At eight years old, Steve Bell honed his musical skills with notorious Canadian men.
They were not award-winning musicians sought after by promoters. Rather, they were Canada’s most unwanted men. Prisoners in Drumheller and Stony Mountain federal penitentiaries where his father was a chaplain.
“I remember the first time the door to the chapel opened up and the inmates filed in. I was so disappointed how human they looked,” Bell recalled. “Jamming with them probably shaped my view of humanity more than anything else.”
Part of his success in the music industry, that has led to a 25-year solo career, is thanks to several of those inmates who invested in him. The Saturday afternoon jam sessions in those chapels helped him hone his skills as a musician and songwriter.
“These guys were well-worn but very human. They had spouses, children and for whatever reason got caught up in something. I learned that no matter what people are people and each one has a gift. We are all wounded in some way or another and the interactions I had brought this wide scope of humanity into my vision,” said Bell.
Those experiences helped him develop messages of love, hope and faith in his songs, stories and writings. He went on to release 18 albums and earn several accolades and awards, including two Juno’s and three Western Canadian Music Awards. Bell’s recording career began at 13 with his family’s gospel band, the Alf Bell Family Singers. After graduating from high school he was a member of a number of bands playing music ranging from folk to jazz-rock and country. Bell eventually left the Manitoba folk trio Elias, Schritt & Bell, who toured with the Pointer Sisters, and then formed the Winnipeg-based independent record label Signpost Music.
Celebrating over two decades of music, he is set to release a four-album package called Pilgrimage. The box set includes Pilgrimage, featuring 12 new songs; Unadorned, songs selected by friends and fans then re-recorded with just vocals and guitar; Good Company songs recorded by his friends; and Landscapes which is 17 previously released songs remixed as instrumental versions.
A relentless touring musician, Bell still has found time to live out those lessons in compassion he learned at an early age. He has worked on behalf of aid organizations such as World Vision, Compassion Canada, the Canadian Foodgrains Bank in advocacy and awareness roles. He also has a close association with the National Roundtable on Homelessness and Poverty and sits on the board of Street Level, a Canadian forum on homelessness designed to support those who serve the poor and disadvantaged.
Bell said he is excited to see what the next 25 years will hold.
“Each record is almost like a photo album, you listen to it and see what happened in your life at that time and it can be definitive of who you are at that point,” said Bell. “I’m at a shift in my life of looking backwards as much as I am looking forwards. I’m very reflective and put value on the things I have done while still adjusting my course into the second-half of my life and music can be very reflective in doing that.”
Bell is on a cross-Canada tour and will be at the Summerland Baptist Church Oct. 18. The concert start at 7 p.m. and admission is $15.