PETER BELL & TEN TEN
Ten Ten in 1986
When It rains: An Oral History
by Pete Crigler
When one says the name Peter Bell, the answer is obviously, 'Huh? Who's that?' But in the state of Virginia, his name was semi-infamous and his rock band Ten Ten briefly scored some notoriety in the eighties with the modest MTV hit "When It Rains." I was always interested in his story and finally decided it needed to be told. After hooking up with several friends and bandmates, I have complied what I hope is the definitive story of a musician who played fast and loose with life but always had a deep passion for rock and roll.
[Peter Bell quotes below courtesy of Mariane Matera.]
Peter Bell moved with his family to Richmond at the age of 14 and started hanging out with several musicians in and out of school. This new environment would help to shape the rest of his life.
Peter Bell: "I was going to be an artist. That was my lifelong ambition, to be a great painter. I went to Open High School. Then I went to the Parson School of Design for one semester, but it didn't work out. I wasn't ready to leave home, and I was too much in love with a girl."
Ira Marlowe (friend, bandmate, The Rage): "I had seen him across the student lounge and was always very curious about him, but we had never even spoken. And through this woman, who remained his girlfriend and broke my heart, the three of us became best friends and we spent sort of a summer paling around together. In sort of classic fashion, where they're a couple and I'm in love with the same girl that he's seeing. But anyway, and then she went up to college and we became best friends and I moved in with his family, basically, for my senior year of high school. Which is a whole other story. And I then ... he was a year younger than me and I joined this cover band. First band I'd ever been in. And some time in there, his mother, I think for his 17th birthday, is near his graduation from Open High. We went off of the Trading Post, which was the used-instrument newspaper, bought this Hagstrom bass for him and I guess at some point, this Traynor bass amp."
"And I pretty much gave him bass lessons from what little I knew and got him started. The idea was that I would groom him into this bass player we needed, 'cause I knew this drummer already and we would start a band. Which is ultimately, exactly what happened."
JJ Loehr (friend): "I grew up down the street from Peter in Bon Air. He was older than I was, so we didn't hang out, but I saw him around the neighborhood and knew he was a bass player and played in The Rage which was a really popular band at the time. His girlfriend Candy drove a VW Beetle. Whenever I saw that car coming down the road when I was hitchhiking (I was too young to drive in those days), I knew I could count on them to give me a ride. After the Rage broke up, Peter, Jonathan Longaker and Lee Johnson formed a band called "Bam Bam." I saw an ad they had looking for another guitarist/singer and auditioned. I joined the band after the audition, and we used to practice night and day in his mom's basement on Hanover Avenue in The Fan- we all became very good friends at this point. Bam Bam only played a few gigs and eventually Peter and Lee formed a new band called Errol Flynn and I started my own band called Living Cities. We were all still good buds and Peter came to work for my family's business doing lightning protection installations."
The Rage-circa 1980 L to R Peter Bell, Ira Marlowe, Jimi Gore
Cole Smithey (friend): "So it was just a hot bed of musical activity. Of course, it was all during the punk era and I remember walking into the lounge when Open High was on Franklin, above the coin shop, and somebody was blasting The Sex Pistols record for the first time. And so these guys, Peter and Ira, and Jimi, they just took to it like fish to water. Seemed like overnight, they just reinvented themselves as The Rage. And I saw The Rage a bunch of times when I was in school. They were a fucking great band. And they had a lot of stage presence. And I guess at that time, Peter Bell seemed like he was wearing eye liner all the time and the rumor was that he was dating some centerfold chick. And then, of course, that song came out, "My girlfriend is the centerfold" (J. Geils Band), or whatever. It seemed like it was all about Peter."
"And all those three guys... I guess Ira and Peter, maybe more than Jimi, because Jimi's brothers were already musicians... you know, Harry Gore is a very accomplished musician, he was an accomplished musician then, but Peter and Ira seemed to adopt the punk stances as their new personas more, all the time. Of course, Ira had been famous for doing the graffiti stuff."
Peter Bell: "We never played covers. [author's note: According to Ira, they really did play covers as did most bands in those days]. I loathe covers. I've been able to get through my whole career without playing covers. It was a bias built into me by Jimi and Ira. I looked up to them. They were a year older and seemed to know a lot. They were real musical snobs, so I became one, too, even though it goes against my nature. I didn't listen to any important rock and roll then. We were anti-Southern rock, right down to Creedence. We didn't like Bruce Springsteen and wrote off all the folk-rock stuff. I missed a lot that was happening during the '70s because of those guys and only discovered it years later."
