Born Vincent Gambella in New York City, the artist who would become Vincent Bell began playing guitar as a youngster and as a teenager was already jamming with the likes of Tony Mottola.
His career is loaded with apocrypha, such as the possibility that he invented a “wah-wah” pedal in the ‘50s. Whatever the truth, it is a fact that Vincent Bell was an innovator who created several stringed instruments, including an electric sitar, which you may have heard on Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold” and the Lemon Pipers’ “Green Tambourine”. He also invented a twelve-string electric guitar and the bellzouki, which is a bouzouki enhanced with electronic effects.
Vincent’s spacey style of guitar playing helped shape the sonic panorama of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Some good examples of songs on which he left his indelible stamp are: the dreamy theme of Midnight Cowboy, which he recorded with Ferrante & Teicher, who took it to the top ten in 1969; the “Airport Love Theme” which bears an album of the same name; and, the distinct guitar plucking that encouraged the ambling rhythm section on “Can’t Take My Eyes off of You” by Frankie Valli and “Walk on By” by Dionne Warwick.
The list of hit songs on which he played reads like a Reader’s Digest record offer, but here is at least a partial list, and many of these are instantly recognizable for their unique guitar sounds and stylings: The Angels’ “My Boyfriend’s Back”, The Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar”, Debby Boone’s “You Light up My Life”, Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman”, The Exciters’ “Tell Him”, Inez Foxx’s “Mockingbird”, Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me”, Gary Lewis & the Playboys’ “This Diamond Ring”, Little Anthony & the Imperials’ “Goin out of My Head”, Little Peggy March’s “I Will Follow Him”, The McCoys’ “Hang on Sloopy”, Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now”, Peaches & Herb’s “Reunited”, Ruby & the Romantics’ “Our Day Will Come”, Sgt. Barry Sadler’s “The Ballad of the Green Berets”, Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence”, Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York”, and Mary Wells’ “My Guy”.
In 1968, he appeared on the soundtrack of Barbarella, and in 1969, began a creative partnership with Frank Sinatra that lasted at least until the issue of 1979’s Trilogy. Other artists with whom he recorded in the ‘70s include Rupert Holmes and Bob Dylan. His own albums include Whistle Stop (partially arranged by Claus Ogerman) and Pop Goes the Electric Sitar, which fetches something like fifty bucks on eBay.
The National Academy of Recording Arts and Science’s New York chapter gave him their MVP award seven times for his work on electric guitar, and in the 1980s, bestowed upon him their Emeritus award.
In the 1990s, he continued to get more film work, performing on the soundtracks of Bugsy, Everyone Says I Love You, The Mambo Kings, Naked in New York, and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.
A couple of latter-day CD re-packagings that feature Vincent’s unique guitar technique are Rated X for Excitement by Ron Frangipane & His Orchestra and Neil Sedaka’s Oh Carol: The Complete Recordings 1956-1966.
Barry Sadler recordings
The Ballad of the Green Berets (Robin Moore/Barry Sadler)
Simon & Garfunkel recordings
The Sounds of Silence (Paul Simon)
Frank Sinatra recordings
That’s What God Looks Like To Me (Stan Irvin/Lan O’Kun)
Reprise RPS 49233 (XNY2101S) (US 45)
Theme from “New York, New York” (Fred Ebb/John Kander)
Reprise RPS49233 (XNY 2103 S) (US 45)
Here he is promoting his electric sitar…