The Sweet Sound of Striking the Right Chord | An Interview with Ricky Bell

I met Ricky Bell because my home office computer was deadly slow. As an independent computer technician, Ricky came highly recommended by my accountant, so I knew I’d be in good hands. To my surprise, I soon learned that those hands were equally talented on the neck of a guitar and that Ricky had connected two talents into one amazing career.    

DL:  Ricky, do you consider yourself a computer guy who’s a musician or a musician who’s a computer guy? 

RB: My goals as a musician drive everything I do. It’s been that way since I was a high school kid, working whatever decent-paying jobs I could find, including telemarketing, to earn enough money to buy more music gear. I’m still that way, investing in new equipment that helps me make better music. 

DL:  Is that what your IT business does for you today? 

RB: That and a lot more. After I got my A.A. degree in information technology, I apprenticed in IT for a couple years until I realized I could earn more if I had my own clients. So I went into business doing on-site residential and business troubleshooting, then database development and website design. I also handle convention production audio for my corporate clients plus IT consulting services. 

As a married man with a family, I need a business that provides a growing income. As a musician, I needed flexibility so I can play. Being an IT entrepreneur gives me both. 

DL: When did you know you had the talent to be a successful musician? 

RB: I’ve been playing music since I was a kid—violin in 3rd grade, piano in 6th, guitar and drums in 7th and 8th. I play six instruments and have been playing in cover bands since high school. 

I figured out that I might have a real talent for the guitar when I took lessons from Greg Howe, guitar player for Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, and Enrique Iglesias. I wasn’t sure that I was any good until at 13 my friend’s parents let me sit in with their band. When they called me a “prodigy,” it got my attention. 

DL: How did that revelation change things for you? 

RB: I started to put myself out there more. My breakthrough came when I entered one of my original songs in a contest run by WZZO radio. As the winner (out of 150 entrants), I got to perform my song on stage at The State Theatre in Easton,PA with Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull. That recognition was a watershed moment in my music career.  

DL: What were your next steps? 

RB: I never like to say “no” to opportunity which means that to say “yes” I often have to go out on a limb.   

I’d been working a freelance job as a cameraman for Blue Ridge Cable, a sister company of Penns Peak, a concert venue in PA. Through that connection, I was invited to play at an American Cancer Society benefit there—just me singing and playing my guitar. The performance was so successful that I was booked by Penns Peak to open for major music groups, including Styx, REO Speedwagon, Kansas, and The Tubes.

DL: Where are you now with your music? 

RB: For me it’s all about performing to reach as many people as I can. I play with three bands now, two are my own. I play guitar and sing as a duo with my friend, Ian Frey, percussionist, at small venues and private parties. My cover band, Connect5, plays at larger venues where we keep the crowd dancing.   

I also play harmonica and sing as the Elwood character with the tribute band, The Blues Brotherhood, for large stage, sell-out crowds at casinos and the like. 

DL: How do music and your IT work fit together to meet your career aspirations ? 

RB: Computers and music share common ground in the music studio and on stage. Whether I’m performing with my bands, recording music, creating websites, or solving computer problems, my IT knowledge is always key to achieving successful results.   

I have no set-in-stone plan for the future. I continue to say “yes” to good opportunities the way I always have. All I need is money in the bank and the opportunity to play music. After all, I still need to buy more gear! 

Long term I just want to keep moving forward and upward. Making music and getting paid for it while taking care of my IT clients and raising my beautiful family matter most to me. Everything works together. 

DL: Your story reminds us all that careers emerge from the choices that we make. The more open-minded we are about our options and the more willing we are to take risks, particularly on ourselves, the more likely we are to fashion a career that fits us, striking the right chord. Thanks, Ricky, for sharing your story.

You can follow Ricky Bell and listen to his music and his bands at his website and on Facebook.  Here’s a two-minute video sampling of Ricky in action.

Career Need a Boost? Give ‘Em Something to Talk About!

It’s easy to feel lost in the crowd these days. We’re often smothered in a crush of candidates for jobs we want or sequestered among a sea of cubicles. The pace of the daily grind makes face-to-face contact with our bosses brief and infrequent. 

Feeling faceless is dispiriting. It’s important to be seen.  Acting out, complaining, or decorating our cubicles like Mardi Gras take us down the wrong path. A better strategy is to draw people to us because we’re interesting. 

No need to read the Great Books! 

When I work with clients on their job search, stalled careers, or growth strategies, I always ask, “What are your interests?” Too often they look at me like this is a trick question. 

Your “interests” are priceless conversation ice-breakers that showcase your other side. They might get you an interview, a meeting invitation, or a sales order because the person you’ve been talking to is also a hiker who never met anyone who’d climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, until you!

 Being interesting makes you memorable. It helps you stand out from other candidates, your coworkers, and your competitors if you’re a business owner. 

But here’s the kicker: You don’t have to be the most interesting person in the world (who may or may not drink Dos Equis!). You just have to share an interest that engages the person across the table or in the corner office. 

Our interests can enhance perceptions about our value to the organization since they show that we: 

  • Explore new things (innovate)
  • Expand our skills and knowledge (develop)
  • Challenge ourselves (take risks)
  • Expand our associations (develop relationships) 

Our interests are often the perfect platform for opening up conversations with people who may not, otherwise, be inclined to talk with us. At work, that can have huge benefits. 

To be interesting, be interested  

You don’t have to do anything spectacular to be interesting. Just do something that gives you energy, something that excites you. 

Here are some interesting people I’ve known who may mirror or inspire you: 

  • Chad, a background investigator of employees needing corporate security clearances, is a precision stunt driver for major motion pictures, working with actors like Ben Affleck and Nicholas Cage. 
  • Ricky Bell, a computer support consultant and technician, is a guitarist, singer/songwriter who also performs as Elwood with The Blues Brotherhood tribute band. 
  • Renae, a corporate audit manager and CPA, does greyhound and Labrador retriever rescue work, spending one week annually volunteering at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah. 
  • Jennifer Gresham, a PhD biochemist and graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, is an award-winning poet and blogger.  
  • Ron, a high school band leader, is an expert bird identifier, also able to imitate scads of bird calls, who participates in an annual bird census. 

Then there’s me: Teacher turned corporate manager then consultant. For my part, I can’t begin to tell you what being a thoroughbred racehorse breeder and owner did for my “are you interesting” quotient.

Doing something that was unexpected made people curious about me. I got questions about what it takes to deliver a foal, train it and get it ready to race. People asked about jockeys and trainers, claiming and betting (I never did much of that), and being in the winner’s circle.

Horses and racing were a mystery to the people I worked with and an industry few understood. All of this gave me unique insights and experiences that enriched both serious and casual conversations with colleagues at every level.

Now, it’s your turn 

If you haven’t tapped into your interests until now, there’s no time like the present.   Any interest qualifies: collecting, sports, the arts, specialized knowledge, travel,   service work, anything you can think of. Pursue what’s in your heart and let the momentum take you forward. Then enjoy the ride! 

I’d love to hear about the interests you’ve got going and the ones you’ve let sleep. Please share. Thanks.