JJ Loehr: "I only saw The Rage once. They came and played at my high school (Benedictine) in the gym. I had just started playing electric guitar around this time and I remember wanting to sell my guitar after seeing Ira. He was really good, I figured I would never be as good as THAT guy. They were a three-piece band but really BIG sounding. They had instantly accessible original songs that were catchy and memorable. They wrote about things that happened to them with a lot of humor in the lyrics. They were very "new wavey" at just the right time (early 80's) so they were pretty cutting edge I always thought. I was a big fan of Queen in those days and I could see a lot of Brian May's influence in Ira's playing. Peter jumped around and put on a great show and played bass with a cool style. Jimi was a great singer and drummer. When he joined up with The Good Guys after The Rage broke up, everyone got to see what a great front man Jimi could be."
The Rage were packing places all over Richmond and their notoriety got the best of them. They decided to move out west and try their fortunes in L.A.. Things were a bit trickier than they thought.
Peter Bell: "So after two years [author's note: actually less than one year] of being the only exciting band in Richmond, the only band to lead the way stamping out Southern rock, we packed up and headed out. We showed up at the artist guy's house. We came as you suggested!" "Let's be famous! Point us in the right direction! But he was full of shit and wouldn't have anything to do with us. Everybody blew us off. But no matter, we were The Rage, adored by hundreds of Richmonders! How hard could it be to be adored by thousands of Californians?"
Things quickly went sour.
Peter Bell: "We had to rent rehearsal space, carry our PA equipment in and out just to practice for three hours. One night we were tired and left it in the truck, and it was all stolen. We had to fight back from that, buy more stuff, and we were nobody from nowhere. The Rage did not mean jackshit out there. We played Wednesday nights at 3AM in Pasadena, one of six bands on the bill. Nobody there. We couldn't deal with it. We had been used to playing anytime we wanted with guarantees."
Ira Marlowe: "We're selling out shows around Richmond very quickly and ... Peter particularly always had a disdain for Richmond and feeling like this isn't where we belong, this isn't where people will appreciate us. And we talked about moving to New York and we talked about various things. Then unfortunately, (we) met some guy from Los Angeles who told us he knew lots of people and we were the best young band he'd ever heard and we'd go far.
And by the time we came back, Jimi, our drummer, had actually gone back east for a little vacation. A sort of triumphant return to Richmond. And he's there being celebrated. Meanwhile, Peter and I are starving and miserable. So we call and say, 'Stay there. We're coming home.' And he was pissed off. He kind of felt like he'd had the rug pulled out from under him and he went from being homecoming hero to drummer of this failed band that's now limping back to Richmond."
With the band disintegrating, Jimi Gore eventually hooked up with his brothers and joined their regionally popular band The Good Guys. Ira and Peter continued making music for a brief period but ultimately, Peter moved back to Richmond as well. The Rage's last show was in January, 1982.
Peter Bell: "I didn't mind all the ass-whippings. It was fun getting the attention. I had learned to play when I was on top. We had the attitude and the talent, but we didn't have the chops. We changed the music scene in Richmond because so many other bands got their start opening for The Rage."
Thus, Ten Ten got started.
JJ Loehr: "Mark Lewis had left The Dads and joined up with Peter and Lee Johnson. I think they got Steve Fisher through Mark although I can't really remember. Steve played keys and guitar. My band used to open for Ten Ten a lot back then. The band played all around VA and the East Coast (mostly down in North Carolina and showcases in New York). Their first manager was this guy named Harry Simmons who was a NC guy. He got them some shows and helped them put out their first record "Ordinary Thinking." Craig Otero ("Flash") took over management from Harry and started getting them some better showcases. Flash used to manage Single Bullet Theory and he managed to get Single Bullet a record deal with CBS/Nemperor (I think) anyway, it was better for the band to get a local Richmond guy to manage them and things started moving pretty fast once Flash got involved. Don Ruzek replaced Steve around this time. He was a double threat since he could play keys and share leads with Mark on guitar. They were really getting a pretty cool sound at this point and a nice following up and down the east coast."
Ira Marlowe: "Yeah. They wound up doing an album at Flood Zone, on a 8-Track studio. Times are just so radically different now, in terms of recording. Bruce Olsen and Mason Wyatt had to open up Flood Zone Studios, which had a half inch 8-Track machine that everybody was just clambering to record on. It's possible it was 16 tracks, I'm pretty sure it was just 8. And Ten Ten made a record there. The art work was really nice. It was done from a ... it was very professionally done. The record itself, frankly, doesn't sound super great. And I remember listening to it not long after it even came out and being kind of amazed at how bad the toms sound on the drums. But, Mark's a good singer."
Don Ruzek (guitarist/keyboardist, Ten Ten): "When I heard Ten Ten's first LP Ordinary Thinking, I liked it. So I got to know the guys and gave them a tape of my music. After a while, Ten Ten's keyboard player quit, they called me. I did play some keys, but I was mostly a guitar player so we tried it, and it worked. The experience was great because they had the sound, they could play, they had a good originals, and did some good covers too. Live music was big, and things just kept progressing. [I brought] more guitar. Harmonic feedback sounds, I used slide guitar a lot. Various effects. And for the parts themselves, Mark played guitar as well as sang. It felt like he and I fed off each other pretty well, and that led to more diverse kinds of guitar sounds. Like if he was playing lower on the neck, I'd play some parts higher. Parts I wouldn't normally have thought of. I did do some keys too, but wanted to get most parts on the guitar."
