News Column

Listen Up: Archie Bell to perform at Williams Lake Dance Club Reunion Aug. 16

August 15, 2014

By Rodger Mullen, The Fayetteville Observer, N.C.

Aug. 15--When "Tighten Up" topped the pop charts in the spring of 1968, singer Archie Bell was in no position to savor its success.

By that time, Bell had been drafted into the Army and was laid up in a German hospital with a broken leg he suffered in a truck accident.

"My manager called and said, '"Tighten Up" has just gone gold.' I got my transistor and started listening," Bell said. "I said, 'Hey guys, check this out, that's my new hit song.' They said, 'You're telling a lie.' I said, 'No, it's the truth.'"

More than 46 years after its release, "Tighten Up" by Archie Bell and the Drells remains a classic. Rolling Stone magazine ranked it No. 270 on its list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

Bell will be singing that song, along with other Drells hits including "There's Gonna Be a Showdown," Saturday at the Williams Lake Dance Club Reunion.

The 7 p.m. concert also features Danny Woods, formerly a member of the Chairmen of the Board; the Ginger Thompson Band; and North Tower. The concert is held each year to commemorate the dance club, a popular music Sampson County music spot where acts such as Jackie Wilson and Martha and the Vandellas once performed.

A generation of radio listeners still recalls "Tighten Up" fondly. It's a simple, up-tempo number memorable for Bell's spoken word intro: "Hi everybody, I'm Archie Bell of the Drells from Houston, Texas. We don't only sing, but we dance just as good as we want."

Bell, 69, still lives in Houston, and also has a house in Winston-Salem. He said the song came about in part because of Texas' reputation in the '60s.

"I heard a DJ saying, 'Nothing good every comes from Texas' because of the Kennedy assassination," Bell said in a telephone interview from his Houston home. "I wanted people to know that something good did come from Texas."

"Tighten Up" refers to a saying the members of the Drells had at the time.

"We'd say, 'See you later, brother, tighten up,'" Bell said. "We used it as a slang word, like 'word up' or 'right on.'"

Later, Bell said, Drells member Billy Butler improvised a dance he called the "Tighten Up."

Bell said he got his draft notice before "Tighten Up" was recorded. As depressed as he was to be shipping out and leaving his budding music career behind, Bell said he wanted to record a positive song before he left.

"I wanted to do music that would uplift people and get them dancing," Bell said. "I started out doing blues, and I had enough of the blues."

Bell said his fellow soldiers at first refused to believe he was the voice behind a No. 1 record of the time. He said they only started believing when a newspaper profile referred to him as "the richest G.I. since Elvis."

"After that, I had an entourage like you wouldn't believe," he said.

Although many media accounts say Bell was in Vietnam when "Tighten Up" broke, Bell said he was never in that country.

Bell said he still performs more than 100 days a year. His Army service proved to be a positive in that he has friends and fans all over the world.

"Tighten Up" continues to be Bell's calling card -- "If I don't do it, they'd run me out of town," he said. Over the years, Bell has recorded different versions of his signature song, including one with a guest rapper on an upcoming CD.

But Bell said the song is just one number in what he promises will be an energetic show.

"When I come on, the party's on," he said. "I always get the people riled up and the party started. That's why I'm still performing."

Staff writer Rodger Mullen can be reached at or 486-3561.


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Source: Fayetteville Observer (NC)

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