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Leon Russell (born Claude Russell Bridges; April 2, 1942[3] – November 13, 2016) was an American musician and songwriter who was involved with numerous bestselling pop music records during his 60-year career. His genres included pop, country, rock, folk, gospel, bluegrass, rhythm and blues, folk rock, blues rock, surf, standards, and Tulsa Sound.[4]

Leon Russell
Leon Russell Billboard.jpg
Russell c. 1970
Born
Claude Russell Bridges

(1942-04-02)April 2, 1942
DiedNovember 13, 2016(2016-11-13) (aged 74)
Other namesLeon Russell, Hank Wilson, Russell Bridges
OccupationMusician, singer-songwriter
Years active1956–2016
Spouse(s)
  • Mary McCreary (m. 19751980)
    [1]
  • Jan Bridges (Janet Lee Constantine) (m. 19832016)
    [2]
Children6
Musical career
Genres
Instruments
  • Keyboards
  • vocals
  • bass guitar
  • guitar
  • baritone horn
  • harpsichord
Labels
Associated acts

His collaborations rank as some of the most successful in music history, and as a touring musician he performed with hundreds of notable artists.[5] He recorded 33 albums[6] and at least 430 songs.[7] He wrote "Delta Lady", recorded by Joe Cocker, and organized and performed with Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour in 1970.[8] His "A Song for You", added to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2018,[9] has been recorded by more than 200 artists, and his "This Masquerade" by more than 75.[10][11][12]

As a pianist, he played in his early years on albums by The Beach Boys, Dick Dale and Jan and Dean. On his first album, Leon Russell, in 1970, the musicians included Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison. One of his biggest early fans,[13][14] Elton John, said Russell was a "mentor" and an "inspiration". They recorded their album The Union in 2010,[15] which earned them a Grammy nomination.[16]

Russell produced and played in recording sessions for, among others Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Ike & Tina Turner, and The Rolling Stones. He wrote and recorded the hits "Tight Rope" and "Lady Blue". He performed at The Concert for Bangladesh in 1971 along with Harrison, Dylan, and Clapton, for which he earned a Grammy Award.

His recordings earned six gold records. He received two Grammy awards from seven nominations. In 2011, he was inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.[17]

OverviewEdit

Russell was born in Lawton, Oklahoma,[3] and began playing the piano at the age of four.

Russell attended Will Rogers High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, alongside Anita Bryant, who was two years older, and in the same 1959 class as pop musician David Gates. Russell and Gates played and recorded together as the Fencemen.[18] Also attending Will Rogers at that time was guitarist and singer-songwriter Elvin Bishop. During this time, Russell was already performing at Tulsa nightclubs. He took the name Leon from a friend who lent him a fake ID to get into clubs he was legally too young to perform in.[19]

After moving to Los Angeles in 1958, Russell became a session musician, working as a pianist on the recordings of many notable 1960s musical artists. By the late 1960s, he had diversified, becoming successful as an arranger[20] and songwriter. By 1970, he had become a solo recording artist, but he never relinquished his other roles in the music industry. Leon was a multi-instrumentalist playing: piano, keyboards, bass guitar, guitar, harpsichord and baritone horn.

I wanted to give Elton something. But what do you give a guy who has six fully stocked houses? So I thought the only thing I could give him is a song. "In the Hands of Angels," retelling of the story of the album [The Union], thanks Mr. John ("the guv'ner" in the lyrics), who knew all the places I needed to go and made me feel the love down deep inside.

Leon Russell[21][22]

Russell re-emerged in 2010 when Elton John called on him to record the album that became The Union. The album, which included contributions from Brian Wilson and Neil Young,[23] brought renewed popularity to Russell, who later released a solo album and toured around the world.[24][25][26][27][28]

Russell was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 14, 2011.[29] He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in June 2011.[30]

According to his wife, Jan Bridges, Russell died quietly in his sleep at his suburban Nashville home on the morning of November 13, 2016, at the age of 74.[31] He had had a heart attack the previous July, followed by coronary bypass surgery, after which he postponed shows while convalescing at home. He had hoped to return to his concert schedule in January 2017.[32]

