Houston has a lot to be proud of; our world renowned medical center, the large and diverse population of our residents, our world class art museums, NASA, the Astrodome and of course the one and only, Archie Bell.
This past March, Bell unfortunately suffered a stroke and though he is back home now, he is still recovering and has been in physical rehabilitation since.
His good friends at The Continental Club, who usually host Bell for a Labor Day weekend and birthday celebration for the artist, are changing things up this year and hosting an online event to celebrate Bell's birthday and help raise money to cover Bell’s medical expenses.
“It’s a fundraiser for a hometown hero, one of Houston’s greatest ambassadors. He has always been there for us and represented Houston all over the world and this is a chance to say thank you and we love you,” says musician Allen Hill who will host the event.
Originally set to be an in person event prior to the rise of COVID-19 cases in our area, The Tighten Up Telethon will be live-streamed on Sunday, September 5 at 7 p.m.
It will be the first ever live stream for Bell, who turns 77 on September 1. The event will be broadcasted from inside the Continental Club where Hill will interview Bell and take live questions from the virtual audience either by chat box or live calls during the show.
“Labor Day needs a telethon so what better reason to celebrate Archie Bell than with a Tighten Up Telethon,” says Hill who will be all tuxed up à la Jerry Lewis to celebrate the occasion.
Organizers have also been collecting video tributes and birthday messages to air during the show, where Bell will see them for the first time.
The Tighten Up Telethon can be viewed from the Continental Club’s Facebook and YouTube pages and from Archie Bell’s Facebook page. There is a suggested donation of ten dollar minimum which can be contributed through the club’s website with all proceeds going directly to Bell.
“Anything we can do for Archie, we always do,” says Continental’s Pete Gordon who will also be part of the house band for the event and has played keyboard behind Bell for twenty years now.
“Archie is just absolutely the best and he is Houston. He loves Houston, he’s proud of his city and nobody touts this city in a stronger, more positive way than Archie Bell,” adds Gordon.
Bell put Houston on the map in 1968 with his Texas Funk hit “Tighten Up” where Bell famously opened the catchy tune with his famous phrase “I’m Archie Bell of The Drells from Houston, Texas. We don’t only sing, but we dance just as good as we want.”
"Tighten Up" could be used as a barometer of coolness and soul with its infectious rhythm and simple, playful lyrics. The song created its own dance craze, which Bell taught to Ol' Blue Eyes himself back in the day, as many variations of the dance were going around and Sinatra asked Bell for clarification.
Without knowing it, Bell was ahead of his time in repping and pumping up his city in his music way before it was the norm of many modern acts. At the time, Bell was just trying to give Texas a better reputation following the assassination of JFK.
“It’s just one of those songs,” says Bell of his hit that he collaborated on with contributions from the TSU Tornadoes. “Tighten Up” went on to burn up the charts not only in Houston, but reaching number one on the Billboard Charts for R&B and Pop categories.
As “Tighten Up” was blowing up, Bell was stationed in Germany and had a hell of a time trying to get back to the United States to record and perform for two day stints at a time. He went on to be more than a one hit wonder though with Bell recording eight subsequent albums including a solo album when the band dissolved.
When asked how he feels about people still getting down to his song Bell says, “I feel great. I’m just really surprised that people still wanna tighten up. “Tighten Up” is just as big now as it was then.”
For a man who has been performing since he was ten years old, the past two years of the pandemic have been a real change of pace. “Longest time sitting still,” says Bell who is looking forward to being back inside the Continental Club. “I ain’t been doing nothing before a year done gone by.”
“I feel great. I’m just really surprised that people still wanna tighten up. “Tighten Up” is just as big now as it was then.”
Bell’s family and friends put out a statement on his health after his stroke in March and asked for people to write Bell letters if they wished to contact him. In a testament to Bell’s good nature and positive impact on the world, Bell received an overwhelming response.
“I’m still reading them,” says Bell. “I’m still opening letters from people all over the world. It’s been really great. It really surprised me.”
Bell’s friendship with The Continental Club goes way back to the beginnings of the club in 2000. Gordon describes how it was Roy Head, who we sadly lost last year, who suggested they bring in Bell for a weekend of Texas legends.
“We just started doing it every year around Archie’s birthday time. We do the weekend and put on a big show, those nights were incredible,” says Gordon.
“The one night we had the Wild Men of Rock and Soul with Little Joe Washington, Andre Williams, Archie Bell and Roy Head was an incredible weekend. Seeing all those guys hanging out, talking and telling stories backstage was some of the highlights of my musical career. Just listening and being a part of those conversations was incredible.”
“Roy is just like my brother,” says Bell solemnly. “When he passed away, it really upset me.” The two had been engaging in friendly competition since their youth, be it in sports teams, talent shows or later on in life, on the charts and stages.
Bell has used this time to work on some of his gospel songs, which have been a long running project that he is excited to share with his audience as it will be his first Christian recordings. He also has begun focusing on writing his memoir, which is sure to be a delight for any music fan as Bell's career has spanned some of the best decades of American music.
“As long as I've been doing this stuff, it's been a hard turnaround,” says Bell. “I’ve been doing this a long time and I come this far, there ain't no sense in giving it up now. Everybody else already retired, but I'm still working at it.”
The Archie Bell Birthday Bash and Tighten Up Telethon will take place on Sunday, September 5 online and can be streamed through the Continental Club's Facebook and YouTube and Archie Bell's Facebook at 7 p.m. Donations are suggested at a $10 minimum and can be made here.