Blues is the teacher. Punk is the preacher. It’s all about emotion and energy, experience and raw talent, spirit and intellect. Exciting things happen when these things collide. Bob and Lisa made the BellRays happen in 1991 but they weren’t really thinking about any of this then. They wanted to play music and they wanted it to feel good. They wanted people to WANT to get up, to NEED to get up and check out what was going on. Form an opinion. React. So they took everything they knew about; the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, the Who, the Ramones, Billie Holiday, Lou Rawls, Hank Williams, the DB’s, Jimmy Reed, Led Zeppelin, to name a very few and pressed it into service.
It was never about coming up with a ‘sound’, or fitting in with a scene. It was about the energy that made all that music so irresistible. It was the history BEFORE Led Zeppelin that led them to that point. The Beatles thought they were playing R&B. It just came out like ‘Rubber Soul’. The Ramones were trying to be Del Shannon or Neil Sedaka and out came ‘Rocket to Russia’. With the BellRays there was no conscious effort to ‘combine’ rock and soul because they didn’t see them as divided in the first place. Blues was teaching. Punk was preaching. The BellRays were always listening.
The BellRays have been working in the here and now for the last decade and a half, emphasizing commitment over concept, passion over pose. The group has its roots in Riverside, California, where Guitarist Bob Vennum and singer Kekaula grew up. They recruited Fate, an Indiana native who’d moved to the west coast, from another band on the Inland Empire bar scene, and Vennum switched to bass to accommodate him. “When we got together,” recalled Vennum, “we played one song and realized this stuff was going to be really, really good.” They released their first album, the R&B-laden In the Light of the Sun, on their own do-it-yourself label, via cassette. When these sought-after songs were finally reissued on CD, Rolling Stone called the work “lightning in a bottle...a mighty exhilarating ride.” The BellRays went through several drummers before Craig Waters permanently took over the spot.
“If the BellRays can do anything for music,” Kekaula says, “it’s to dispel the idea that if you see a black singer that means she grew up singing gospel, she’s the soul element of a band that has white guys in it. Because that’s not the way it is. We’ve all got rock, we’ve all got soul, and all of us coming together to do that is what makes us sound the way we sound.”