Bringing the ‘A’ game – Ben Bell and the Stardust Boys polish their retro country sound

When he first moved to Baton Rouge in 2007, Texas native Ben Bell thought his performing days were over. “I came thinking I was going to hang up my boxing gloves. But I just couldn’t. It’s a part of me,” he says over a Texas-brewed Shiner beer during an interview at Radio Bar. Before long, Bell found himself diving into the Baton Rouge scene—gathering local musicians Neill Cato on drums, Ed White on upright bass and finally Sam “Sammy B” Boykin Short on telecaster guitar to form an elegantly simple, old-style country set-up. The result is the current incarnation of Ben Bell and the Stardust Boys, a country and rockabilly band with a polished retro sound and image.

Bell’s approach to performing is influenced by his time in Austin, where he cut his musical teeth, and he attributes much of the Stardust Boys’ style to lessons he learned there. “There’s no messing around in Austin. You bring your ‘A’ game at all times. You stay focused. You have to have chops, looks and attitude. At least I have one of those,” he says with a laugh.

Ben Bell and the Stardust Boys have become a staple on the local scene, playing frequently around town as well as at a regular first-Thursday-of-the-month show at 7 p.m. at Chelsea’s Café.

“That’s one thing I brought from my Austin experience is a ‘residency’ at an early time [in the evening]. People dig it,” Bell says.

Guitarist Short thinks the Texas-influenced band has found its place in the Baton Rouge community. “I feel like we fit in a spot on a musical spectrum,” he says. “There are a lot of people out there who have not heard or been exposed to that type of a style, but once they are exposed to it, become a fan.”

Eric Schmitt, lead singer in the local Americana band Flatbed Honeymoon, agrees that Bell brings something unique to local music. “Ben’s songs are friendly, like a pop tune, but if you stop and listen to what’s happening, there’s more than meets the eye. There’s also kind of a dark twist that makes it interesting,” Schmitt says.

This spring the band released their first album, The Matador, after spending more than a year crafting it at local music studio Disk Productions. Fitting with the Stardust Boys’ polished image and live performances, the album is well produced, featuring carefully thought-out arrangements and tight performances of Bell’s songs. “We wanted to make a really good-sounding record for ourselves and for the public, not just throw something out and hope people like it,” says Bell. “There’s that aesthetic of DIY—the rawer the better. I can appreciate that, but it’s not what we’re about.”

Ben Bell and the Stardust Boys plan to take their “A” game to the next level, playing local festivals and hitting venues in Lake Charles, Lafayette and Texas. Their album, The Matador, is available on CDBaby and iTunes. benbellmusic.com