CareerEdit

1950s/1960sEdit

Russell began his musical career at the age of 14, in 1956, in the nightclubs of Tulsa, Oklahoma. He and his group, the Starlighters, which included J. J. Cale, Leo Feathers, Chuck Blackwell, and Johnny Williams,[33] were instrumental in creating the style of music known as the Tulsa Sound. After settling in Los Angeles in 1958, he studied guitar with James Burton. He was known mostly as a session musician early in his career. As Russell developed his solo artist career he crossed genres to include rock and roll, blues, bluegrass and gospel music. As a session musician he has played for and with artists as varied as Jan and Dean, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, George Harrison, Delaney Bramlett, Freddy Cannon, Ringo Starr, Doris Day, Elton John, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, The Byrds, Barbra Streisand, The Beach Boys, The Ventures, Willie Nelson, Badfinger, the Tijuana Brass, Frank Sinatra, The Band, Bob Dylan, J. J. Cale, B. B. King,[34] Dave Mason, Glen Campbell, Joe Cocker, The Rolling Stones, and The Flying Burrito Brothers.[35]

In Los Angeles, Russell played as a first-call studio musician on many of the most popular songs of the 1960s, including some by The Byrds, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, Bobby Pickett, and Herb Alpert. He also played piano on many Phil Spector productions, including recordings by The Ronettes, The Crystals, and Darlene Love and in the 1963 A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector album. He can be seen in the 1964 concert film T.A.M.I. Show playing piano with The Wrecking Crew (an informal name for the top Los Angeles session musicians of the 1960s), sporting short, dark, slicked-back hair, in contrast to his later look.[35] Soon after, he was hired as Snuff Garrett's assistant and creative developer, playing on numerous number-one singles, including "This Diamond Ring" by Gary Lewis & the Playboys.[36]

In the mid-1960s, he wrote or co-wrote songs, including two hits for Gary Lewis and the Playboys: "Everybody Loves a Clown" (which reached the Billboard Top 40 on October 9, 1965, remaining on the chart for eight weeks and reaching number 4) and "She's Just My Style" (which entered the Billboard Top 40 on December 18, 1965, and rose to number 3).[37] In 1964, he appeared on various TV shows, performing songs by Chuck Berry and others.[23]

He played xylophone and bells on the 1966 single "The Joker Went Wild", sung by Brian Hyland and written by Bobby Russell (no relation to Leon). He also contributed to recording sessions with Dorsey Burnette and with Glen Campbell, whose 1967 album Gentle on My Mind credited him as "Russell Bridges" on piano,[38] and arranged and conducted the 1966 easy listening album Rhapsodies for Young Lovers by the Midnight String Quartet.[39] He co-produced and arranged hits by Tom Northcott, including "Sunny Goodge Street" in 1967, written by Donovan.[40]

Russell released his first solo single, "Everybody's Talking 'Bout the Young", for Dot Records in 1965.[41]

The 1968 release of Look Inside the Asylum Choir by Smash Records was a recording of a studio group consisting of Russell and Marc Benno ("The Asylum Choir").[42]

Russell and Denny Cordell established Shelter Records in 1969. The company operated from 1969 to 1981, with offices in Los Angeles and Tulsa.[43] Shelter used Sound City Studios for recording in its early days.[3]

Russell performed as a member of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends in 1969 and 1970, playing guitar and keyboards on their albums and as part of the touring band. Through this group, he met George Harrison and others with whom he would work over the next couple of years.[44]

Russell's first commercial success as a songwriter came when Joe Cocker recorded the song "Delta Lady" for his 1969 album, Joe Cocker![35] The album, co-produced and arranged by Russell, reached number 11 on the Billboard 200.[45] Russell went on to organize and perform in (playing either piano or lead guitar) the 1970 Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, using many of the musicians from Delaney and Bonnie's band.[46] "Superstar", co-written by Russell, was sung by The Carpenters and other performers.[3]

1970sEdit

During the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, Shelter Records released his 1970 solo album, Leon Russell, which included the first recording of "A Song for You". This has become one of his best-known songs, with versions released by more than 40 different artists, including Billy Eckstine, The Carpenters, Ray Charles, Peggy Lee, Willie Nelson, Helen Reddy, Whitney Houston, Elkie Brooks, Amy Winehouse, Donny Hathaway, and Christina Aguilera. Both The Carpenters and The Temptations named an album after the song. Another song from the same album, "Delta Lady", was covered by Bobbie Gentry under the title "Delta Man" on her 1970 album Fancy. Leon Russell album had a number of guest vocalist and accompaniment: Chris Stainton, Bonnie Bramlett, Greg Dempsey, Bob Dylan, Marc Benno, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Joe Cocker, and Merry Clayton.[47] Leon Russell's A Song For You was added to Grammy Hall Of Fame for the 2018 Grammy Hall of Fame class.[48][49]

