Still Tightening Up: Houston Legend Archie Bell Turns 75

Houston soul legend Archie Bell turns 75 and celebrates with a concert among friends at the Continental Club.
Houston soul legend Archie Bell turns 75 and celebrates with a concert among friends at the Continental Club. Photo By Marco Torres
Houston, start practicing your soul clap. Archie Bell, Mr. Houston himself, is turning 75 and celebrating alongside friends with a big concert on September 1 at the Continental Club. Bell put our city's name into the ears and sound systems of people all over the world with his hit single “Tighten Up,” way back in 1968. His music, and the man himself, still stand the test of time.

Bell often starts his songs with his trademark introduction, “Hi everybody, I’m Archie Bell and these are the Drells from Houston, Texas!” He made it his mission as a young man to spread the good word about his hometown after feeling we were getting a bad rap following the assassination of JFK, “I’m the man that put Houston on the world map as far as the 'Tighten Up.' Houston was known for energy and oil, but when 'Tighten Up' came out, it got to be known for music.”

“Tighten Up” is an instant pick me up and make you dance classic that’s been covered from the likes of James Brown to R.E.M. It is the hit single that almost wasn’t as Bell was serving in the army when it was released. “When 'Tighten Up' came out they didn’t even know we were black, they had nine white boys out of Nashville Tennessee faking as Archie Bell and the Drells. They didn’t know what category to put it in. It was really what we call 'Texas Funk.'”

Though he may be most known for this hit single, he is far from a one hit wonder. Archie Bell and the Drells have released eight records with multiple chart topping hits. He continues to tour and perform around the world, no easy feat for anyone at any age, let alone at 75.

“I didn't think I was going to last the first year after 'Tighten Up' when I got out of the army,” says Bell as he recounts the instant fame that came with the success of his infectious tune including running from mobs of fans, crowds screaming so loud the band couldn’t hear themselves and promoters with enough poor judgment to request they play the single for 45 minutes straight.

“I never in my wildest dreams ever thought I would even be a No. 1 entertainer with a No. 1 record, let alone be 75 and still doing it.” Archie recently returned from a trip across the pond to England where he says fans did the singing for him. “It’s been a beautiful career. It’s almost like a dream every day that I go do it and everyday that I meet people that have stories about a song that I recorded.”

When asked how it feels to still feel the overwhelming love from fans all over the world after so many years Bell says, “It’s really great, even more today, 30 years ago that might have been different, but that’s really amazing that they are still into the music. That means I’m a classic, it’s great being a classic.”

Sometimes people can be quick to categorize an experienced performer, or any older person, as yesterday's news.  Ageism is alive and well, a fact of life not lost on Bell. “When you get old, they want to throw you away like trash, but that’s where all the knowledge is. Older people been around that long, they know something that you don’t know and never seen before and nowadays it’s really critical because of the shape that our nation is in. It’s time to really tighten up,” says Bell. 

Bell is not a man stuck in the past, though he does carry himself with an old time goodness, class and debonair style. He stays active at home, on the road and in the studio. “I’ve been getting into the studio recording stuff I want to do before time runs out for me. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff. Even after I’m gone there might be ten years where they are still releasing material on me after I left the planet.”

Amazon recently released Let's Groove: The Archie Bell and the Drells Story featuring previously unreleased tracks from the hit-making group. The singer also discussed current plans to record a gospel album, a Christmas album and produce his daughter’s songs. His eight-year-old daughter Heaven Bell, who started her career at the young age of three, usually joins Bell onstage.

Heaven leads audiences in learning the famous “Tighten Up” dance along with singing back up and solos on during his live performances. “She might be the one taking over when I get through tightening up.” Despite her young age and tiny stature, Heaven Bell commands attention when she’s on stage.

This celebration will be one for the books according to organizers Allen Hill and Pete Gordon from the Continental Club. The two men have shared the stage with Bell countless times and count him as a good friend after all the years they have played together. The decision to celebrate their treasured friend was an easy one for the two musicians.

Bell’s good friend, and fellow Houston legend, Roy Head was scheduled to appear but unfortunately has recently had to drop out due to a scheduling conflict. Though Head’s presence will definitely be missed, the evening will still be full of surprises.  Bell himself doesn’t even know who might show up from his long and eventful past and admits old friends often surprise him at his local shows.

“It’s a landmark event for a landmark Houstonian and it’s a night to celebrate some more greatness out of Houston."

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“It’s a landmark event for a landmark Houstonian and it’s a night to celebrate some more greatness out of Houston. Archie is one of the biggest stars in music out of Houston. There’s a special relationship between Archie and the city of Houston, of course people love him all over the world, but Houston is home.” says Hill.

“He’s the best.” says Gordon. “It’s his 75th birthday, which is a big one, so we didn’t want to let that one pass without having a big celebration for him. All of Houston should come out and celebrate with Archie, he is an ambassador of goodwill and great music for Houston Texas for fifty plus years, so come on out.”

Archie Bell's 75th Birthday Bash will take place September 1 at the Continental Club, 3700 Main, doors open at 7 p.m. $18-190.
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Gladys Fuentes is a first generation Houstonian whose obsession with music began with being glued to KLDE oldies on the radio as a young girl. She is a freelance music writer for the Houston Press, contributing articles since early 2017.
Contact: Gladys Fuentes