- Associated Press - Saturday, April 9, 2016

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) - Vince Bellon plugged his gold Gibson Les Paul into an amplifier at BlackRock Fine Wine and Craft Beer on a recent Saturday before playing a show. Instrument cases lined the wall behind him. It was 8 p.m., and the bar was almost empty.

Bellon’s band, Mean Red Spider, set up around him. Named after a Muddy Waters song from the ‘40s, its members plays the blues, and nothing else, the Post Register reported (https://bit.ly/1Y4E2bn).

They started to work through some slow, humid grooves. Draft beers sat at their feet.

People started to fill some of BlackRock’s vacant tables as the night passed. The band tightened, and sped up.

Bellon, a metal guitar slide over his pinkie finger, mirrored guitarist Ryan Hawthorn as the two switched off on lead.



Harmonica-player Garth Gardner looked like he was stamping out a small fire while he danced in place during “Little Red Rooster.”

Bellon, the band leader, though not necessarily the focus, called on each musician to take solos during a lively take of “Baby, Please Don’t Go.” They climbed toward the song’s payoff, building tension bit by bit.

“When your band is tight, all on the same page and working, it’s like being on top of a wave. It probably feels like hang gliding would,” Bellon said. “The audience provides the energy for it, but the spark is with your band playing music you like. There’s nothing like it.”

Mean Red Spider is trying to bring the blues’ roots back into public consciousness.

Bellon, 52, has a musical taste wide enough to accommodate Miles Davis and the Sex Pistols.

Blues music is at his core, though. From the genre’s 1900s foot-stomping Mississippi Delta beginnings with Son House and Willie Brown, to its electric migration to Chicago’s clubs by Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters.

“It’s music that people may not be familiar with, even if they know what it spawned - Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton,” Bellon said. “When we have an audience that’s not as familiar, we try to find some way to convert them, and make them interested. Not so much in us, but in the music. Live blues is the purest form of American music.”

Growing up in Draper, Utah, Bellon’s passion for the music came after hearing Jimmy Page on Led Zeppelin’s 1975 recording of “In My Time of Dying.”

“I heard the slide guitar in that context, and it floored me,” said Bellon, who was 12 at the time. “I walked to the next town over in a rainstorm to buy that record. I saved up my money and walked eight or nine miles from where I lived, and got my butt whipped for being out after dark.”

Bellon has no desire to augment the blues with modern effects or production. He’s keen on channeling its raw form to audiences.

His respect for the blues comes from hours spent as a kid combing through liner notes and library books, trying to piece together some record of the music.

“You have to be a little bit of a historian, and it’s always interesting to see where that path takes you,” Bellon said. “How it goes back, from the leaves of the tree into the branches, down the trunk and into the roots.”

Bellon speaks of the blues with a reverence some reserve for the Gospel.

He acknowledges that the music is bigger than him, and the band. As musicians, they’re just one particular medium that it travels through on its way to the audience.

Bellon sticks mainly to the downtown circuit, playing BlackRock, MarCellar’s and The Celt, regularly. His band has been a mainstay of Idaho Falls’ music scene since he moved from northern Utah to Rigby in 2013.

“If they’re not the busiest, they’re the most in-demand as far as local bands,” said BlackRock Manager Ryan Selleck.

Bellon started to seriously play the guitar at 17, when an uncle gave him a knockoff Gibson ES-135.

“The first electric guitar I ever had; that changed the whole thing. It was like an epiphany,” Bellon said.

Before that, however, Bellon spent his rural Utah adolescent years surrounded by horses.

“There was a guy that ran a big string of rental horses in a pasture, and as kids we’d sneak in and borrow them,” Bellon said. “I started breaking colts when I was 14.”

Training horses has been the only real day job Bellon has ever had.

Since 1989, he’s been training cutting horses, most recently at Riverbend Ranch. Clients approach him, and he spends about a year and a half getting prospects ready to participate in competitions, where they can win thousands of dollars.

Cutting horses, generally considered the most athletic of competition equine, are trained to separate cattle from a herd, and keep them isolated.

“The cutting horse has to react to things the same way an NBA or tennis player would, except they weigh 1,000 pounds and they’re reacting to a cow running across the pen at 25 mph,” Bellon said.

After a 2011 downturn in the horse business, Bellon cut down on training time, which allowed him to become more prolific a performer. He used to spend 70 to 80 days on the road showing horses. Now he only trains about 10 at a time, instead of 25 to 30.

It’s hard to tell which Bellon likes better - the animals or his guitars.

Dan Weldon, a multidecade veteran of the Ogden, Utah, music scene, mentored Bellon. He thinks both passions come from the same place.

“He’s a cowboy. If you look at all the famous blues guys, they came mostly from farms in the South. I think it’s rural music with a lot of soul, and it lends itself to the kind of area Vince grew up in,” Weldon said.

For those who know Bellon, his passion for the blues is as obvious as the cowboy hat on his head.

“He’s a true blues guy, in and out,” Weldon said. “As a musician he’s pure; he won’t sell out just because he goes into a bar and someone says to play something. He’ll stay true to what he loves, and I think that’s his best attribute.”

Weldon met Bellon in 2007, back when Bellon stuck mostly to solo performances.

Making his rounds through the Ogden club circuit filling in during Weldon’s shows, Bellon shifted his musical focus toward collaboration.

“We discussed band dynamics many times - what would give him consistent success. I told him the pitfalls I’d gone through,” Weldon said.

Bellon joined Weldon’s basement jams during that time, and met Hawthorn, his guitarist, along with Nathan Chappell, his percussionist.

The last two, still Ogden-based, try to make it up to Idaho Falls every other week or so for gigs.

Mean Red Spider, also featuring bassist Brad Beckwith, provided a shot in the arm to an eastern Idaho music scene that continues to grow, Selleck said.

“Vince was on the forefront that kind of started that growth,” Selleck said. “Even though he plays that one genre, it’s brought in other artists that don’t strictly play blues - he’s opened that corridor for this place.”

Bellon’s growth as a band leader is a culmination of his long-held passion for the material, and his time learning from Weldon.

After cutting his harmonica chops in Mississippi for several years, Gardner began playing with Bellon last year.

“I’m a pretty strong personality, but I know that I don’t know what he does,” Gardner said. “He puts it together and leads, but doesn’t make anybody feel less than anybody else. He’s very good at building people up and their strengths, which comes from his horse training too. You have to build up the strengths of the horses, and he does that with us.”

Bellon’s next step is to record an album.

He’s written original material over the years, but it’s difficult to get all the band members together in the studio to lay down the 15 or so tracks they’d need for a full-length album, Bellon said.

In the meantime, Mean Red Spider will play clubs around eastern Idaho, and look into some gigs in Montana and Wyoming.

Bellon will keep siphoning rhythm and feeling from America’s humble southern musical identity.

“I’ve gone around with that stuff in my head since I was a little kid. The blues just seem to permeate me,” Bellon said. “If you love that music, it’s like walking through a door into another world.”

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Information from: Post Register, https://www.postregister.com

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