Also in 1970, Russell played piano on Dave Mason's album Alone Together, notably on the song "Sad and Deep as You".[50][51][52] Ray Charles recorded a version that earned him the 1994 Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.[53][54] The song The Letter by Joe Cocker with Leon Russell & The Shelter People peaked at #7 on the Hot 100 on May 30, 1970 this is Leon first hit song.[55]

In November 1970, Russell performed at the Fillmore East with Elton John on the same bill. Those performances have been bootlegged. Russell and John appeared on The David Frost Show with Fillmore owner Bill Graham at this time.[56]

"Leon Russell and Friends" recorded the "Homewood Sessions", broadcast as an "unscripted and unrehearsed" one-hour TV special on KCET (Los Angeles) that aired in December 1970 and was later re-broadcast several times on the Public Broadcasting Service.[57]

Leon performed on The David Frost Show on December 3, 1970.[58]

During the 1970s and 1980s, Russell owned The Church Studio on 3rd Street (renamed Leon Russell Road in 2010 by the Pearl District Association) in Tulsa.[59] His former home on Grand Lake, in Oklahoma, contained a dining room table and chairs made from church pews taken out of the church when it was turned into a studio.[60]

His album Prince of Peace: Radio Broadcast 1970 is a soundboard recording of a concert at Fillmore East in December 1970.[61]

Russell produced some tracks for Bob Dylan in March 1971 when Dylan was experimenting with his new sound. The sessions produced the single "Watching the River Flow" and "When I Paint My Masterpiece", both of which prominently featured Russell's gospel-flavored piano.[62]

At the invitation of former Delaney & Bonnie and George Harrison, Russell played piano on Badfinger's third album, Straight Up in the summer of 1971. The piano part complemented Pete Ham's and George Harrison's dual slide guitars on Badfinger's "Day After Day". The Straight Up sessions were interrupted when many of the musicians left for New York City to participate in The Concert for Bangladesh, at which Russell performed a medley of the songs "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Young Blood" and sang a verse on Harrison's "Beware of Darkness". Leon performed piano, vocals, bass and backing vocals at the Concert on 1 August 1971. The Concert for Bangladesh album released in 1971 was a major critical and commercial success. The album topped albums charts in several countries and went on to win the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in March 1973. The Concert also became an Apple concert film directed by Saul Swimmer.[63][64][65] Bob Dylan surprised Russell by asking him to play bass for some of Dylan's portion of the Concert; Russell and Harrison sang harmonies on the chorus of "Just Like a Woman".[35]

Russell was busy in 1971, as Shelter Records released Leon Russell and the Shelter People and Asylum Choir II (co-produced by Marc Benno) and recorded at Russell's Skyhill Studios. Leon Russell and the Shelter People went on to be Russell's first U.S. gold album. In the same year, Russell played on recording sessions with B. B. King, Eric Clapton, and Bob Dylan.[3][66]

 
Russell in 1970

Russell helped the blues guitarist Freddie King revive his career by collaborating on three of King's albums for Shelter Records during the early 1970s. During those same years, Russell profited from what was then called the "country and western" market by recording and performing under the moniker "Hank Wilson",[67] and was a regular performer at Gilley's Club, a honkytonk in Pasadena, Texas made famous by the film Urban Cowboy.[68]

Russell recorded the song "Get a Line on You" at Olympic Studios in October 1969, with contributions from Mick Jagger (lead vocal), Ringo Starr (drums), and probably also Bill Wyman (bass) and Mick Taylor (guitar). The recording was made during the recording sessions for the album Leon Russell (released in 1970), for which Starr and Wyman played drums and bass on some tracks, but was not included on the album. It was shelved until 1993, when it was issued as a bonus track on the 24K gold re-release by DCC Compact Classics (DCC Compact Classics GZS 1049). The Rolling Stones included the song, under the title "Shine a Light" on their 1972 album Exile on Main St..[69]

Russell and his band hit the road in 1972 with a large-scale concert tour by Russell and his "Shelter People" entourage. A live performance was recorded in California at the Long Beach Arena on August 28, 1972,[70] and was released as a three-record set in 1973 as Leon Live. It became his third U.S. gold album. In November 1972, Billboard cited Russell as a top concert draw and reported the 1972 tour gross at almost $3 million.[6][71][72]