Ten Ten had really gelled by this point and Peter set out to become the face of the band, so to speak.
JJ Loehr: "I think he brought a lot of energy to the band live, but the real interesting thing was Peter and Lee were just a very original sounding rhythm section. They were super tight, and it worked well with Mark's guitar playing which was very melodic. I always thought Mark played guitar, almost like a piano- lots of notes and counter melodic riffs throughout the song and he had really catchy vocal melodies. Peter and Lee's locked in rhythm parts were almost like a different song within a song. Lee played kind of a tribal surf style on drums. It just clicked with Mark's vocals and songwriting and anchored his playing so he could really use the space. I think that's why people took notice. They got compared to U2 a lot (most bands did in those days) but I thought they had a really original sound. A lot of it was Mark's guitar playing- he was really unique in his sound and technique, but it wouldn't have worked as well without that tight rhythm section to play over. Throw in some Don Ruzek keys or equally cool guitar parts and you got a fun band to listen to and watch. The songwriting was great, and Mark was a strong vocalist."
Ten Ten recorded a record with local producer Bruce Olsen for his own Generic Records, 1984's Ordinary Thinking. Don Ruzek joined after the album's release.
Peter Bell: "That album did more for our career than any of the major label records we'd do later. It got reviewed in every record magazine, even Rolling Stone. When we signed the contract to make that record, we agreed that if we ever got a major label deal, Bruce would produce our record, so when we signed with Chrysalis, we had to pay him off. I think it was for 20 grand. We played the regional circuit. We had a big following in Raleigh, D.C., Savannah. We showcased in New York."
The band kept touring, waiting for that inevitable major label deal. They went over to Europe and played, including shows with the Waterboys. That's when things began to change.
Peter Bell: "We killed the Waterboys every single night. The audience was screaming for encores, and they never ask for encores in England. We went from Rockitz and the Brewery in Raleigh to slightly bigger venues in England and the papers were writing about this incredible American unsigned band every day. By the end of the tour, every major label in the world was desperate to sign us."
The band soon signed with Chrysalis.
Peter Bell: "Chrysalis really understood us. [Said with sarcasm.] They didn't want us to just have good records. They wanted us to be an album-oriented band like U2, come along slowly. Hit the college radio market first. If it took three or four albums to get us established, fine. We could move at our own pace. Boy, were we morons. We were so stupid. We thought because they were small, we wouldn't get lost. But if you don't have a hit record, you're out of that company, so we should have known better than to listen to those bastards."
Don Ruzek: "We played showcases in NYC but never got a deal. Our manager knew people from his experience with The Single Bullet Theory, so he contacted the booking agency Wasted Talent. They were English, so this started our connection to England. They booked us to open for the Waterboys on the 1985 U.K. tour. At the end of the tour, we played a show in London, we had 3 major labels wanting to sign us. The president of A&R for Chrysalis barricaded our dressing room door with a chair he was sitting in, and basically offered us a deal we couldn't pass up. What was that particular time like? Well, it was great! Other than being far from home."
Ten Ten performing in Nuremberg L to R Mark Lewis, Don Ruzek, Peter Bell, Lee Johnson
Now with a nice fancy recording contract, the band went out to Holland to work with now esteemed producer Stephen Street.
Lee Johnson (drummer, Ten Ten): "Our first recording with Chrysalis was to be produced by Stephen Street. Stephen was/is a fine producer, but I'm not sure he was the guy for us. In addition, I'm not sure if Chrysalis, by bringing him on board, was on the same page as we were. After being in the studio with Stephen for a while, we started to see some changes. I think Chrysalis saw it too and put us on a small tour to try and regain our live sound. After all, we were a live band. Before Stephen, we had talked about/with some other producers that Chrysalis had on their roster i.e.. Roger Taylor, Mike Scott (The Waterboys) and others." "We initially recorded a few songs in a studio in London, but when it was time to put Walk On together, we went to Wisseloord Studio Hilversum Netherland. This was known as one of the best studios in the world, and Chrysalis had some pretty successful artists record there. While we were recording in studio 2, Sade was in Studio 1. Before anyone that was recording was finished and ready to go, we were told that Elton John would be coming in to record and that he would be taking over the entire complex...and we'd all have to leave."
Don Ruzek: "Chrysalis Records set that up. Wisseloord studios is a world class studio, and cheap compared to studios in London and New York. So many big pop/rock artists recorded there. The current exchange was probably good too. I also think because it's located in the country away from Amsterdam or any big city for that matter, there's less distraction. Could be another reason it's been so popular with the pop/rock projects."
