A keeper of the honky tonk flame playing modern country music with traditional sensibilities.
Luke Bell, the neo-traditionalist honky-tonk and country music performer was found dead in Tucson, Arizona, some nine days after going missing whilst on tour. He was 32 years old. At the time of writing, the cause of his death has not been revealed, but it is known that he had long suffered from bipolar disorder and had recently changed his medication. Friends have suggested that this may have been a contributing factor.
Luke Bell was born in Lexington, Kentucky but raised in Cody, Wyoming. He dropped out of school at 21 and travelled for a while ending up in Nashville via some time spent in Austin. Bell told AUK in 2016 that he had been spending his time in Nashville “playing Santa’s on Sundays, working on music and hanging with good folks”. Bell’s performances at Santa’s soon caught the eye of the prestigious WME booking agents, which saw him go out on tour with Willie Nelson and Dwight Yoakam.
Bell recorded a self-titled album for Thirty Tigers in 2016. It featured re-recordings of the best of his 2014 Bandcamp album ‘Don’t Mind If I Do’ along with some new songs. It was released to great critical acclaim due to its earthy authenticity and Bell was lauded as a genuine keeper of the honky-tonk tradition.
Things on the surface appeared to be going well for Bell but he was struggling with bipolar disorder. A full-scale tour to promote his album was cancelled and Bell went back to travelling the country, reportedly riding freight trains and sleeping out. Not much was heard of him for a while other than occasional reports of time spent in jail or in hospital. More recently, with treatment and medication, Bell had returned to playing and appeared to be more settled and stable.
Luke Bell’s death, at a tragically young age, has taken from us a man of great talent who leaves behind a small but lasting legacy. He was an original in his writing and performances. In his 2016 AUK interview, he described his music as “modern country music with traditional sensibilities” which seems very fitting as both a description and an epitaph.