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  • Born

    28 July 1935

  • Born In

    Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Minnesota, United States

  • Died

    3 October 2019 (aged 84)

Vinnie Bell (Vincent Gambella, Brooklyn, NY, USA, 28 July 1935 - 3 October 2019) was an American session guitarist, and pioneer of electronic effects in pop music.

He played in nightclubs in New York City in the late 1950s. His first hit was in 1962 as a member of the band The Ramrods, whose version of (Ghost) Riders in the Sky made the UK top 10 and US top 40 in 1961.

By 1962, Bell decided to devote his energies to working as a studio musician in New York and Los Angeles, developing a "watery" guitar sound popular in instrumental recordings in the 1960s. He also invented a number of electric guitar models, including the first electric 12-string guitar, and the electric sitar, which was used, not necessarily by Bell, on such hits as "Cry Like a Baby" by The Box Tops, "Green Tambourine" by The Lemon Pipers, and a cover of the love theme from the 1970 film, Airport. The last of these sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc. It also won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition in 1971, while Bell was nominated for Best Instrumental Performance.

As well as being notable for his technical innovations, Bell worked extensively as a session player, playing on tracks such as "The Sounds of Silence" by Simon & Garfunkel and for artists such as The Four Seasons and Bob Dylan.

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Vinnie Bell among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.


The Soundtronic Guitar of Vincent Bell (1959)
Whistle Stop (Verve, 1964)
Big Sixteen Guitar Favorites (Musicor, 1965)
Pop Goes the Electric Sitar (Decca, 1967)
Good Morning Starshine (Decca, 1969)
Airport Love Theme (Decca, 1970)
"Airport Love Theme" (US # 31, 1970; AC # 2, 1970)
"Nikki" (1970) Did not chart

As sideman
With Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones Explores the Music of Henry Mancini (Mercury, 1964)
With Les McCann

Les McCann Plays the Hits (Limelight, 1966)
With Clark Terry

Mumbles (Mainstream, 1966)

One of the two or three greatest guitar geeks of the Space Age Pop era, Vinnie Bell will go down in musical history as the inventor of the "watery" guitar sound that was a big fad in instrumental recordings of the late 1960s. Used most prominently on Ferrante and Teicher's 1969 Top Ten cover of the theme to "Midnight Cowboy," the effect became perhaps the most-copied technique among guitarists until the wah-wah pedal became standard equipment in the 1970s. Actually, Bell can probably take credit for the wah-wah pedal, too, as there is evidence that he built them as far back as the early 1950s. Constantly experimenting with home-made electronic devices to modify or distort electric guitar effects, Bell played on somewhere around a gazillion studio sessions in New York and Los Angeles throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

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