JJ Loehr: "Yeah, Wisseloord Studios-Hilversum, Netherlands. That's where they recorded "When It Rains." Stephen Street was the producer (he had produced The Smiths and others) maybe it was his call. I know Peter was incredibly homesick during the recording. I used to get these long letters and postcards from him during that time that were funny as hell. He finally gets to record an album with a MAJOR record label, and he bitches about the food and all the damned buses he got lost on getting around town because the city names were in Dutch and confused the hell out of him. He ended (and started) every letter with "Bedankt!!!" I think that's the only word he learned there..."
Ira Marlowe: "It was the '80's. And at one point, they all get little BMW's to drive around and Peter wrecked his. I don't know if he was fucked up or what the deal was. What you have to know is that when I first met Peter and at least the first year or so in to The Rage, which was basically our time in Richmond, he did no drugs or alcohol at all. He was by far the straight arrow in the band. And sometimes, I almost feel like that's the problem. Certain people, you need to get it out when you're young and if you don't, you go ... anyway. I don't know what the story was."
The album, 1986's Walk On proved to be the band's only record with Chrysalis. Though the band managed to get on MTV with the single "When It Rains" and a wildly mediocre cover of the Plimsouls' recent hit "Million Miles Away," the album failed to gain much traction and soon wound up in the bargain bin. But they were offered some amazing touring opportunities.
Peter Bell: "I got to meet all my heroes. We played with everybody that was popular at the time. Our first show with Simple Minds was an Amnesty International concert in Amsterdam for 50,000 people, the only time I had stage fright. I was dying. The stage was outside and so big. You were far away from the next person in the band. Then you'd realize it's a whole different approach to doing the show, and I'm all about the show. I can out rock anybody in this town. So after that, I was fine. The next show was 100,000 people. The biggest was 150,000. We played with INXS. We played with The Cure, The Bangles. What a shitty band that was except for the bass player. We played with James Taylor in Munich."
Cole Smithey: "And then, well, I moved to San Diego. I went to school at San Diego State and then I moved up to San Francisco, I guess, '85 maybe? And shortly after I got to San Francisco, Ten Ten were opening at, I think it's the Orpheum. They were opening for Paul Young.
And so, I just called down to the venue that afternoon and said, "Do you know are Ernie or those guys around?" And I think it was Lee who I ended up talking to on the phone, that they put me through to. And he was like, "Yeah. Come on down. Come down for the soundtrack and you can stay for the show and the whole bit." And so I just went down there. They were so professional by that time. They were so polished."
"But that's the thing about Ten Ten. I'm sure you know all this stuff, but I think that they were home town boys who, they got homesick. They didn't have the constitution to really just go out in the world and make it happen for themselves. And I think that's the thing with Peter. I think he probably had a little bit of that, I mean, clearly, that self-destructive bent to his personality."
Lee Johnson and Peter Bell-Scottish Highlands 10/12/85
Around this time, there were issues with the label and even with local rock radio.
Peter Bell: "On every big tour, there was one person hired to supply you with drugs, whatever you wanted. It was like that at the studio, too, when you were recording. I thought it would last forever. I used to set goals, and I reached everyone, but once we got signed, I didn't set any more goals. I fucked up. I went on autopilot. Somebody else could take care of things now. I had done what I set out to do, made a career of what I love and what I'm good at. I had done my part and didn't want to worry about where the money went. We were selling out Radio City Music Hall in 1987. We had videos on MTV."
"Q-94 put it on its ratings show and it got 98 percent favorable. XL-102 did a similar thing, and then they wouldn't play it. Q-94 had a top 40 format and had no choice. They couldn't play it. XL-102 just wouldn't. Our record company flipped out. They were already stunned by the bad reviews in England. What's going on? Your hometown stations won't play your record! We thought you were popular there!"
Ira Marlowe: "It sold next to nothing. Usually what happens with these situations is they're not well promoted. The album, the label loses interest and they just kind of let it go and they don't really do anything. It got a really bad review. Peter described in New Musical Express in England, which is a very big and influential music tabloid. The record was called Walk On and the last line of her review was, 'Walk on by. Let this go until they stop being so derivative and get a better' blah blah blah. And Peter was like, 'Yeah, we partied with that fat bitch and there she goes and betrays us like this.'"
Don Ruzek: "In the end though, being on Chrysalis didn't end up being the best. They admitted they weren't sure what to do with us. That sucked especially since they outbid the other companies that might have known what to do. It might not have been much different on another large label though."
The band soon started splintering. Don Ruzek left and Mark and Peter were at odds but the band continued playing shows.
Peter Bell: "We were doing well in Europe. We stayed in great hotels until I smashed up too many of them. Chrysalis didn't do anything to promote our last record. They printed them but wouldn't put them out. They were so desperate to get rid of us, they offered to buy us out for $100,000. We were still being courted by other labels. I voted to stay with Chrysalis, but I was the only one. We were still touring, still making money. It was a sure thing. But the others were worried we'd lose momentum if we didn't get on a new label right away and get a new record out. Virgin wanted us, so we had to go."
