Thom Bell - The Man Behind The Philly Soul Sound

By Matt Vaughan

This past weekend, the Seattle Times published a story about one of the greatest R&B songwriters/producers of our time, Thom Bell. Never heard of him? He kinda likes it that way...

"I was like a ghost. I didn't want to be recognized. I'm strictly a music person, 24 hours a day."

Thom Bell was the producer behind the Philly sound and the Gamble and Huff songwriting team. Thom was also a songwriter and well accomplished musician. He would later have his own songwriting team. Thom is the guy behind the Delfonics, Spinners, Stylistics and those lush Philly grooves. He wrote and produced “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time),” arguably the benchmark of what Philly soul was all about. His songwriting and publishing company Mighty Three Music also included Teddy Pendergrass, the Intruders, O'Jays…and many more. In 1975, he moved his office to Seattle, in Pioneer Square, which is where he put together the soundtrack for The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh (great soundtrack, terrible movie, although worth it for the footage of Julius Erving [Dr. J] at his peak). The hit songs “Rubberband Man” by the Spinners and “Livin' It Up Friday Night” by Seattle’s Bell & James were also conceived here in Seattle. The "Bell" in Bell & James is Leroy Bell, Thom’s nephew, and still a very active and accomplished artist. Casey James lives in West Seattle, still plays music, and can be seen having breakfast in our café once a week. Bell & James and Thom Bell collaborated with Elton John here in Seattle at Kaye-Smith Studios in ’77-'78. Elton was a big fan of what Thom had been doing. The sessions would later be released as The Thom Bell Sessions, which contains some of Elton's greatest lost gems. My mom, Diana Vaughan, was hired by Thom to be his radio promoter from ’75-'79. Thom was often at our house and at a young age I found his stories of the music business fascinating. He was a great inspiration to me and still is, here at Easy Street Records. His Mighty Three Music was the predecessor and inspiration behind hip hop and soul labels/publishing houses, LaFace, Def Jam, and Jay-Z’s Roc-A_Fella. Bell would later sell Mighty Three to Warner Chapel for $15 mil. He now lives comfortably in Bellingham. 

Read the Seattle Times piece on Thom Bell here.