Also in 1972, he released his Carney album, which was his third solo studio album. The album peaked at number two on the Billboard 200. The album featured "Tight Rope" and "This Masquerade" (songs released on a 45 as the A side and B side respectively), and became his second gold album.[73]

Russell purchased multiple properties in the early 1970s in his home state of Oklahoma, including the historic The Church Studio in 1972 located on the corner of 3rd Street and Trenton in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The church was also home to Shelter Records. Numerous musicians recorded at The Church, including Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Dwight Twilley, Dr. John, JJ Cale, The Gap Band, Freddie King, Phoebe Snow and Peter Tosh. Tom Petty, with his early band Mudcrutch, signed his first record deal with Shelter Records there.[74][75][76][77][78][79][80]

Looking Back was released by Russell on Olympia Records in 1973, shortly after the success of his single "Tight Rope". It contains instrumental tracks recorded in the mid-1960s, featuring Russell playing the harpsichord.[81]

Russell released the album Hank Wilson's Back Vol. I, which was recorded at producer Owen Bradley's barn studio in Nashville in 1973. The album made it into the Top Thirty Hits. Track one, "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms", was a minor hit.[82][83][84]

Russell helped the Gap Band, a trio of Tulsa brothers,[85] kick off their chart success in 1974. The group went on to produce several funk-disco hits.[85] The Gap Band backed Russell on his album Stop All That Jazz.[86]

Russell released Live In Japan on Shelter Records. The album was recorded live at Budokan Hall, in Tokyo, on November 8, 1973, and released in 1975.[87]

Russell made it into the 1975 Top 40 with "Lady Blue", from his album Will o' the Wisp. It was his fourth gold album.[82]

Helen Reddy recorded Russell's song "Bluebird" as a single and on her 1975 album No Way to Treat a Lady.[88] The song debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 in the July 5th issue of the magazine and eventually peaked at number 35.[89] That same issue also marked its debut on the magazine's Easy Listening chart, where it spent eight weeks and peaked at number 5;[90] on the RPM singles chart it reached number 51.[91] Reddy said, "I love Leon Russell's writing and I love this song. It was an integral part of my repertoire for nearly 30 years, and I never tired of singing it."[88]

Russell's song "This Masquerade", the B-side of his 1972 hit single "Tight Rope", was later recorded by numerous artists, including Helen Reddy and The Carpenters. George Benson's version of the song reached number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and won Record of the Year at the 1977 Grammy Awards.[92] As the song writer, Russell was nominated for Song of the Year in 1977 but lost to Bruce Johnston, who wrote "I Write the Songs".[93] Russell's version of "This Masquerade" was used for the soundtrack for the psychological thriller film Bug, which was directed by William Friedkin. The Bug soundtrack was released on May 22, 2007. The song was also used in the movie The Pursuit of Happyness.[94][95]

Russell departed Shelter Records in 1976 to start his own record label, Paradise Records.[96]

In 1976 Leon and Barbra Streisand wrote the song "Lost Inside of You" for the film sound track of A Star Is Born. Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson performed the song. The A Star Is Born soundtrack received a Grammy Nominations for Best Album of Original Score written for a Motion Picture or Television Special.[97]

In 1976, Russell released the Wedding Album, a studio album with his then wife, Mary Russell,[98] otherwise known as Mary McCreary. It was the first release by Paradise Records, and it was distributed by Rhino/Warner Bros. Records.[99] Leon and Mary were the album producers, except for the final track "Daylight", which was produced by its writer Bobby Womack.[100]

On May 15, 1976 Leon and Mary performed "Satisfy You" and "Daylight" with John Belushi as Joe Cocker on Saturday Night Live.[101]

Make Love to the Music is the second album by Leon & Mary Russell released in 1977 on Paradise Records.[102]

In 1978, Russell released his Americana album on the Rhino/Warner Bros. label.[103]

