Google+ Badge

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Archie Bell "Tightens Up" and "Dances As Good As He Wants"

I wondered how many rock music artists had actually served in Vietnam. I remembered Gary Lewis (of Gary Lewis and the Playboys), son of comedic icon Jerry Lewis, had served in Vietnam. I have never heard much about what Lewis did during the war. And, I wondered how many other musical artists had been in the war. I was surprised to find little information on the subject; however, what I found out about one artist is a story within itself.

Let me give you this "story," which gives credence to being careful to believing what you read on Internet sites that may be deemed credible. And, hey, let me assure you that my little blog entry may not report all the facts. So, research it yourself. But, let's get on with the story and "tighten up" a little.

Archie Bell

Born in Henderson, Texas, on September 1, 1944, Archie Bell grew up in Houston in a household that included seven brothers, including All-American football star Ricky Bell. His mother, Ruthie Bell, sang gospel and made sure her sons were involved in church-based activities. Because of his mother, Archie began singing in church at an early age.

"I don't read or write music, but what I have is God's gift," he said. As a youngster, he watched legendary singers Esther Phillips, Bobby Blue Bland and Gatemouth Brown and attended traveling shows. He would save up $3 to see 10 acts in one show.

At age 10, Bell was singing in nightclubs. In junior high, Bell joined a vocal group called Little Pop & the Fireballs, and Bell's success evidently had very early beginnings. 

"When I saw Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke perform I said to myself, at age 12, I wanted to be a professional singer," Bell said. "I didn't know anything about the pitfalls that go with the business of music." 

Archie Bell's musical career began to burgeon in 1966 when he formed The Drells with four high school friends. The Drells won several local talent shows, and they were discovered by local DJ Skipper Lee Frazier, who became their manager and producer.

n junior high, he joined a vocal group called Little Pop & the Fireballs, and formed the Drells in high school with friends James Wise, Huey "Billy" Butler, and Joe Cross (later replaced by Willie Pernell). The Drells won several local talent shows, performing a repertoire dominated by Chicago soul, and were discovered by local DJ Skipper Lee Frazier, who became their manager and producer.
Read more at Drells won several local talent shows, performing a repertoire dominated by Chicago soul, and were discovered by local DJ Skipper Lee Frazier, who became their manager and producer.
Soon, Archie Bell and The Drells were enjoying regional success with the single “She’s My Woman, She’s My Girl.”
But, in early 1967, Uncle Sam called upon Archie Bell to serve his country. “I went down to the draft board to take my physical and the next thing I knew I was on a bus to boot camp in Louisiana,” Archie Bell reminisced in the book All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music. “I didn’t even have time to call my mother,” Archie Bell said.

While on a short leave, he recorded the single "Dog Eat Dog" with musical backing by The TSU Tornadoes, an instrumental R&B combo from Texas Southern University. The B-side was a dance tune called "Tighten Up." The record was issued in December 1967, and "Tighten Up" became a huge hit in Houston.

 Bell said that his roommate, Billy Butler of the Drells, inspired the infectious dance tune.
"He came in and did a little dance. I said, 'What are you doing?' and he said, 'I’m doing the Tighten Up.' We used  'Tighten Up' just like we would 'Word Up' or 'Right On,' you know, it was a slang word: 'I’ll see you later brother, tighten up.' So when he did the little dance, I said, 'Tighten Up.' That’s really unique and I got my pen and started writing."
Bell told what made the song unique:

"This was the first song where every player got a solo. We wanted to get that whole 
house party feel. That’s what we’d do down in the Fifth Ward, have these big parties 
at somebody’s house and just jam all night. Everybody would form a circle and two 
people would have like a dance-off in the middle. All the dancers would kick in a 
buck and whoever was the best dancer would win the pot."

Bell maintains the spoken intro to the song was in response to hearing a deejay say, after President Kennedy’s assassination that nothing good came out of Texas. Bell wanted “people to know that Archie Bell & the Drells were from Texas and [that we] were good.” Here is that spoken intro:

"Hi everybody. I'm Archie Bell of the Drells of Houston, Texas. We don't
only sing but we dance just as good as we want. In Houston we just started a
new dance called the 'Tighten Up.' This is the music we tighten up with."

The song was eventually picked up for distribution by New York-based Atlantic Records. "Tighten Up" took the country by storm in early 1968. By May 27, 1968, the song hit number one on both the pop and R&B charts, moving an astounding 3 million copies.