[They returned to Richmond to wait for the Virgin contract, but when it came, it required they return to England to live.] "And I was over that! I didn't want to see England again as long as I lived. It was a filthy and disgusting town. I don't like big cities. There were tons of homeless people. We never had much money anymore and lived in a slum. I was lonely. It was depressing. We ran up huge bills calling home, flying to Paris and Amsterdam to forget about England. It rained all the time. It was cold. I hated it. I think everybody in the band did. I wasn't going to sign that contract. Why did they care where we lived? But it was a deal breaker. We thought, okay, we'll get more offers."
JJ Loehr: "They lost Don after they got dropped by Chrysalis. They continued on as a three piece and they still drew big crowds and sounded great. In fact, they were much harder edged as a three piece and it really rocked. Flash got back on the horse and tried to strike gold again with another U.K. tour in hopes of a new label deal. I went over again with them on this tour helping out. They did a tour with The Primitives who had a big hit at the time (Crash) and they were playing to good crowds. They didn't land a deal this time though. They sounded great though and I can honestly say they blew The Primitives off the stage every show."
Peter Bell: "I'm letting my bills pile up. I was a bad drug addict. I spent all my money on drugs. I bought a big house sight unseen on Elwood Avenue and Nansemond while I was in Europe and my sister, brother, and a girlfriend were living there. I moved in, too. All my investments had gone sour. The banks were knocking on the door. The police were there every night. But whenever I was in town, it was a party. The other band members kept to themselves, but I was the party guy. Everybody loved me. Everybody came over. It was drugs and beer all night, non-stop, free party house all the time."
"We went back to the original incarnation, the original three, me, Mark Lewis and Lee Johnson, just playing around town. But I couldn't go from playing in front of 150,000 to the Jade Elephant. The only way I could do it was to be wasted. I couldn't even stand up. Any drug I could pump into my body before a show, I would. I hated playing so much because it was cutting into my drugging time. I never went to sound check. All I did was show up for gigs blitzed out of my mind."
"To this day, I don't see how the others did it. I couldn't adjust. We didn't have a road crew anymore. We had to schlep our own stuff like everybody else. I thought my days of doing that were over."
Ira Marlowe: "Peter had gotten involved with drugs and alcohol and stuff, I believe, during Ten Ten. I think he was drinking in Europe. I think he was probably drinking when he trashed his car. And definitely, by the later days, he was in to all kinds of unfortunate stuff. Peter had a very generous heart and I used to call him the scum magnet. He would just sort of surround himself with a coterie of losers. He just sort of didn't have the temperament to tell ... you know to leave him the fuck alone and go away. And I used to say, when I was a kid the problem with doing drugs isn't the drugs themselves, as much as the company you wind up keeping. And you wind up just sort of being surrounded by a lot of druggies. Even if you yourself think you can handle it and you're not of that ilk."
This sort of thing carried on for quite a while but the band's momentum never really came back to its previous highs.
JJ Loehr: "In March of 1990, Flash set up a trip in Key West. I was already in West Palm at a business conference, so we all met up in Miami and rented a convertible and headed to the Keys for a few days. Apparently, Ten Ten had a gig at some RVA club and it coincided with the Key West trip. Pete refused to blow off the fun in the sun for another lame Richmond gig and just didn't show up. I think Mark had had enough at that point so that was that."
Downfall and Almost Redemption
After the band disbanded, Peter's life started swinging in the opposite direction with occasional glimpses of his old passion.
JJ Loehr: "He wanted to continue playing and I wasn't doing anything, so we started playing together again. We played with various other musicians around town including Don and Lee. We had Flash managing us and did some recordings at Montrose Studio under the name of New West with Bruce Olsen producing. We played with some of my old bandmates from Living Cities as well. We did some New York shows, played CBGB's, played for different labels and got nowhere. Flash tried as hard as he could, but we were all getting older at this point. After that, Peter and I had a pretty major falling out. We were working together for my family's business and then one day Danny Sullivan came in and told me that Peter was going to start working for the competition and he felt he should tell me so I wouldn't be caught blindsided. I was super pissed off and we became bitter enemies at that point. It was a real feud. I felt really betrayed and super hurt. We didn't speak for years after that. Eventually, he stopped working for the competition and we slowly mended fences. Peter was writing a lot of articles and music reviews in The Richmond Music Journal around this time, generally pissing people in town off with his "brutally frank" opinions."
