T. D. Bell was born Tyler D. Bell in Lee County, Texas, on December 26, 1922. His grandfather was a musician who started him out on the banjo when he was a child, then he began to play guitar while in the army. After World War II, he tried to imitate his idol, T-Bone Walker, with songs such as "Bobby Socks Baby." This later earned him the nickname of “Little T-Bone.” At the time of his death, Bell was the last of the three great blues musicians who ruled East Austin in the 1950s along with the Grey Ghost (Roosevelt Williams) and Erbie Bowser.
In the 1940s Bell played in the Rockdale/Taylor area with Roosevelt T. Williams. He worked at an aluminum plant in Rockdale in the late 1940s before quitting his job to relocate to Austin and work as a full-time musician by 1950. Club owner Johnny Holmes had urged him to move to Austin to play at the Victory Grill, and Bell became a regular feature there, helping to found and define a developing Austin blues scene. He also toured as far as Arizona and New Mexico with his new group, T. D. Bell and The Cadillacs, which included A. J. Manor, W. C. Clark, Willie Sampson, and George Underwood. They shared the stage with T-Bone Walker, B. B. King, Bobby Bland, Gatemouth Brown, and others.
With the decline of Austin’s East Side entertainment scene in the 1970s, Bell left the music business and developed a successful trucking enterprise. He did not return to the stage until the late 1980s. In 1987 Bell formed the Blues Specialists with Erbie Bowser for a Victory Grill reunion show. A 1992 album with Bowser, It’s About Time, earned a nomination for a W. C. Handy Award, which is a coveted award for blues musicians. In 1994 Bell and Bowser toured their way to Carnegie Hall to play a showcase of Texas music. They also played blues festivals across Texas and were regulars at Austin’s Continental Club.
“His second go-around at music was an honor and a pleasure for him,” daughter Melony Bell said. “He couldn’t have asked for anything better.” T. D. performed his usual Friday happy hour show at the Continental Club right up to his admission into the hospital in December 1998 when he was diagnosed with cancer. He died on January 9, 1999. He was buried at Cook-Walden Capital Parks Cemetery in Austin and was survived by his wife Virgie (whom he had married on February 15, 1954), four daughters, and two sons. In 2009 Bell was inducted into the Austin Music Memorial.
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Austin American–Statesman, January 15, 1999. . “Austin Music Memorial,” Texas Music Office (http://governor.state.tx.us/music/tour/austin-music-memorial), accessed September 7, 2015. Greg Beets, “T. D. Bell,” Austin Chronicle: Austin Music Database (http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/AMDB/Profile?oid=oid:501224), accessed April 22, 2009. Fuller Up: The Dead Musician Directory, “T. D. Bell” (http://elvispelvis.com/tdbell.htm), accessed April 22, 2009.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Clayton T. Shorkey,
“Bell, Tyler D. [T. D.],”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 20, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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