Jump to Content

Welcome! You’re browsing the No Depression Archives

No Depression has been the foremost journalistic authority on roots music for well over a decade, publishing 75 issues from 1995 to 2008. No Depression ceased publishing magazines in 2008 and took to the web. We have made the contents of those issues accessible online via this extensive archive and also feature a robust community website with blogs, photos, videos, music, news, discussion and more.

Close This

The Long Way Around - Feature from Issue #22 July-Aug 1999

Vince Bell

Survival of the fiercestVince Bell reinvents his destiny among the annals of Texas tunesmiths

One of those guys was Robin Eaton, who often works in conjunction with producer Brad Jones at Alex the Great Studios (their credits include Steve Forbert, the Ass Ponys and Tim Easton). “I had been after that guy for two years,” Bell begins. “I had come here two years before I moved here, to play the Summer Lights festival, and I went over to his house for a party that evening, after I played my gig. So I find out this guy owns a studio here; not only that, but he is a superfan of Phoenix. So I started pursuing this guy; I wrote him letters from Fredericksburg, made phone calls…and when I finally moved here, I started going over to the studio and bothering him, pestering the poor man.”

Eaton eventually agreed to produce Texas Plates, which Bell decided to release on his own label (dubbed One Man’s Music, the same as the title of his book). “We made 1,000 copies [of the CD],” he says. “We were selling them on the internet, just like we were doing with the book. We were gonna sell the book, we were gonna sell the album, and if it wasn’t gonna work, we were gonna die trying.

“And all of a sudden, my publisher, Peter Cronin, calls up and says he took a copy of Texas Plates over to Jim Zumwalt, a Music Row lawyer, and Zumwalt says, ‘Yeah, this is cool, I gotta release this.’ So I got a release date, April 13. Like, the fastest record deal on record. Two months. You’ll never hear of anybody who had a faster deal.”

Zumwalt’s label, Paladin, has released albums by Brian Wilson, Steve Forbert, Stacy Dean Campbell and Jamie Hartford in the past few years. They picked up Texas Plates exactly as it was, complete with the packaging designed by Bell himself — “right down to the typesetting,” he says, proudly. “My schooling was in commercial arts, so I did the album cover [a photo of his great-grandparents taken in the 1940s]. To be able to put the whole package together was lots of fun. You know, I’m very competitive about stuff, and I wanted to really turn out something nice, even though all I had was a black and white presentation. I had one color photograph — the license plates on the back of the CD, from Luckenbach, Texas.” Those rusty old plates adorn the men’s room at the classic dance hall in the tiny town made famous by Waylon & Willie & the boys, just a stone’s throw from Bell’s former abode in Fredericksburg.

Bell earned his degree in commercial arts from Austin Community College during the ’80s, his education sponsored by the Texas Head Injury Foundation. Before the crash, the only consideration he’d ever given to college was getting a football scholarship out of high school, which didn’t happen. “I graduated high school in ’70; nobody would give me an athletic scholarship after being the quarterback for that big 4A school,” he recalls. “If they weren’t gonna scholarship me, I quit. I said, ‘Forget it, I’m gonna go play music, bye-bye.’ I never intended to go to college. I’d never have gotten a college degree if it wasn’t for that wreck.”

Indeed, one of Bell’s greatest virtues is his ability to realize the positive things that have come from such a negative occurrence. Another prime example is his guitar-picking style, which he calls “The Claw.” “I spent ten years back there in Austin trying to relearn how to play with flatpicks,” Bell starts. “And then I’m out there in California, living in Berkeley, I’m ten minutes away from meeting Bob Neuwirth. What happens? I’m writing a song called ‘Girl Who Never Saw A Mountain’. What’s wrong? I can’t play it fast enough. I can’t play it as fast as I’ve written it. So, OK; let’s get a new way to play. On go the fingerpicks, out the window goes the flatpick, and I almost end up strumming with the fingerpicks, doing a down-strum. You notice how I play: I’ve got fingerpicks on, but I’m down-strumming as well.”

