Thom Bell, 79, an architect of The Sound of Philadelphia, has passed away.
During the 1970s, Thom Bell gained international renown as a producer, arranger, and songwriter for the Delfonics, Stylistics, and Spinners.
With the “Mighty Three”, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Bell established The Sound of Philadelphia (TSOP), which, with its signature orchestral arrangements, became one of the most dominant sounds of the early and mid 1970s.
Originally trained as a classical musician, Thom Bell sang with Gamble as a teenager in Philadelphia. It was Cameo Records in Philadelphia that gave him his first big break. Two singles were produced by him for the Delfonics in 1967. Bell’s production skills led to several hits for the group, including “La-La (Means I Love You)” and “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)“.
He arranged some of the early big hits on the Philadelphia International Records label founded by Gamble and Huff in 1971, including the O’Jays’ “Back Stabbers“. He also helped set up Mighty Three Music, a music publishing company, with the two.
Thom Bell’s next local group was The Stylistics, this time on Avco Records. In collaboration with Philly-born songwriter Linda Creed and Russell Thompkins, Jr., lead singer of the Stylistics, three albums were produced. It was Bell and Creed who composed hits like “Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)“, “You Are Everything“, “Betcha by Golly, Wow“, “Break Up to Make Up“, and “I’m Stone in Love with You” (with Anthony Bell).
Thom Bell produced The Spinners for Atlantic Records in 1972. Formerly with Motown Records, the group joined Atlantic after not getting the attention they wanted. A seven-year collaboration and eight original albums followed. A Grammy award for Best Producer of the Year was given to Bell in 1974 for rejuvenating the group with gold albums, including the singles “I’ll Be Around“, “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love“, “Games People Play“, and “The Rubberband Man“.
As well as Elton John, Teddy Pendergrass, Deniece Williams, and Johnny Mathis, he collaborated with many other artists. Also among the artists who Bell worked with were Dionne Warwick, Lou Rawls, Little Anthony and the Imperials, and Dusty Springfield. According to Wikipedia, the category for Bell’s songs spans over 35 pages, and includes cuts such as The Fugee’s 1996 megahit, “Ready or Not”, whose chorus is derived from Delfonic’s “Ready or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide from Love)“.
However, Thom Bell is responsible for a large number of Philly soul hits.
“Tommy and I have been best friends for over 60 years,” Gamble said in a statement. “When we first met, we decided to start writing songs together and form a singing duo ‘Kenny and Tommy’ and then our band ‘The Romeos.’ Leon Huff and I were proud to have him as part of our Mighty Three music writing team, which helped create our signature brand of TSOP. He was a great talent and my dear friend. The name of Gamble Huff and Bell will last forever. Rest in peace buddy!”
According to Huff: ”Thom Bell was my favorite musician, arranger, songwriter and music producer of all time! It was my esteem honor and pleasure to work with him creatively and as a business partner. Rest in peace.”
Music industry veteran Dyana Williams posted on Instagram: wrote: “Classic, award winning songwriter arranger and producer, frequent collaborator of lyricist, Linda Creed, Thomas Randolph Bell aka Thom Bell has transitioned. One of the architects of The Sound of Philadelphia TSOP, Mighty Three music, partner of Gamble & Huff. Soundtrack to our lives with music from The Stylistics, The Delfonics, The Spinners, Denice Williams, Dionne Warwick, Johnny Mathis. As a member of our extended family, heartfelt love to Thom’s immediate family, friends and music lovers of his classic songs.”