LeRoy Bell  [Photo by Mat Hayward]

LeRoy Bell [Photo by Mat Hayward]

WEEKEND: Performer to pour out tunes in Port Angeles, Lake Leland

“Today” and “tonight” in this report are Friday, Aug. 16. Saturday and Sunday are Aug. 17-18.

PORT ANGELES — Singer LeRoy Bell has arrived, veered away, then arrived again at his right place.

Bell will bring his band — the men he laughingly calls “His Only Friends” — and their mix of R & B, soul and rock to the Olympic Cellars stage this Saturday night, and then return Aug. 23 for Moonfest, three days of music and camping at Jefferson County’s Lake Leland.

He’s come a long way, a self-described Army brat who started a musical career with his uncle, Thom Bell, in Philadelphia. The younger Bell became known for his songwriting, as he penned hits for artists such as Lou Rawls, Teddy Pendergrass and Elton John through the late 1970s.

“Mama Can’t Buy You Love” was one of those; Elton John recorded the song in 1979. Then Bell’s own band, Bell and James, had a Top 20 single in “Livin’ It up Friday Night.”

But when Bell moved to a new record label, the hits quit. His career took a drastic turn and, as the songwriter told Seattle’s KUOW-FM earlier this year, he turned to playing weddings in a cover band. He stopped working on his own songs.

Then Bell’s bandmate Terry Morgan suggested he audition for “The X Factor.” Never mind that he’d never watched the show.

By this time, Bell was close to 60 years old. But in a “what the heck” move, he tried out for the program, singing the Bill Withers song “Lean on Me.” Through the next five episodes, Bell rose above many of his younger counterparts, reached eighth place — and restarted his musical career.

That was 2011 — “a crazy year,” Bell recalled in an interview last week.

Being on “The X Factor” reminded him that he loved performing. It gave him fresh inspiration as a writer, too; Bell has since released his sixth album, “Rock and Soul.”

Bell’s current tour has him at festivals in San Jose, Calif., Oak Harbor and Bainbridge Island, among other gigs bookending his Olympic Peninsula visits. Bell is also one of Olympic Cellars owner Kathy Charlton’s picks for this year’s “best of” series of events at the winery.

Charlton brought Bell to her stage back in summer 2007. Now, as she steps away from Olympic’s daily operations, she’s assembled a lineup of her favorite performers from past concert series.

As with all of the winery’s concerts, Bell’s benefits a local nonprofit; this Saturday that’s the Clallam County League of Women Voters (www.LWVcla.org).

Tickets to the 7 p.m. Saturday show are $13 in advance at www.OlympicCellars.com. Once the gates of the venue, 255410 U.S. Highway 101, open at 6 p.m. Saturday, tickets will be $15 on site. Food from the Kokopelli Grill and wine will be available for purchase, and lawn chairs, blankets and warm clothes are advised.

As for Moonfest, Bell will join a variety of rock and blues acts at Lake Leland from Aug. 23-25: Heart guitarist Roger Fisher, Alice Stuart, the Dusty 45s, Junkyard Jane and others. Tickets start at $35 at www.Brown


In a break from his summer schedule, Bell reflected on his personal renaissance and on the state of popular music.

We have terms such as “roots” and “Americana” that fit artists like Bell. But what do those mean?

Bell mused that they’re about “less produced” music, songs with a natural sound free of gloss. Whenever a kind of music becomes popular, there’s a reaction, Bell added. As grunge was a reaction to disco, Americana is a response to electronica and technopop.

Songwriters are all seeking to make their mark, to be original, of course. But that doesn’t change how they are descended from the musicians that came before them, men and women who had the same 12 notes to work with.

All music, Bell believes, comes from people using what they had: homemade instruments, plus their hands and feet and emotions.

Bell’s band, previously a guitar-drums-bass trio, has added a new guy: keyboard player David Walker. He’s the latest “Only Friend,” joining bassist Terry Morgan and drummer Davis Martin.

So “I’m gaining,” Bell said with a smile. He and the band came up with their name one night when they were about to open for Roberta Flack. The theater marquee said “Roberta Flack and Friends,” so they started throwing around possible monikers of their own: LeRoy Bell and his Homely Friends. His Lonely Friends. It was His Only Friends that got them all laughing.

As for the foursome’s concerts at Olympic Cellars and Moonfest, “we have a great show. We entertain,” Bell promised. “We have some great songs, to make you happy, sad, think, dance.”

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