After touring with Willie Nelson, Russell and Nelson in 1979 had a #1 hit on Billboards country music chart with their duet of "Heartbreak Hotel". This single was nominated for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group at the 1979 Grammy Awards[104] (presented on February 27, 1980), with the award going to the Charlie Daniels Band for "The Devil Went Down to Georgia". They also released their duet country pop-rock studio album, One for the Road, that year. It was Russell's fifth gold album.[62] The album was nominated for 1979's Album of the Year awarded by the Country Music Association, which went to Kenny Rogers for The Gambler.[105] The track "I Saw the Light" was nominated for Best Inspirational Performance at the 1979 Grammy Awards,[104] which instead went to B. J. Thomas for his album You Gave Me Love (When Nobody Gave Me A Prayer).[106]

Leon built and owned Paradise Studios in Burbank, California; the recording studio had two audio sound stages and one television production stage. The studios complex also had a mobile audio recording bus and remote television production bus that supported the stages or could travel. Paradise Records was also headquartered at the studio. The studio aired a weekly live television music show New Wave Theatre shown on USA network. The studio was used to make music videos from James Taylor and Randy Meisner, also long format video for Willie Nelson, J.J.Cale, Bonnie Raitt and Leon Russell.[107]

Russell released Life And Love, an album on Paradise Records, in 1979. Life and Love has country, rock blues songs that harked back to Leon's work in the early 1970.[108]

1980sEdit

Russell spent 1980 and 1981 touring with the New Grass Revival, releasing two more albums with Paradise Records before the label folded.[35]

On May 1, 1982 Leon played at Joe Ely's Third Annual Tornado Jam in Lubbock, Texas to a crowd of 25,000. The Jam included Joan Jett and The Crickets.[109]

On May 15, 1980, Russell joined with New Grass Revival to record a live album at Perkins Palace in Pasadena, California, released in 1981 as The Live Album (Leon Russell and New Grass Revival).[110]

In 1982 Leon played piano and percussion on New Grass Revival 'a Commonwealth album.[111]

Following up on his country theme, he made a second Hank Wilson album, Hank Wilson, Vol. II released in 1984, Hank Wilson being Russell's self-styled country music alter-ego since the early 1970s. Released on Leon Russell Records.[112]

Russell released a country blues album, recorded in Hendersonville, Tennessee, at his Paradise Studios, called Solid State. It was released by Paradise Music in 1984.[113]

In 1985 Leon went on tour, some of the cities were: January 25, 1985 at the Capitol Theatre, Passaic, NJ. On March 12, 1985 at Rainbow Music Hall n Denver, Colorado. June 17, 1985 at The Ritz, New York, NY and on September 19, 1985 at The Vogue in Indianapolis, IN.[114]

In 1985 Leon released the compilation album Best Of Leon Russell: A Song For You, distributed By CBS/Sony .[115]

In 1988 and 1989 Edgar Winter and Leon Russell went on concert tour of the US and Canada. Edgar Winter is multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and record producer. In 2002 the DVD Edgar Winter – Live on Stage, Featuring Leon Russell was released.[116][117][118]

1990sEdit

Russell released Delta Lady on Del Rack Records in 1991. Many of the songs are remixes of early recordings.[119]

Russell released a new album Anything Can Happen recorded at Paradise Studios, released on Virgin Records in 1991. Pianist Bruce Hornsby produced this comeback album. During the late 1980s and early 1990s Hornsby worked extensively as a producer and sideman with Russell.[120]

In 1993, Paradise Records released the Leon Russell 24k Gold Disc album. It was a remix of recordings done at Olympic Sound in London in 1969.[121]

Russell started Leon Russell Records, an independent record label, in 1995.[122]

Russell released his Hymns of Christmas Leon Russell: Piano and Orchestra, album with 10 instrumental hymns by Russell on Leon Russell Records in 1995.[123]

Capitol/EMI Records in 1996 released the album Gimme Shelter! The Best of Leon Russell, a two-CD album set with 40-tracks covering 1969–1992.[124]

Capitol/Right Stuff Records released in 1997 the album Retrospective, an album with Russell's 18 all-time best-selling songs.[125]

Russell released a new album Legend in My Time: Hank Wilson Vol. III. Returning to his county artist name on Ark 21 Records, released in 1998 .[126]

Russell released Face in the Crowd in 1999, a blues album on Sagestone Entertainment Records.[127][128]

Blues: Same Old Song CD was released on Paradise Records in 1999.[129]

2000sEdit

 
Russell in 2009

In 2000, Russell and Q Records released Live at Gilley's, a performance from September 17, 1981 at Gilley's Club.[130] Also in 2000, Leon Russell Records released the rock album Crazy Love on CD.[131]

