To a select few, Luke Bell was one of their favorite underground country artists, despite how elusive he had been over the last few years. To many more now after his tragic passing at age 32 this week, he’s their new favorite discovery in country music, especially as his story has surprisingly gripped the nation. But to a small scene of artists, Luke Bell was a close friend. Bell’s confidant and handler over the last few years was primitive country/ old-time artist artist Matt Kinman. Also part of Luke’s musical family was Appalachian singer, songwriter, flatfoot/clog dancer, and multi-instrumentalist Martha Spencer.
This week has been very bittersweet for Martha. It happened to be that Luke Bell picked the same week to grab everyone’s attention that she was releasing her new album called Wonderland, which also happens to feature Luke Bell appearing on one of the album’s tracks—a rendition of the old traditional “Hesitation Blues.” This was supposed to be Luke Bell’s re-appearance in the recorded space to support his good friend, and it doesn’t deserve to be overshadowed.
“I’m so thankful to everyone that played on the album or helped put it out,” says Martha Spencer. “I feel like recordings can sometimes offer a glimpse of time into some of the people you really love and musical friendships you cherish. My heart is very heavy with the loss of Luke this week, but I’ll always be thankful for his friendship and his voice on this album and videos.”
It was in October of last year that Luke Bell re-emerged after one of his many extended periods of disappearance to perform the Guy Clark song “Dublin Blues” in a live video in the important country music town of Galax, Virginia. Along with the Guy Clark cover, Bell also joined Martha, Matt Kinman, and Billy Hurt for a live version of “Hesitation Blues” down by the water hole. It was one of the last times Luke Bell would be captured in a professionally-made video (see below).
“Forever love to all the wonderful friends who have been willing to share music with me through the years and I’ll miss you forever Luke,” says Martha Spencer, who grew up playing mountain music in the legendary Whitetop Mountain Band. Along with classic compositions such as “Hesitation Blues,” Wonderland by Martha Spencer also features original songs sung by Martha’s distinctly bygone singing style.
Some have been wondering after the passing of Luke Bell if there may be more music from him out there sitting on a shelf somewhere. That is yet to be determined. But it at the moment, his collaboration with Martha Spencer is the last professionally recorded song we have of Luke out there, and we have Martha Spencer to thank for it.
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Those who wish to donate in Luke’s memory can donate to the Luke Bell Memorial Fund via the Christ Episcopal Church, or they are being asked to donate to Music Health Alliance.