Like Vic Chesnutt, who glued a pick to a glove when he relearned how to play after his car wreck in the mid-1980s and became a more emotionally effective guitarist — “I played too damn jazzy back then,” Chesnutt has said of his pre-wheelchair days — Bell fashioned a style that was specific to himself, and ultimately made him a more inventive musician. “And yet, if it wasn’t for that wreck, I wouldn’t have that to show,” he muses. “You know, when Neuwirth took my project [the Phoenix album], and we were sitting there doing ‘Frankenstein’, Geoff Muldaur looked over at me and he goes, ‘Look at how he’s playing the guitar!’ And I was like, ‘I love this!’ He recognized what all this work had produced.”

His accomplishments as a guitarist and as an author notwithstanding, Bell’s truest talent remains as a lyricist. “I don’t know if I’m gonna be a prose writer so much, but I want to be an expert at this story,” he says, explaining that he expects to do occasional updates and additions to One Man’s Music (available through www.vincebell.com) for subsequent printings.

“I often have said in the past that what a prose writer does with a shovel, a poet does with a microscope. It’s the same thing, just different tones, different weights, different lengths. One’s 200 pages long. One’s three verses long. One can kill you in three verses. You don’t need no damn 200 pages.”

Just as Vince Bell vividly remembers driving across the Texas hill country with “100 Miles From Mexico” rising into his mind, ND co-editor Peter Blackstock will never forget the songs of Phoenix shining like lighthouse beacons through the mist on a drive along the Oregon coast in the summer of ’94.

Enjoy the ND archives? Consider making a donation with PayPal or send a check to:
No Depression, 460 Bush St., San Francisco, CA 94108


Did you enjoy this article? Start a discussion about it, or find out what others are saying in the No Depression Community forum.

Join the Discussion »

Find out what's going on in roots music. Share concert photos and videos, learn about new artists, blog about the music you love.

Join the No Depression Community »

Originally Featured in Issue #22 July-Aug 1999

Cover of Issue #22 July-Aug 1999

Sorry, this issue is SOLD OUT

Buy our history before it’s gone!

Each issue is artfully designed and packed full of great photos that you don‘t get online. Visit the No Depression store to own a piece of history.

Visit the No Depression Store »

From the Blogs

  • No Depression Is Getting a Facelift: A Note About What's Around the Bend
    Ever since we announced that No Depression had been acquired by FreshGrass back in March, we’ve heard from many of you with questions, concerns, and ideas about the future of this website and the community that gathers here. We created a forum topic at that time so we could organize these comments and refer to them frequently, which we have done as we’ve dev […]
  • Eric Clapton - Unplugged, 2CD+DVD (Album Review)
    Here’s a slightly unusual candidate for reissue: Eric Clapton‘s 1992 Unplugged album. To my knowledge, this massively commercially successful album has never gone out of print, which begs the question: why reissue it? To be fair, this 2014 reissue does include some bonus material. But first, let’s take a look at the original… […]
  • Getting to Know Ashley Sofia -- Falcon Ridge Emerging Artist
    Have you ever had the feeling that a musician may have traveled through space and time during a recording project?  Music critics and fans are hailing Ashley Sofia as a 21st century reincarnation of the Laurel Canyon folk-rock sound  on the early 1970s. Ashley’s songwriting and captivating voice make for a great combination; she’s definitely worth a… […]
  • Learning Songwriting at the Feet of Steve Earle
    Steve Earle has his eye on the history books. Not for himself, necessarily - though I doubt he’d object - but for his art form, “songwriting as literature.” With Camp Copperhead, Steve seemed to be trying to secure this form a place in history. “Four days of singing and songwriting,” the marketing materials promised. “Hard core.” I’m a non-professional songw […]
  • Jack Clement – For Once And For All (Album Review)
    Allen, Reynolds, and a laid-back, masterful collection of familiar Clement-penned country classics. A decade of Clement-penned originals plus a pair of co-writes grace this late music legend’s third solo collection, released just short of a year after his passing aged 82. Memphis-raised Jack Henderson Clement launched his career with the renowned imprint Sun […]
  • Wise Old Moon - The Patterns (Album Review)
    Wise Old Moon. Sounds like a tall tale from an old children’s story book. Perhaps the namesake of a tavern or bookstore in a New England town that hasn’t quite caught up with time yet? But in this case it’s the name of a young and truly gifted roots music outfit from the Connecticut area. Every so often a record comes along that makes you happy this kind of […]

Shop Amazon by clicking through this logo to support NoDepression.com. We get a percentage of every purchase you make!

Subscribe To the No Depression Newsletter

Subscribe to the No Depression Newsletter