In 2001 Leon teamed up with multi-instrumentalis Matt Harris to make Matt's album Slightly Elliptical Orbit. Matt and Leon wrote 10 songs for the 12 track album. Leon sang on only one track This Train. The album was released in 2002 on Leon Russell Records.[132][133]

Signature Songs was released in 2001 on Leon Russell Records. On the album Leon plays all his top songs from his long career. It was re-released in 2007 by MRI Associated Labels.[134]

Russell returned as Hank Wilson, but this time with a twist of bluegrass, in Rhythm & Bluegrass: Hank Wilson, Vol. 4, released in 2001 on Leon Russell Records. The songs are with New Grass Revival from the 1980s.[135]

Russell and the others who played on the "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" track each won Grammy Awards for Best Country Instrumental Performance at the 2001 Grammy Awards,[104] which were presented on February 27, 2002.

Moonlight & Love Songs, an album Russell made with the Nashville Symphony, was released on Leon Russell Records in 2002.[136]

In 2002 Leon release a 95 minutes DVD titled "A Song for You", that features 25 Russell classics songs from the Shelter People to 2001. There is biographical commentary throughout the DVD. The video is of both concerts and studio sessions.[137]

In 2002 Leon released the DVD album Live And Pickling Fast, this was a new album of the live Perkins Palace event on May 15, 1980. The new album has all the original songs from The Live Album (with New Grass Revival), plus all the other songs from the event.[138] Live And Pickling Fast DVD was released with audio bonus tracks.[139]

In 2006 Leon did a 12 city concert tour of the US. On April 23, 2006 Leon received the Living Legend award at Bare Bones International Film Festival.[140]

In October 2006, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.[141]

At age 65, Russell made the new Okie rock album Angel in Disguise, which was released by Leon Russell Records in 2006.[142]

Bad Country released on Leon Russell Records in 2007, with 12 original songs by Russell.[143]

Russell played at Diversafest, Tulsa's Music Conference and Festival in 2007. From 2002 to 2010, Dfest was an annual live event that showcased independent and emerging artists and hosted educational music industry panels and a tradeshow. Over its last four years, Dfest was held in the historic Blue Dome District of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Almost Piano was released in 2007 by Leon Russell Records. It is a synthesizer piano collection of ten instrumentals from Russell.[144]

In Your Dreams was released on CD by Leon Russell Records in 2008.[145]

In 2008 Leon release A Mighty Flood a gospel album with original song by Leon. Billboard magazine on October 2, 2010, called a A Mighty Flood "a recent treat" and a "buoyant 2008 gospel album".[146]

2010sEdit

On January 31, 2010 Leon join the Zac Brown Band to play the Chicken Fried on the Grammy Awards. Zac Brown Band won the Best New Artist award.[147]

In 2010 Leon Russell's daughter, Sugaree Noel Bridges, released her first album The American Dream on Leon Russell Records.[148][149]

After years of reduced prominence, Russell's career was rejuvenated when Elton John sought him for a new project.[150] In November 2009, Russell worked with John and Bernie Taupin on The Union, a double album record credited equally to Russell and John. Recorded in February 2010 and produced by T-Bone Burnett,[151] the CD was released on October 19, 2010. The Union was Russell's sixth gold album.[152] The recordings were interrupted in January 2010 when Russell was hospitalized and underwent surgery for a brain fluid leak, as well as treatment for heart failure and pneumonia.[21] On April 2, 2011, Russell and John performed together as the musical guests on Saturday Night Live. Rolling Stone placed the album in third place on its list of the 30 Best Albums of 2010.[153] A couple of months later, Russell announced plans for a solo LP, although no specifics were given, and in October 2010 Russell and John embarked on The Union Tour. John and Russell also appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman.[154]

Russell and John were nominated for their track “If It Wasn't for Bad", from their The Union album, for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals at the 2010 Grammy Awards,[104] which were presented on February 13, 2011.

