He was one of the most genuine and captivating artists to grace the modern era of country music. Those who knew Luke Bell understand that this assessment is neither hyperbole nor flattery. Even though he only released one album, Luke Bell captured a bygone era, aura, and mood in country music that even the most accomplished and gifted country music artists today fail to capture. They’ve been skewed by the modernity filter that Luke Bell seemed to be immune to. He was not of this time or place, and he never felt at ease there. That was both his gift and his curse.
Luke Bell, as troubled as he was talented, left his mark. And by giving the gift of his music, Luke Bell leaves the Earth a better place than he found it.
Luke Bell Death
Luke Bell, who went missing on Saturday, August 20th in Tucson, Arizona, was discovered today, August 29th, 2022, not far from where he went missing, and in the manner, we all feared he would be when we first heard the news. According to Luke Bell’s close friend, confidant, and the guy who has been caring for him for the last six years—traditional country artist Matt Kinman—Luke Bell died at the age of 32.
Luke Bell was never one to stay in one place for an extended period of time. That was part of his magic. Born on January 27, 1990, in Lexington, Kentucky, and raised in Cody, Wyoming, he briefly attended college in Laramie before joining a band in a local bar. But it was a chance meeting with singer/songwriter Pat Reedy that opened Luke’s eyes to a whole new world he hadn’t been exposed to before. “[Pat] arrived in an ’85 Datsun diesel pickup truck, accompanied by a homeless painter and a half-wolf dog.” “It was just a picture of another part of the world,” Luke explained to Saving Country Music in 2016.
Luke Bell was in Austin, TX, bumming around the infamous Hole in the Wall bar near the University of Texas campus around 2011, when the artists-in-residence were Mike and the Moonpies, Leo Rondeau, and Ramsey Midwood, and the bartender of note was a man named Dennis O’Donnell. Luke would couch surf around the area, perform at the Hole in the Wall when they let him, which wasn’t often because he was still honing his chops, and was harassed for playing too loudly in a rock and roll band he formed called Fast Luke and the Lead Heavy. They were fired after playing from 3 to 5 p.m.
When Dennis O’Donnell opened the now-famous White Horse on Austin’s east side, Luke followed him, working as a bartender, building the fence around the bar’s patio, and eventually landing a regular performance slot on the stage with a decidedly more honky tonk style.
However, the road eventually led Luke Bell to Nashville, where he recorded Don’t Mind If I Do, which he released on Bandcamp in 2014. Bell met a similar fate in Nashville, where he began performing regularly at the infamous Santa’s Pub, similar to how he had fallen right into the honky tonk scene in Austin at the right time.
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A 2016 video for his song “Sometimes” shot at Santa’s shows how immersed Bell became in that scene, with appearances from fellow performers like Logan Ledger, Kristina Murray, Erin Rae, and other east Nashville notables.
Not only was the independent country community paying attention and dutifully impressed. Luke was discovered by one of the top booking agents at the prestigious WME agency, who recognized him as a rising star. Luke Bell was soon put on tour, despite having no real national touring experience or record label backing, opening for Willie Nelson, Hank Jr., and Dwight Yoakam.
A semi-homeless and generally adrift Luke Bell was suddenly presented with a serious opportunity to make it in music, and it was entirely due to the strength of his voice and music. In the spring of 2016, he signed with Thirty Tigers and was set to release a self-titled album that combined most of the best songs from Don’t Mind If I Do with a few new tracks. Luke Bell became a national name with his debut self-titled album, drawing comparisons to the type of team and momentum Sturgill Simpson had behind him, on the same flight path to big success.
Few realized, however, that the same authenticity that drew fans to Luke Bell as the rugged Wyoming cowboy turned musical troubadour was also what made the business side of making music unappealing to Luke Bell personally. Many had big plans for Luke, but Luke’s plans remained decidedly less aspirational. A tour to promote the album was planned for the fall of 2016, but it never took place.
Luke Bell, on the other hand, continued to perform, albeit infrequently, and was now regularly appearing with Smithsonian Folkways recording artist Matt Kinman. The Pickathon festival outside of Portland, which is always looking for the essence of authenticity, booked Luke in 2017, with Luke and Kinman performing side by side. Luke Bell resurfaced in February 2018 in Memphis, Tennessee, where he won Best Honky Tonk Male at the Dale Watson-backed Ameripolitan Awards.