When watching competitive music shows like X-Factor or American Idol, you expect the contestants are upstart performers. Often this is the case. However, when Seattle-based pop soul-singer Leroy Bell participated in the X-Factor in 2011, the other hopefuls likely didn’t realize what they were up against. The 61-year-old Bell (you read that right — 61, and he could take Lenny Kravitz in a hottie competition any day) has been in the music business since the ’70s.
Bell started his prolific music career by performing in a variety of acts like the Philadelphia band Special Blend and the soul group Bell and James. However, you may know Bell more from what he’s written than what he’s performed; Bell wrote “Mama Can’t Buy You Love” and “Are You Ready for My Love” for Elton John, as well as tunes for the The Temptations, Gladys Knight & The Pips and Rita Marley. In 2003 the Fat Boy Slim remix of “Are You Ready for My Love” went number one in England, and Leroy’s career as a solo act was reignited. Bell’s youthful appearance caused such controversy on X-Factor he offered to release his birth certificate if he reached 100,000 followers on Twitter.
Bell’s discography, like Two Sides to Every Story (2006) and his 2012 release Rock ‘N Soul, blends classic folk and soul influences like Otis Redding and Richie Havens with pure 12-string-guitar-drenched romantic pop and R&B songwriting recalling Babyface, Ben Harper, John Legend and even Dave Matthews. Leroy didn’t win X-Factor — he was voted eighth in his age group. For a musician with a resume and career like Bell, to place so low on a reality show certainly says more about today’s process of picking than it does the merits of the performer. His band, His Only Friends, backs Bell with Terry Morgan on bass, Davis Martin on drums and Daniel Walker on keyboard.
Leroy Bell and His Only Friends play with Tyler Fortier 8 pm Saturday, Feb. 2, at WOW Hall; $15 adv., $18 door.