Accolades for the song piled up over the years. Later Austin’s veteran rock critic Michael Corcoran placed it at Number 12 on his own list of the “Best Texas Recordings Ever.” The song ranked #265 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and has been called one of the earliest funk music hits by music aficionados.

As for Archie Bell, he had the unique experience of seeing his song skyrocket while serving in the U.S. military.

“I said, ‘Hey everybody! That’s me singing’ but nobody believed me,” Archie Bell said. “They figured I was shell-shocked, crazy. The next time the song came on the radio they heard me say, ‘Hi everybody. I’m Archie Bell of The Drells of Houston, Texas,’ and then some of them went, ‘hmmm, maybe it is him.'”

"I don't know how it feels to have a hot record in the states," Bell told an interviewer in 2007, "because I could only come home on leaves to record the album."

Here is where the bio gets very interesting. Sources "confirm" different tales.

It is written: Bell learned of the song's success while recovering from wounds suffered in Vietnam. He had been shot in the leg on the battlefield during the 1968 Tet Offensive.

Meanwhile, several promoters took advantage of Bell's absence to send fake Archie Bell & the Drells lineups out on the road. With the real Archie Bell out of the picture, several fake Archie Bell and the Drells cropped up, including one phony, all-white Archie Bell and the Drells group.

With Atlantic requesting a full album, he began traveling to and from the States on leave.

But, Doug Bradley, former director of communications for the University of Wisconsin System and Vietnam veteran claims that the "real story" is that "Tighten Up" was picked up by Atlantic Records for national distribution – all while Bell was stationed in Germany. Bell was not in Vietnam.

Some sources write yet another version of foreign war service. Archie Bell said by the time he got to Vietnam in late 1970, the word was that he had died from wounds he'd sustained in Vietnam, much like the (false) rumor that Jerry Mathers of Leave It To Beaver fame had died in combat.

Eventually, the Beaver-dying-in Vietnam-myth was debunked, but in the era before the Internet. Doug Bradley remained unconvinced about Archie Bell until he visited The Wall in Washington, D.C.

Bradley says this:

"Standing in front of Panel 25W Line 61, I looked at the name and realized my obsession had been with Arthur Bell, a white man from Mississippi, who wasn't the guy who sang Tighten Up after all.

"The real Archie Bell was never in Vietnam, was never wounded ('Nah, man, I never saw any combat,' he says) and was discharged from the Army in 1969. His oldest brother fought in Vietnam, as did every member of his unit from basic training. Archie came back to a long, prosperous musical career and still gets to perform 'Tighten Up.'

"Sadly, Specialist 4 Arthur Frederick Bell was killed by small arms fire in Binh Dinh, South Vietnam, in May 1969. He was 23 years old. That's old by Vietnam demographics, but it's still a life cut short too soon. He probably watched Leave it to Beaver and listened to 'Tighten Up.' But Arthur Frederick Bell and more than 58,000 others never got to come home."

(Doug Bradley. "Tighten Up." The Huffington Post. August 03, 2012)

Urban legends and unconfirmed reports run rampant on the Internet. The differing details in the biography of Archie Bell is proof. One of my favorite sites about songs is "Songfacts." Check out what the site says about "Tighten Up" by clicking here:

It really doesn't make any difference whether Archie Bell served in Vietnam or was wounded in battle. The story of "Tighten Up" is enjoyable reading for rock enthusiasts. Bell recorded a great song that is still popular. Maybe myth is just part of living with war. Doug Bradley uses these words to explain:

"Our youth, our innocence and our music were all succumbing to Vietnam, much like we were.
And while there was some truth in that -- Michael Herr, author of the great Vietnam journalism book Dispatches, is quoted as saying that "Vietnam is what we had instead of happy childhoods," there was a lot of urban myth/legend in that belief, too. And why is that?

"I think some of it has to do with that visceral loss of innocence that I mention above, but some of it also has to do with the relevancy of that old saying 'misery loves company.' Trying to survive 365 days in Vietnam in 1970-71, I, like thousands upon thousands of my fellow GIs, was scared and miserable. So I took comfort in the fact that a person who is miserable can find solace in other people who share their feelings. This is the basis of some forms of group therapy -- when you realize you are not the only one feeling the way you feel, well, you don't feel so bad.

"And how better to share that misery than with idols like The Beaver and Archie Bell?"

(Doug Bradley. "Tighten Up." The Huffington Post. August 03, 2012)

Post a Comment