Perhaps the most respectful gesture that singer/guitarist Linden and his bandmates made during the recording process was not including a full-time replacement for Bell, who died in 2007 at age 61 after a battle with cancer.
“We had tossed a couple of ideas around in terms of anybody else who could play keyboards,” Linden recalls. “We thought maybe Art Neville or Allen Toussaint – somebody who was a real peer of Richard’s because he was that good. And in a lot of ways, we just thought, ‘Well, you know what? It’s up to us to just make a little bit more of a racket,’ and that’s sort of the tact that we took with it.”
Through the years, that approach was pretty much the norm for the Canada-raised, Nashville, Tenn.-based Linden and his core band, which still includes drummer Gary Craig and bassist John Dymond.
“We were close, the four of us, and often if one of the guys had to sub out, instead of getting somebody else, we would just do it with whoever was there,” explains Linden. “So sometimes when Gary couldn’t play, we’d just play Johnny on bass, Richard and me. If Johnny couldn’t be there, we did gigs with no bass – stripped-down acoustic gigs with me and Richard and Gary.”
From the Water isn’t keyboard-free, however: John Whynot, a good friend of Bell’s, plays piano and organ on the album.
“On a lot of records we made where there were two keyboards, John would play piano and Richard would play organ, or vice versa, so we kinda kept it in the circle,” Linden says.
One of the highlights of the 14-track, rootsy album is the old-time blues “Trouble Only Comes in 3’s,” a song Linden co-wrote with Bell, whose long list of performance credits included working with Janis Joplin and The Band. Linden says he and Bell came up with the title for the tune a few years before Bell got sick, and it was based on an expression Bell’s mother often used.
“And when he got sick, one of the first things that I thought was, ‘What can we do that’s positive?’ ” Linden says. “I kind of thought, ‘Let’s put some energy into making up a song.’ I talked to him every day he was sick, and I said to him very early on, ‘I’m going to bring my guitar and my book. Let’s write that song together.’ ”
Linden and Bell had an ongoing routine in which they would sing the Ray Charles song “It Should Have Been Me” in the voice of actor Peter Lorre, and Linden thought that would be a good template for how “Trouble Only Comes in 3’s” should be.
“We hammered it out for a couple of days, and then when they let him have e-mail after a couple of weeks being in there, I sent him a bunch of lyrics that we had come up with,” Linden says. “He did a bunch of lyric work with it and sent it back to me. That’s how we finished it.”
Usually when he’s done with one project, Linden has another one lined up, whether it be as a performer, producer or sideman. Earlier this year, he did some recording with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.
“I don’t know what’s going to become of those sessions,” Linden says. “Even if I don’t end up on the songs I worked on, it was one of the greatest experiences ever. Both Robert and Alison are two of the greatest singers in the world, and the band was so amazing, it was just fantastic to be in their band for a couple of days.”
Linden is looking forward to touring during this fall with the band Downchild.
“They’re the band that basically introduced the blues to Canada,” he says. “They put a new spin on traditional blues. I don’t think that they ever tried to reinvent the wheel, but they put across what they did with such love and respect. They’re doing a 40th anniversary tour, and I have the honor of opening the tour and playing with them. I’ve known those guys since I was a little kid, so I’m very honored to be on the tour with them.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Colin Linden on tour (schedule subject to change):
* Sept. 4: Howlin’ Wolf Blues Festival — West Point, Miss.
* Sept. 10: The Waterfront — Pickering, Ontario, Canada
* Sept. 12: Peter’s Place — Gravenhurst, Ontario, Canada
* Sept. 13: Southside Shuffle — Port Credit, Ontario, Canada