Thom Bell, Legendary Philly Soul Producer And Songwriter, Dead At 79

Thom Bell, the legendary Jamaican-born Philadelphian producer, arranger and songwriter that helped pioneer the Philly soul sound in the 1970s, has died at the age of 79. His cause of death has not been disclosed.

Throughout the late ’60s and early ’70s, Bell wrote and produced a number of hits, particularly with the Delfonics, the Stylistics and the Spinners. Some of his most well-known works include the Delfonics’ ‘La-La Means I Love You’, the Stylistics’ ‘Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)’ and ‘You Are Everything’, the Spinners’ ‘Rubberband Man’ and ‘Mama Can’t Buy You Love’ by Elton John.

Alongside Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff as the Mighty Three, Bell is credited with co-creating “The Sound of Philadelphia”. Together, the trio founded Philadelphia International Records in 1971.

As Rolling Stone reports, both of Bell’s longtime collaborators paid tribute to him in a press statement. “Tommy and I have been best friends for over 60 years,” Gamble said. “Leon Huff and I were proud to have him as part of our Mighty Three music writing team, which helped create our signature brand of TSOP. He was a great talent and my dear friend. The name of Gamble Huff and Bell will last forever. Rest in peace buddy!”

In his own statement, Huff added: “Thom Bell was my favorite musician, arranger, songwriter, and music producer of all time. It was my esteemed honor and pleasure to work with him creatively and as a business partner. Rest in peace.”

Bell was born in Jamaica in 1943, but moved to Philadelphia with his family as a child. He played drums and studied classical piano as a child, and performed alongside Gamble in their band the Romeos in his teen years. His first big break came when he began working as a session player and arranger for Cameo Records.

After working with the Delfonics in the late ’60s – including writing and producing the Grammy-winning ‘Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)’ – the early ’70s saw him teaming up with songwriter Linda Creed. Bell and Creed wrote and produced several hits for the Stylistics, including ‘Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)’, ‘You Are Everything’, ‘People Make The World Go Round’, ‘Betcha By Golly, Wow’, ‘I’m Stone In Love With You’ and others.

He also helped revitalise the Spinners following their move to Atlantic Records, producing five gold records for the group. Hits included ‘I’ll Be Around’, ‘Could It Be I’m Falling In Love’, ‘Games People Play’ and ‘Rubberband Man’.

Bell’s other notable works included producing Dionne Warwick‘s 1975 album ‘Track Of The Cat’, collaborating with Deniece Williams in the early 1980s, and working with Elton John on the 1979-released ‘The Thom Bell Sessions’ EP. That EP featured both ‘Mama Can’t Buy You Love’ and the Spinners-backed ‘Are You Ready For Love’.

Among Bell’s accolades, he won Producer of the Year at the Grammy Awards in 1975, and in 2017, was honoured by the Recording Academy at the Grammy Salute to Music Legends. In 2006, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.