The music business is crowded with Bell Boys, as if instead of the whole world being a stage, it was a hotel lobby. The most worthy musical combo with this name would have to be the late-'30s country & western band, one of the historic super groups of the genre and one that was functioning early enough in the game to present both country and cowboy material without appearing corny or retro-hat. Country star Johnny Bond, whose voice is like the view from the bottom of a well, first formed the group in Oklahoma in 1937 with two great musical sidekicks, Jimmy Wakely and Scotty Harrell. The combination tried out a few different names, but were ordered to ring in as the Bell Boys by none other than Bell Clothing Store, sponsors of a series of live broadcasts featuring the band over WKY radio in Oklahoma City and on KVOO in Tulsa. As the group slowly begin building up a following, the Bell Boys decided to make it something of a band mission to connect with the big cowboy star Gene Autry, who seemed to be circling around them on some kind of an endless tour that regularly zipped in and out of the plains states.
Autry was promoting yet another of his formula oaters, the pompously titled "Rancho Grande." As the legend goes, the Bell Boys were so eager for a chance to yabber about lariats, limping horses, and other cowboy lore with Autry that they began following him from town to town like some kind of cross between a musical posse and a stalker. Finally, their big chance came: the day that Autry was booked into the Crystal Theater in Okemah, OK. The Bell Boys managed to reach Autry and invited the cowboy star onto their local radio show, never expecting that he would agree, and certainly not expecting that he would encourage the trio to look him up if it ever got out to Hollywood. Show business is full of these types of invitations turning out to be hollow, but in the case of Autry, he put not only the Bell Boys but their family members to work upon their relocation to Hollywood in 1940. The Bell Boys had quite a good part in the Roy Rogers' film Saga of Death Valley, and eventually evolved into the house band on Melody Ranch, Autry's classic radio show. In 1940, Decca signed the Bell Boys to a recording contract. Bond continued his close association with Autry, providing classic lead guitar moments on the original recording of "Happy Trails." With the addition of Reinhart, the band evolved into the Jimmy Wakely Trio and continued successfully with this name, forever after avoiding the confusing Bell Boys stigma. There was even an Egyptian combo of this name led by Wagdi Francis. Tony Light led a combo called the Bell Boys, and there were several hit ska records by Freddie Bell & the Bellboys. The Bell Boys Steel Orchestra was the first steel band formed by Phil Solomon; the Bell Boys was also a Dutch rhythm & blues outfit formed by bandleader Harry Koster which would eventually evolve into the Black Dynamites. Yet another Bell Boys cut "It's Too Late Now," in New York in the '50s, and this time it was early doo wop being recorded. But the name of the song did not apply to the subject of choosing a band name -- the record was actually released under the name of the Manhatten Mellotones. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi