Spotlight: Archie Bell

7PM, Continental Club

Spotlight: Archie Bell
Photo By Mary Sledd

If Neil Armstrong's first word from the moon is history's most important Houston name-check, Archie Bell & the Drells' "Tighten Up" is a close second. When Bell drops his hometown in the 1968 chart-topper, he's telling the world something funky is going down in Space City.

"'Tighten Up' kind of put Houston on the map," Bell says. "I ran into a lot of people that heard Houston, Texas, in 'Tighten Up,' and it made everybody want to find out what Houston was all about."

In 1967, Bell & the Drells were a vocal group on Houston Ovide Records, run by KCOH deejay Skipper Lee Frazier. "Tighten Up" was recorded with the T.S.U. Toronadoes, an instrumental soul band from Texas Southern University. Then Uncle Sam came calling.

"I went down to the draft board a couple of weeks after that," recalls Bell. "By 5pm, I was on a bus heading out for Fort Polk, Louisiana."

Bell learned that "Tighten Up" was a hit while at a military hospital in Germany recovering from an accident. "I got in my wheelchair to go tell some of the guys that my record had gone Gold, and they said, 'Man, you guys from Texas can really lie!'" he laughs.

Although Bell's service curtailed the group's momentum, a fortuitous meeting with Philadelphia soul pioneers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff after a New Jersey gig led to more hits, including "I Can't Stop Dancing" and "(There's Gonna Be a) Showdown."

In addition to representing Texas at this year's Ponderosa Stomp, Bell recorded Bob Wills' "Warm Red Wine" for 2005's Bob Wills: A Tribute to Bob's 100th Birthday (Common Ground), which also features George Jones and Merle Haggard.

"I've always loved country & western music, so that was a really a break for me," enthuses Bell. "I want to be like Ray Charles and do a little bit of everything."

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