fans in diferent areas react - and do you tailor your show to a specific region or fan
base?

Vince:
Everyone must be using the same software.  The crowds I've sat with all over
this planet are remarkable for their similarity.  House concerts are the best
in the States for the performing writer.   They support us players as well as
the joints did in the '70s.  In Europe they have some rocking 1500 seat
concert halls like the Paradiso in Holland.  Nobody sits on those expensive
tickets.     

Jinelle:
There's a large number of people who believe that entertainment
and music should be free, whether it be the absence of a cover charge,
or music downloads.  How do you feel about this attitude towards
musicians, and how do you think downloadable music has changed
the industry?  Do you think an entertainer can survive without the 
Internet?

Vince:
The computer/internet empowers the artist.  I'm in "music school" recording,
doing production art on everything from CD covers to business cards, and
writing the books, essays, and tunes.  I have a print shop on a desk.  I make
CDs (LIVE IN TEXAS from vincebell.com), and layout advertisement I get from
Sarah over in the next room.  She has the scanner, the digital camera, and the
internet connect.  I could no more afford to farm out these many and vital
functions of my authorship than you would suppose I could.  So thanx to some
very capable machines and a healthy do it yourself attitude, Sarah's and my
business looks as good as my last encore.  Never worked harder, never been
better.   

Jinelle:
It's increasingly difficult for upstart musicians to make a living in this business.
What advice do you have for young musicians that would keep them from
being discouraged?

Vince:
The only thing you can't do in music...
 is quit

Jinelle:
How do you feel the live music scene has changed during your career?

Vince:
Every year since '70 has been different.  Scenes have come and gone like
shadows.  What a ride.  The only thing with a shorter lifespan than a rock n
roll band is a bar.  So me and that dreadnaught guitar have outlived every
live music scene I had the questionable fortune to step in.

Jinelle:
Do you think major record labels are still really interested in music or are
they simply chasing the almighty dollar?

Vince:
Regardless of how it might have ever appeared, labels have always been in the
business of making money, not music.


Jinelle:
What's next for Vince Bell?

Vince:
 Long as we can keep the ball in play, tunes, books, letters, and essays.

Jinelle:
What would we find in your CD player on a random check?

Vince:
Dust.  I don't watch many movies because I'm busy making movies.

Jinelle:
Tell us something about yourself that we might not already know.

Vince:
Take a look at the new "Bad Old Days" section on my website.  You'll find it
at the top of the What's New page.  Songs/Mp3s and photographs from 1970-1982.

Jinelle:
Tell us about the Vince Bell Model Pawless guitar.  Tell us about your other
favorite guitars?

Vince:
The v2 Series Vince Bell model from Pawless Guitars is
a hardtop dreadnaught.  This makes it a very full range, rich sounding
instrument tuned a whole step low.  It is the first Southwestern Slack guitar.
It retired my trusty old Martin D-28 of thirty years...in an evening.
Vince Pawless and I are working on a second hard top right now, too.  Made out
of ziricote wood from Mexico.

Jinelle:
MyTexasMusic is currently a family of over 330 performers of Texas music.
What would you like to see in the future from MTM that can help you and all
Texas musicians?

Vince:
There's only a very few of us, there's very lot of them.  Keep your eyes in
the sky!

Jinelle
:
Thanks so much for your time, Vince!

Vince:
De Nada.
 
To see where Vince is playing near you, visit:
www.mytexasmusic.com/schedules

Go check out VINCE BELL 's music and book on MyTexasMusic!


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