Guitarist Drake Bell wasn't made for these times.
The actor/musician, best known for his work as teenage rocker Drake Parker on the Nickelodeon TV show Drake & Josh, actually grew up listening to the likes of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, the Beatles and Stray Cats.
On Bell's new album, Ready Steady Go!, he pays homage to those roots by teaming with one of his biggest musical influences — Brian Setzer — for a tastefully inspired collection of classic rockabilly favorites and new material.
In addition to Bell's catchy original, "Bitchcraft" are his take on songs like "Crazy Little Thing Called Love (Queen)", "Still Rock And Roll To Me (Billy Joel)" and a haunting version of Setzer's own "I Won't Stand In Your Way".
I recently spoke to Bell about Ready Steady Go!, his guitar work and more.
GUITAR WORLD: What made you decided to do a project like this?
This is the music I grew up on. My first guitar was a Gretsch 6120, and I just loved listening to artists like Elvis, Chuck Berry and Stray Cats. But when I wanted to go make records, it was hard. I couldn't really be on the show [Drake & Josh] and then go in and do a three-piece rockabilly-type record of Fifties music.
How did the collaboration with Brian Setzer come about?
I've been a fan of Brian's for such a long time and had the opportunity to go backstage and meet him from time to time. It got to the point to where I started becoming a familiar face backstage. I still remember when I first presented the idea for this album to him. He was confused at first and said, "Wait a minute — you mean you want to make a rockabilly record?" [laughs]. I said "Yeah, this is what I've always wanted to do!"
What was your criteria for choosing songs for ‘Ready Steady Go!’?
It was really about songs I loved playing and singing growing up. What's really cool is that younger audiences seem to think that a lot of these songs are new. It's given me the opportunity to introduce this great music to a new generation without them thinking I'm just trying to play them their grandparents' music. They're embracing it as their own.
What was it like working with Brian?
It's hard to explain the feeling. It was breathtaking. Just to be sitting there playing a song I wrote and having Brian there with his gear in the room playing live with us was unreal.
What's the origin of the song "Bitchcraft"?
I grew up loving and playing this music but had never attempted to write in this style before. I remember I was listening to some old Django [Reinhardt] and Glenn Miller and just jamming around when the lick came to me. I don't think it's about anyone specifically. It's just an amalgamation of the relationships I've been through. But it was my first attempt at writing that jazzy, swing-influenced rockabilly.
Do you have plans to tour?
We're working on a few things outside of the country right now as well as doing some mall dates and children's hospitals here in the U.S. Then we'll be gearing up to tour sometime this summer.
Tell me a little about your musical background.
I started playing music when I was around 10. I always wanted to be in a band, so I started out by playing drums. I played with a few groups but always remember wanting to be performing out in front of the band.
What inspired you to make the switch to guitar?
I had the opportunity to do a movie with Roger Daltrey of the Who. In the movie, I played a guitar student. Since I had to learn how to play somewhat for the movie, I was introduced to the guitar. When I picked up the guitar for the first time, it opened up a whole new world for me. I became obsessed with writing and playing. That's really how it started.
Who were some of your influences?
In addition to Brian, I love George Harrison, Carl Perkins, Brian May, Danny Gatton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. My dad was also a huge influence on me growing up. I remember we would sit in front of the TV and he would show me all of this classic stuff: The Beatles on Ed Sullivan and Elvis on Milton Berle. Then we'd get in the car and would listen to the Beach Boys, Beatles and Buddy Holly. I fell in love with that style of music and culture. It opened up my whole musical world.
What other projects are you working on?
I have a movie coming out for Nickelodeon called A Fairly Odd Summer. It's the third installment of the Fairly Oddparents movies. We've been taking the cartoon and making it live action.
You also do the voice of Peter Parker on the animated Ultimate Spider-Man. What's that like?
It's amazing. I get to go in and work alongside some of the greatest vocal talents of all time. People I grew up listening to. Then to have a legend like Stan Lee come in to do voice overs with us is just unbelievable.
What satisfies you the most about Ready Steady Go!?
Honestly, it’s got to be putting the record on and listening to "I Won't Stand In Your Way" with Brian's guitar up against my vocal. I still remember listening to his original version on vinyl as a kid and just wearing the needle out by playing it over and over.
We recently pressed the new album to vinyl and I just got a test copy. Since I still have the same record player I had when I was 15, I set it down, put the needle on and started listening to "I Won't Stand in Your Way." It was a surreal moment. If you had told me back then that this was going to happen one day, I never would have believed it. Having the opportunity to go to Nashville and make a record with one of my biggest influences is a dream come true.
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Photo Credit: Drake Bell