By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
The nation is mourning the loss of Luke Bell, a country singer-songwriter whose star was on the rise. But in Wyoming, where his roots lie, Luke Bell is remembered as a charismatic young man who “lit up a room” whenever he entered.
Bell died in Tucson, Arizona earlier this week, the victim of an illness that plagued him in recent years.
The Saving Country Music website was the first to report Bell’s disappearance in late August.
“The public is being asked to keep an eye out for country artist Luke Bell who went missing in Tucson, AZ on Saturday, August 20th,” read a Facebook post by Saving Country Music. “If you have any information, please reach out to fellow artist Matt Kinman or local authorities.”
The same site was the first to report Bell’s death, revealing that the musician had suffered for several years from bipolar disorder.
But a glance at Bell’s Facebook page provides a snapshot of the love his friends and family back home held for the 32-year-old Cody native.
“You were a protector. A confidant. A jokester. An artist,” wrote one childhood friend. “There are so many ways I wish I could have supported you, been there for you in more recent times.”
“Rest easy buddy,” wrote another Cody friend. “You will live on through those who loved you so.”
Bell’s time in the spotlight began playing bars in college, according to fellow Cody musician Kalyn Beasley, who grew up just down the street from Bell.
“Probably like a lot of us musicians, Luke wasn’t super interested in going to class,” Beasley told Cowboy State Daily. “So he kind of took up gigging and playing in bars.”
Beasley said Bell also took up train-hopping while in Laramie, riding the rails to the next town, the next gig, the next adventure.
“There’s people that do that, you know,” Beasley said. “They ride trains, and they write songs about it, and sing old folk songs, and live in an off-the-grid sort of way. And Luke was doing that.”
Bell spent the early part of his music career in Austin, Texas before moving to Nashville, Tennessee in the early 2010s.
“I didn’t know that he was musically gifted until he came back from living in Austin,” said high school friend Mike Vanata. “And he just came back with a plethora of songs that spoke to his storytelling. And I was just blown away.”
Vanata, a videographer based in Laramie, helped Bell with some video projects.
“We probably did maybe eight to ten videos, just performing live,” said Vanata, “and then I did one music video with him, the ‘Where Ya Been’ video.”
Bell released his first Nashville album in 2014, “Don’t Mind If I Do.” In 2016, he was signed to the Thirty Tigers label, releasing his second album, titled simply “Luke Bell,” but then he retreated from the music scene for a few years, although his latest release, “Jealous Guy,” came out in 2021.
“In certain respects, Luke Bell stood in the way of his own success, shirking opportunities for the spotlight and big stages to dig post holes, work carpentry jobs, and play un-promoted shows in dive bars with friends,” the Saving Country Music site posted. “He was too real for the spotlight.”
Ranch Background Influenced Bell’s Music
“I met him through his music,” said Cowboy State Daily columnist Rod Miller. “(He was” playing a song at the Buckhorn (bar in Laramie), and then we sat and started talking about ranch life, kind of being a cowboy in Wyoming.”
Bell knew quite a bit about ranch life. His mother’s family, the Flitners, have run cattle east of Greybull for generations.
“We talked about Wyoming and branding and digging post holes and irrigating,” said Miller. “And snotty broncs that had dumped our ass in the dust.”
Miller said he would run into Bell around Laramie, before Bell took off for parts unknown – but he continued to follow Bell’s career because he loved the authenticity of his music.
“The songs he wrote, there’s no lie or hypocrisy in his lyrics,” said Miller. “And his voice was like this pure 1950’s, straight out of the jukebox, Lefty Frizell – a voice that you just associate with the roots of country western music.”
Media coverage from CNN, MSN, USA Today, and other national news outlets are a testament to Bell’s far-reaching appeal.
“Luke sounded so much different than some of the other country artists at the time who were more progressive,” said Miller. “Luke was really into the foundation stone of country music.”
“He was a real deal traveling troubadour out there on that lost highway,” reads a post by the band Mike and the Moonpies.
But back home in Wyoming, his family and friends mourn much more than just the loss of an up-and-coming musician.
“He was a wild, charismatic and loving guy,” said Vanata. “He brought joy into the room, every time.”