Eric Bell may not have been present for Thin Lizzy's best-known and most successful era (the mid- to late '70s), but he was there for the group's formation as a founding member. Born on September 3, 1947 in Belfast, Ireland, Bell played guitar throughout the '60s for several local bands (including Them and John Farrell & the Dreams), but paid the bills by working as a street gas-lamp lighter, and in both pickle and shirt factories. One night in 1969, Bell caught a gig by another local Irish outfit, Orphanage, which featured bassist/singer Phil Lynott and drummer Brian Downey. Soon after, Bell relocated to Dublin, where he joined up with the others to form Thin Lizzy.
Bell's bluesy, Hendrix-esque leads were perfect for the hard rock direction that both Lynott and Downey sought for their new outfit, which led to a recording contract with the Deram label. Three albums followed in as many years — 1971's self-titled debut, 1972's Shades of a Blue Orphanage, and 1973's Vagabonds of the Western World — the latter of which contained a pair of early Lizzy classics, "Whiskey in the Jar" and "The Rocker." Bell, Lynott, and Downey also issued an additional recording in 1973 under the alias of Funky Junction, the self-explanatory A Tribute to Deep Purple. But Bell became unhappy with Lizzy's more streamlined musical direction (he longed for the early days of free-form jamming). After single-handedly sabotaging an important hometown Dublin gig with unpredictable and drunken behavior, the guitarist was sacked.
The fast-paced life of being in a rock band had taken its toll on Bell, who had to take a break from being in a band for several years. But a few years later (by which time Lizzy had become a worldwide hit with a pair of replacement guitarists, Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham), Bell was ready to play music again. When ex-Jimi Hendrix Experience bassist Noel Redding launched a solo career during the middle of the decade, Bell signed on as the project's guitarist, playing on such releases as 1975's Clonakilty Cowboys and 1976's Blowin' before moving on. For the remainder of the '70s, Bell appeared on such obscure recordings as a self-titled release by Brush Shiels and a Phil Lynott-produced single for Ron McQuinn. With his differences between his former Lizzy bandmates long settled, Bell reunited with Lynott and Downey for a one-off flexi-single for a Euro magazine, "Song for Jimi," and even joined Lizzy on-stage for a night during the group's final tour in 1983 (documented on the double-disc set Life).
The early '80s also saw Bell attempt to launch his own group, the Eric Bell Band. But aside from a four-track EP in 1981, the group failed to get off the ground. Bell then joined up with blues-rockers Mainsqueeze (playing on their 1983 release, International Blues Rock Revue), who also briefly backed Bo Diddley during a European tour in 1984, and appeared on the subsequent live Diddley recording, Hey Bo Diddley/In Concert (aka "Bo Diddley/Screamin' Jay Hawkins"). Bell began performing again under the name of the Eric Bell Band during the late '90s, eventually issuing such recordings as 2001's Live Tonite...Plus!, 2008's Irish Boy, and 2010's Lonely Nights in London. In 2016, he returned with the studio effort Exile, which featured original material alongside a cover of Little Richard's "Rip It Up." The following year, Bell was back with Standing at a Bus Stop, which featured more originals as well as covers of Howlin' Wolf's "Back Door Man" and Elvis Presley's "Mystery Train." ~ Greg Prato