He was one of the most original and engaging artists to honor the art form of country music in the modern era. And those who know Luke Bell, know that this assessment is in no way exaggerated or flattered. Although he only released one album, in this single volume Luke Bell captures a bygone era, aura and mood in country music that elude even the most skilled and talented of country music artists today. They were startled by the filter of modernity to which Luke Bell was strangely immune. He wasn’t of this time or place, and it never really suited him comfortably. That was his gift and his burden. Despite his talented annoyance, Luke Bell left his mark. With a talent for his music, Luke Bell left Earth and became a more joyful place than he had found.
Having disappeared on Saturday, August 20 in Tucson, Arizona, Luke Bell was found today, August 29, 2022, not far from where he disappeared, in a way we all dread when we first heard the news. This was confirmed by Save Country Music through Luke Bell’s close friend and confidant and the man who had been caring for him for the past six years – traditional country artist Matt Kinman – Luke Bell passed away at the age of 32.
Luke Bell had never been able to stay in one place for too long. That was part of his charm. Born in Lexington, Kentucky on January 27, 1990, raised in Cody, Wyoming, he tried to attend college for a time at Laramie and began playing in a band at a local bar. But it was a chance encounter with singer-songwriter Pat Reddy that opened Luke’s mind to a completely different world he had never experienced before. “[Pat] Pulled into a Datsun 85 diesel pickup truck with a homeless painter and half wolf dog. It was just a picture of a different part of the earth,” Luke told Saving Country Music in 2016.
Luke Bell in Austin, Texas, was strolling around Hole at the infamous Wall Bar near the University of Texas campus in circa 2011, when Mike and the Moonbees, Leo Rondo, and Ramsey Midwood were the resident artists and a man named Dennis O’Donnell was the memo bartender. Luke was surfing all over the area, performing at Hole in the Wall when they let him, which wasn’t much because he was still sharpening his chops, and he was being chased for playing loud in a rock ‘n’ roll band he formed called Fast Luke and the Leader. heavy. They played from 3 to 5 p.m., and were eventually sent off.
When Dennis O’Donnell opened the now-famous White Horse on Austin’s East Side, Luke took his meandering ways through town, working as a pub at the new joint, building a fence around the pub’s courtyard, and eventually getting a regular slot on stage in honky-tonk style. Definitely.
But the road eventually led Luke Bell to Nashville, where he recorded an album titled Don’t mind if I do Which he released at Bandcamp in 2014. Similar to how Bell fell into the honky-tonk scene in Austin in time, a similar fate found him in Nashville where he began performing regularly at the infamous Santa bar. Video for his songsometimesFrom 2016, filmed at Santa’s, it shows how Bell is immersed in this scene, with fellow performers like Logan Ledger, Christina Murray, Erin Ray, and other notables from the East Nashville world appearing.
And it was not only the Autonomous Country Society that cared about this, and was sincerely touched. A senior booking agent for the prestigious WME agency caught Luke, and saw a star in the making. Soon, without any real national touring experience or support from the record label, Luke Bell was put on tour opening for names like Willie Nelson and Hank Jr. and Dwight Yoakam.
Suddenly, a semi-homeless and emigrant Luke Bell in general was given a serious chance to make it into music, and it was only because of the strength of his voice and his music. In the spring of 2016, he was signed with Thirty Tigers, and a self-titled album was released which took most of the best songs from Don’t mind if I do And merge it with some new audio clips. With his self-titled debut album, Luke Bell became a national name, drawing comparisons to the type of team and the momentum behind Sturgill Simpson, with the same flight path toward great success.
But few would take into account that the same originality that made Luke Bell so appealing to audiences as the ruthless Wyoming cowboy turned musical troubadour also made the commercial aspect of making the music naturally unappealing to Luke Bell personally. Many had big plans for Luke, but Luke’s plans remained decidedly less ambitious. A tour was planned for the fall of 2016 to help promote the record, but it never went off.
Luke Bell continued to perform, but infrequently, and was now appearing regularly with artist Matt Kinman who records regularly at the Smithsonian Folkways. Always searching for the essence of authenticity, the Pickathon Festival booked out of Portland Luke in 2017, where Luke and Kinman played side by side. In February of 2018, Luke Bell made another appearance in Memphis, Tennessee where he won Best Honky Tonk Male at the Dale Watson-backed Ameripolitan Awards.
But then Luke Bell virtually disappeared from the public eye. Although rumors and allegations would surface about his whereabouts and state of mind, information about Luke Bell was just as difficult to determine as Luke himself. He would jump freight trains and travel across the country. But Luke’s life was not all poetic during this period. He was hiding it as a fierce battle with bipolar disorder that he wouldn’t shake in the end. Stories about unruly behavior will appear, along with stories about how Luke Bell could be the sweetest person you could ever meet. Some friends were forced to stay away from him.
There will be long periods when no one has heard of Luke Bell. He would end up in hospitals, or sometimes, in prison. Although, Luke Bell has finally begun to find a new level of balance over the past year and a half, thanks to medication and therapy. He appeared on shows and live broadcasts with Matt Kinman, and appeared with Martha Spencer covering Guy Clark. But while in the West recently, Locke’s mental state has taken a turn for the worse. While in Tucson with Matt Kinman, he ran away while Matt went to get something to eat.
Luke Bell’s struggles are now over, but his music legacy lives on. We hope, like many troubled stalkers before him, that Luke Bell is just beginning to find his worthy audience, recognition, and well-deserved legacy.
– – – – – – – –
Luke Bell’s cause of death is pending an autopsy.