Peter Bell: "We [New West] made some progress. Bruce Olsen let us record at his home studio. We played a few shows. New West could have been good. Flash came back to manage us, but it wasn't moving fast enough for Don, so he quit. Don and Lee had a problem with my bringing Flash back in. So I brought in Shawn and Brian Collins (Letters from Earth) and we formed Orlando Furioso, playing the same songs as New West. We made some really good tapes. Shawn and Brian were good players. We were doing showcases. It could have gone places, but for various reasons, I fucked up."
"I didn't know what I was going to do then. A friend was opening Shockoe Bar and Grill and wanted me to book the bands. I said, 'Great! This will be the easiest job in the world.' Little did I know what a hard fucking job that is and what fucking assholes musicians are."
He was trying to do a decent job at reinventing himself and his music but it really wasn't getting him anywhere.
Peter Bell: "I spent the rest of the year in New York, making tapes with two English guys from The Cult, John Ashton from the Psychedelic Furs, and Mark. We called it U.S.U.K. And we didn't suck! We worked hard. Flash was ready to work for us. We rented rehearsal space. We were hot shit. I was excited. Nobody was drinking or doing drugs. But something was always happening. The other guys kept leaving to do pick-up jobs. It was the brokest band I ever played in, and I have been in nothing but broke bands since Ten Ten. The English guys had no place to live. They stayed with girls they met. I stayed with Mark. We had to keep pushing back our debut date."
He continued making music with friends and seeing people all the time. A local journalist, Mariane Matera was starting a local zine and hoped Peter would like to talk about his times in the RVA scene. The interview was published in 1994 and where all of his quotations come from. Matera talked about what she remembered about Peter during this time.
Mariane Matera (journalist): "Even though we have not talked in 20 years, I think about him several times a month, every time I drive by the house he bought on the corner of Ellwood and Nansemond. It was the perfect house for an alcoholic, he had told me, because there was a 7 Eleven right behind it. Endless cold beer and wine, any time of the day or night. It was a party house. Everyone crashed there. Everyone drank his beer and wine and used his drugs. He told hilarious stories about his so-called friends cooking up all his food, leaving him with nothing. And he hardly cared because life was one big party. And, of course, he lost the house. It's still there. It will always be a cautionary tale to me about fame."
Ira Marlowe: "Peter had a hard time. Peter started drinking a lot, started doing a lot of drugs. One time he sent me a letter saying, 'I'm pleased to announce I'm no longer using needles. Now I just snort a lot of cocaine.' And he was always very self-deprecating and disparaging about it, knowing he's fucking up his life. And there's some stuff I won't go in to here, with his family."
The years went on and Peter continued bouncing around. His life wasn't exactly rosy during this time but he continued to live how we wanted to live. Then in the late 2000's, he reconnected with old friends and decided to get back on stage.
JJ Loehr: "He kept playing. He was in some bands. He played in a band with his wife Chloe called "October" and others. One day in 2009, out of the clear blue sky, he called me up and asked me what I was up to. We hadn't hung out much but were on decent terms. He wanted to start an '80's cover band and go all out. Costumes/Big Stage show--the whole nine yards. I liked the idea and we started a band called The ReVinyls. Anyway, it had been a LONG time since we had hung out/played together and it was great to be bandmates again. We went through lots of singers and drummers and other members and finally we just gave up on trying to keep a lead singer and hooked up with Chris Douthit and Adam Schaffer who were RVA rock vets and branched out from the '80's themed idea. It was still a silly cover band, but we had fun mainly just hanging out together again and playing rock and roll."
He also reunited The Rage for a heralded show at the Canal Club in 2014. A few years prior, I was working on my first book about Virginia rock music. I wanted to include Ten Ten and was able to reach out to Don and Peter. Peter was a bit more out there than Don was and he repeatedly tried to reach out at inopportune times like when I was getting ready to leave for class. Finally, he emailed back some responses. What I got was a long rambling piece not really answering any of the questions. He seemed angry, bitter and disgusted with the whole music industry. I didn't end up using anything he sent me; as a college kid, I just thought he was being a little pissant. Little did I know, there were darker impulses at work and they would soon explode in most unexpected ways.
Ira Marlowe: "To Peter's credit, Peter was one of the great comic raconteurs I've ever met. He told me, even prior to this, and this was after the last time I ever saw him. This was after the Rage reunion in November of ... basically Thanksgiving of 2014. But he told me prior to that, this may have been two years or more prior, that he had some brain scan. His brain was like 30 percent of its former size, due to all the alcohol that he'd consumed. Everyone was trying to get him to stop and he couldn't. In some ways he wasn't his former self. At our reunion, there was a bunch of songs we couldn't do, just because they were too complicated. He would learn them and then he'd immediately forget them."
"But, he did tell me the story of his bank robbery. Basically, he had absolutely cirrhosis, through alcohol and through hepatitis C, which he had contracted through needle use when he was at his very lowest. And was in line for a liver transplant, and this is part of a tragedy of it. He kept getting bumped to the back of the line 'cause he kept drinking again. I've been there enough myself to know that when you're that down and you wanna self-medicate, it's just like, 'I need to feel better. Fuck it, I don't give a fuck in the world.'"
