Richard Bell was the son of the Canadian composer and musician, Dr. Leslie Bell, and Leona Bell (born March 5, 1946). He started playing the piano at the age of four and studied music at Canada's Royal Conservatory of Music. Bell's career first gained significance when he joined Ronnie Hawkins as a member of the group "And Many Others," following the departure of Hawkins' previous band (who would gain fame as The Band). Hawkins fired the entire band in early 1970, and they renamed themselves Crowbar, subsequently recording Official Music (as King Biscuit Boy with Crowbar) (1970, Daffodil; 1996, Stony Plain). Bell left Crowbar shortly after this to join Janis Joplin's Full Tilt Boogie Band, making good on an offer made the previous year by her manager.
In the late 1960s, while touring with Hawkins at the Fillmore East, Bell was approached by Janis Joplin's manager Albert Grossman and invited to join her new ensemble. His playing can be heard on her posthumously‐released album Pearl and many bootleg recordings from her 1970 tour, including performances from the Festival Express "train tour" of Canada. Bell was interviewed many years later for the 2003 documentary film of the same name.
Following Joplin's death, Bell moved to Woodstock, New York, where he worked as a session musician. Among those he worked with during this time were Paul Butterfield and John Sebastian. Other acts Bell has worked with include Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Bruce Cockburn, Judy Collins, Cowboy Junkies, Bob Dylan, Michael Kaeshammer, Bonnie Raitt and Joe Walsh.
Bell moved to Atlanta, Georgia in 1979 and played with various bands, including Pyro, with Jim Weider and Rick Pierce. He did session work also. He married Mary Deacon in 1979. He played with The Convertibles, with bandmates, among others, Scott Boyer and Tommy Talton (Cowboy), Topper Price, Brian Wheeler (Locust Fork) and Rick Kurtz (Delbert McClinton), before returning to Canada and The Band.
In 1991, Bell joined the reconstituted line‐up of The Band as a keyboardist, replacing Stan Szelest (himself a replacement for original pianist Richard Manuel, who committed suicide in 1986). Bell remained with through their final three albums (Jericho, High on the Hog, and Jubilation), for which Bell also received some songwriting credits. The death of Rick Danko in 1999 essentially ended the association known as The Band.
In the years before his death, Bell performed as keyboard player with Canadian roots-rock performers such as Colin Linden, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings and Kathleen Edwards. At the time of his death, the Toronto‐based musician performed regularly as a keyboardist/songwriter/occasional vocalist with the Porkbelly Futures and Danny Brooks & the Rockin' Revelators. (He produced two of Brooks' albums.) Bell was also a member of the country‐rock group, Burrito Deluxe, performing and contributing songs to their CD Disciples Of The Truth. Bell died after a long battle with multiple melanoma on June 15, 2007 in Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, at the age of 61.