Rising Stars: Ben Bell

This singer-songwriter charms audiences with his folk love songs

For Ben Bell, music is about one thing: love.

It’s the recurring theme in the majority of his songs. In “Dance With Me, My Love,” he sings, “I need you like no other; no need to question why. We are like the moon and sea.”

On “The Matador,” a catchy, morbid love song about betrayal and revenge, he sings, “That beautiful girl will always be my one true love, when we drown together in a river of blood.”

Even the first song he ever wrote at age 20 was about a girl.

Love is also the driving force behind Bell’s lifestyle. The 46-year-old is a full-time reference and instruction librarian. He doesn’t have an interest in touring or working the erratic hours required in the music industry. He prefers staying home with his wife and stepchildren.

“Dreams change. When I was younger, I had dreams of being a full-time musician. I wanted to live music,” he says. “I’m a family guy. … That’s where my life is right now.”

Nonetheless, Bell has been prolific in the Capital City music scene since moving here from Austin, Texas, in 2008. Many locals know him as frontman of the retro country band, Ben Bell and the Stardust Boys. He’s performed with the band for more than six years at venues like Chelsea’s, Red Star Bar and Red Dragon.

Late last year he began focusing on some solo projects, hoping to discover a new sound. That sound fuses jazz, rockabilly and folk with a western Texas flair. His latest tunes are a medley of accordion, violin, trombone, upright bass, drum and guitar. “And me, with my crooning voice,” he says.

Dressed today in a white, long-sleeve button-down and slacks, Bell’s style seems to reflect his music: classy and simple. He’s polite, thoughtful and just as genuine and earnest as his lyrics.

His heartfelt songs are showcased on a five-track, live solo album he released last fall, “Live at the Red Dragon.” He hopes to collaborate with a variety of local musicians for his next album.

Looking further into the future, he sees himself aging gracefully—maybe moving more into the background and playing upright bass in a bluegrass or country band.

But no matter what, music always has been and always will be part of his life in some way. He grew up aound music—his mother is a singer; his brother, Burton C. Bell, is the frontman of an industrial band, Fear Factory.

As a child, he played the trumpet, sang in the choir, and studied music at a magnet school. He drew inspiration from musicians often overlooked by his generation.

“Back in the ’90s when everyone was listening to Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Dave Matthews Band, I was listening to Kingston Trio, Roger Miller and Marty Robbins,” he says. “My ‘pop’ is more vintage, like Gary Nellson.”

His proudest moment as a musician came in his mid-20s. Young and ambitious, Bell contacted the Kingston Trio’s reps in hopes of opening for them. He ended up performing for the folk band at a private pool party instead.

He opened with a cover of one of the band’s lesser-known B-sides, and to his delight, the band members nodded their approval. After the performance, he was able to talk to the band. It was a dream gig.

But there’s another moment Bell can’t get enough of either: playing a show, looking at the crowd and knowing they are having a good time because of him.

Where to get Bell’s music

“The Matador” album by Ben Bell and the Stardust Boys is available on iTunes and CDBaby. “Live at the Red Dragon” is available at Bell’s live shows.

Where to see him perform

Bell performs with the Stardust Boys at Slow Food Baton Rouge’s Dinner in the Field April 19 and at Hot Art Cool Nights May 8 at MJ’s Café.