"But basically, it turns out he has an esophageal hemorrhage, as a result I guess of his liver condition. I don't even know. I don't remember what the root cause of it was. From that point on he was on these heavy drugs that basically allowed him to live. I think they were the equivalent of walking dialysis for his failed liver."
"Anyway, and he was staying in Roanoke with some woman he knew. I know his mother lived up there one time. And he basically needed his medication. He didn't have any money for it or whatever. Or he would die. So he threw on a bunch of clothes ... Like other people's clothes. Clothes he never wore, or something. Put a ski mask on or a scarf over his face. Wrote up his ransom note. He told me the story. At this point, he had actually ... He'd been pretty much an atheist all his life. He and I, we sort of had arguments about God. But at this point in life he had actually become more religious. He had some sponsor through AA."
"So, he's telling me this story. He's telling me he's going to rob this bank and he writes this note with his left hand, so no one can trace his handwriting. And he goes to the bank and he's getting ready to go in, but he can't find that note. No, he's getting ready to go in ... I forget the sequence of this. He's getting ready, can't find the note, he looks everywhere, he doesn't see it. So he writes another note. He finds a receipt and he writes on the back of this receipt. Then he's getting ready to go in and suddenly has to take an enormous dump. And he can't get in there 'cause he feels like he's about to shit on himself."
"So then he goes back to the gas station. At one point, maybe it's first a dump, then he goes back, takes a dump, comes back, can't find the note, tries to write the note, realizes he doesn't have a pen, goes back, buys a pen, finally writes the note and he says each time, 'God is trying to stop me from doing this. God is trying to give me a chance to not do this. But no, I insist, I insist, I insist.' So he writes the note on this receipt, he robs a bank, and then I think around 3:00 PM. And then three hours later, he's at his girlfriend's house, knock comes at the door. It's the police with guns drawn. It turns out that he had written on the back of his receipt, torn of what he thought was the UPC code from something, but there was just enough of the UPC code that the cops could take it around, find out what the receipt was, where it was from and trace it back to his girlfriend's house, this woman's house, and show up at his door."
"He told me afterwards, he told me the story that had he not done, he believes that he would've gotten away with it. I don't know if that's true at all. It's kind of telling that he says that. So, he wound up going to jail. I learn this the next day through JJ, who called me and said, 'I hope you're sitting down. Peter robbed a bank, he's in jail.' And I'm like, 'Oh my fucking God.'"
"I called them up and said, 'This guy is gonna die. He needs all this medication.' I sort of really tried to scare the shit out of them. 'You're gonna have a dead man on your hands unless you really make sure you talk to a doctor, find out what he needs and make sure he gets it.' It turns out his father refused to bail him out. Basically his father, this minister, could not find the compassion to bail him out. Basically said, 'You've had every chance in the world. Fuck you.'"
"Finally, what happened is, it turned out he was the only person, according to the DA, in the history of robberies in this county, in this state, wherever, who asked for a fixed amount of money. He said, 'I need 928 dollars for medicine. I'm very sorry to do this.'"
"And because of that, they let him out on bail, on his own recognizance. After that, he was sort of waiting to find what would happen. There's a chance he'd have to go back in. There's a chance the charges would be dropped. I don't really know where it was."
So, if things couldn't have gotten worse for a one-time rock star, then it would never get better. Peter was out on bail but just couldn't seem to get his life together. And so we begin to see the curtains go down for the last time.
Ira Marlowe: "People take drugs for a reason. People take drugs generally because they have pain and it's their way of confronting it. And Peter's will, the will to overcome, to stay clean and to not drink and whatever else he was doing, wasn't strong enough to endure everything he was up against. He would be clean for a good length of time and then he would slip. And his attitude was, which is sort of understandable and at the same time not so, was I'm getting a new liver. What does it matter if I trash it more."
In August of 2015, Peter's life came to a shocking and tragic end.
JJ Loehr: "He was traveling a lot back and forth from Roanoke to Richmond to do treatments at MCV (Medical College of Virginia) for his liver. On August 6, 2015, he crashed into a power pole off of US-460 on his way back to Roanoke from Richmond on one of these trips. He actually called me from the road during this drive. He left me a typical zany Peter message on my voice mail and ended it with "I'll see you on the flip side" (I still have that message on my phone, that's how I remember the date so well). I remember getting a weird feeling from the message when I listened to it but during those days he was so sick I often wondered when I heard from him or saw him if it would be the last time...that time it was. From all accounts I have heard, he died right after impact."
Ira Marlowe: "It did get sadder and sadder and I sort of talked him down on many occasions in the last few years from a very bad place. When he died, the indications, the forensics say that he died in a car accident. The forensics say that he tried to correct. He did not do it intentionally. But, at the same time he got very drunk and I'm quite sure at that point, he really didn't care whether he lived or died and was sort of happy to let the chips fall where they did. And it's a tragic situation."
"It was terribly sad for me, of course. I had spoken to him two days before and he had told me he had just talked to his doctor who is sort of managing his account and managing his potential liver transplant. He hadn't told me that he'd been bumped from the list. But he said that she said to him, 'I get the feeling you're losing your enthusiasm for this.' He said, 'To tell you the truth, I am.'"
"I had really hoped for a comeback. I used to tease him. I said, 'You and Keith Richards, you're gonna outlive all of us.' And I really hoped that would be the case. I actually saw on Facebook two days later, I saw a post from my friend Kahlil, the drummer in The Rage. It said, 'May you finally find peace, my friend.' I saw it and the first thing I thought was, 'Oh my God, he was much sicker from the liver disease than I realized' and that he was keeping it from me. And then I called and realized what had happened. Jimi/Kahlil's feeling had been that he'd killed himself. That he deliberately driven in to a light pole. And that's kind of what I thought, too. Until the forensic evidence showed pretty clearly that he'd tried to correct, that he'd tried to steer away from it and just wasn't able to in time."
"And actually what I've learned, what I understand is what happened was that he was driving very drunk, swerving, people were giving him a wide berth. This is from witnesses who were on the road and were since later interviewed. And he got a fucking phone call from a very stupid woman, whose name I will not mention, called him. He's talking on his phone in this condition. He drops the phone, tries to grab it and that's the last thing."
Lynchburg News & Advance: "Peter John Bell, 55, was driving his 1995 Chrysler sedan when it ran off the right side westbound U.S. 460. The car hit a utility pole and then a tree at about 6:30PM Thursday. Bell died at the scene. The crash shut down both eastbound and westbound U.S. 460 near Haven Heights drive and severed power to 1,500 Appalachian Power customers that night." (August 7, 2015)
Though Peter was gone, his friends and survivors have a lot of good and funny memories of a man, a musician, a dad, a friend who could only be described as one of a kind.
Lee Johnson: "I think for the most part Ten Ten was something that none of us would trade. It was like a great education of things that we can use always. I'm not so sure that we did any great thing that we could be remembered for, but for me, some great things happened...and, there is a legacy."
Ira Marlowe: "Peter was a very talented artist. Peter was an incredibly charming and charismatic person who lost his way. On the other hand, I found this quote from Hunter S. Thompson, saying when you arrive in the afterlife, you should be skidding on your knees and covered in grime and going, 'Woo, what a wild ride.' You're not supposed to walk in there clean. And Peter had a wild ride. Peter, in his relatively short life, had a lot more fun than a lot of us put together at certain times. He went for it in many ways and took a lot of chances and paid the price for them. People who know him know how funny he was, how charming he was, how incredibly generous he could be."
JJ Loehr: "Lots of people have opinions about that. Some good, some bad. At first, when I saw you were looking to write this piece, I didn't want any part of it. But I see a lot of stuff on social media that is really hateful towards Peter and incredibly mean. I don't get where that comes from. I can only assume these dipshits didn't know the dude and I felt he deserved better and yeah, I'm biased because we were great friends. I know he rubbed a lot of people in Richmond the wrong way. I know he was very direct with his opinions and that irritated the hell out of lots of people (mostly other musicians as far as that went). He had little patience for local band guys who couldn't play well but got props for being "artsy" or those who played around town and fixated on just making money. He just had a very unfiltered way of expressing himself."
"He poked fun at himself as much if not more than others though. He was a hell of fun guy to hang around with. He loved horror movies and he loved animals. He loved listening to people and being engaging. He was very generous, and he would always be willing to help you do whatever."
" I think he was a great bass player as well. If you listen to some old Rage or Ten Ten stuff, you can hear how creative his bass playing was. I certainly liked playing music with him. He could really drive a band when he wanted to. He was a great performer on stage. He loved to sing lead and he never really got a chance to in the various bands he was in. It used to piss him off, but he didn't complain too much about it. He wasn't the greatest singer by any stretch, but he was a rock singer."
"When he had his brief fame with Ten Ten, he would always tell people in his travels about what a great music town Richmond, VA was and what great bands/musicians we had here- he would go out of his way to do that. He never got a lot of support here, but he always was proud of Richmond and he loved his friends' songs. He loved my songs, he loved Ira's songs, he loved Jimi's songs. He could quote every line from Animal House, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Spinal Tap. He loved Star Trek and he loved The Partridge Family (we built our friendship on that foundation). He loved his daughters Sasha and Liberty and his son Blue, he loved his mom, his dad, his sister Jennifer and his little brother Chris. He loved his friends. He loved women. He loved to write letters. He would fight for you. He was very smart, and he was quick and funny. He frustrated many and he often let people down. He didn't mean to though. He just loved telling you what he thought you wanted to hear...
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