In 2011, the documentary film The Union by Cameron Crowe was released. It explored the creative process of John and Russell in the making of the 2010 album The Union.[155][156] Russell played in Willie Nelson's Fourth of July Picnic in Fort Worth, Texas in 2013. He had first played at the picnic in 1976.[157][158]

In 2012 Leon and Vince Gill sang the song A Way to Survive on the Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran studio album by Jamey Johnson. Along with strong critical acclaim, the album was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Country Album.[159]

On June 23, 2013 Lean performed on the CMT Crossroads broadcast with Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow, Jamey Johnson, Norah Jones, Ashley Monroe and Neil Young.[160]

 
Leon Russell taking time out to tell a story in 2016

In 2014, the album Life Journey was released on Universal Records. Working with Tommy LiPuma, this album included two new songs by Russell: "Big Lips" and "Down in Dixieland".[161]

On March 16, 2015, a restored version of a previously unreleased 1974 documentary about Russell, A Poem Is A Naked Person by filmmaker Les Blank, was screened at the South by Southwest Film Festival.[162] The film features concert footage of Russell in New Orleans and Anaheim and of the recording sessions for the album Hank Wilson's Back.

In 2015, he played at Virginia's Lockn' Festival and the Wildflower! Arts and Music Festival in Richardson, Texas.[163] On September 11, 2015, Russell joined Rita Coolidge, Claudia Lennear, Chris Stainton, and other members of the 1970 Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour for a tribute concert to Joe Cocker organized by the Tedeschi Trucks Band.[164][165] Original tour photographer Linda Wolf documented the reunion and performance.[166]

On May 30, 2015 Leon, Bonnie Raitt and Ivan Neville gave a performance at The Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, California, Ca to raise cash for Marty Grebb who was battling cancer. Grebb had played on some of their albums.[167]

Russell had a nationwide concert tour to enthusiastic crowds in 2016 and was planning to tour into 2017.[32]

The album On a Distant Shore recorded in 2016, was posthumously released in September 2017. The album has 12 songs written by Leon. Leon's daughters Coco Bridges and Sugaree Noel Bridges performs backing vocals on the album.[168][169]

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Leon Russell among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.[170]

Death and legacyEdit

I first saw Leon Russell in 1971 or 1972. Then, as now, Leon made everything happen when he took the stage. For heaven's sake, his rock and roll credits could fill up a big inscribed monolith, if they still made such things.

Elvis Costello[21]

Russell died in his sleep at his suburban Nashville home in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, on November 13, 2016, at the age of 74, his wife said in a statement on his website. In 2010, he had undergone surgery, and in July 2016 he suffered a heart attack. He was recovering from heart surgery.[171] Russell's funeral was on November 18 at Victory Baptist Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, and a public memorial was held at The Oral Roberts University Mabee Center on November 20 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.[172] He is interred at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Tulsa, Oklahoma.[173]

Elton John, who had once been Russell's opening act, acknowledged him as his "biggest influence as a piano player, a singer and a songwriter."[174][175] On hearing of Russell's death, he said: "My darling Leon Russell passed away last night. He was a mentor, inspiration and so kind to me. I loved him and always will."[174] John once recalled:

When Mr. Russell's "Greatest Hits" album came on one day during the trip, I started to cry, it moved me so much. His music takes me back to the most wonderful time in my life, and it makes me so angry that he's been forgotten.[21]

Pixies vocalist Black Francis credits Russell with influencing his vocal style: "I realise there's a certain kind of vocalising I do that takes its cue from Leon Russell. He sang in a southern accent but it was very blown-out and exaggerated, very free and loose."[176]

Personal lifeEdit

Russell had six children.[177][178] His oldest daughter Blue was with Carla McHenry. She was born February 20, 1972 and was named Blueagle after Oklahoman and Native American Artist Acee Blue Eagle. Leon married Mary McCreary on June 20, 1975. Mary was a musical partner. They had two children, daughter Tina Rose and son Teddy Jack. Leon and Mary divorced on October 3, 1980. He married Janet Lee Constantine on February 6, 1983. They had three daughters together, Sugaree Noel (born October 9, 1982), Honey (born January 19, 1986), and Coco (born April 29, 1990).[179] In 2013 on Willie Nelson's To All the Girls... album, Willie sang the song After the Fire Is Gone with Tina Rose.[180]

Russell was not allowed to see his son Teddy for 10 years following his divorce from McCreary. Teddy visited his father upon reaching 18.[177] Teddy Jack later became Leon's mixing engineer.[181]

DiscographyEdit

Studio and live albumsEdit

[6][55][72]

Year Album Peak chart positions Certifications
(sales thresholds)
U.S. U.S. Country Canada Canada Country New Zealand
1968 Look Inside the Asylum Choir (with Marc Benno) 201
1970 Leon Russell 60
1971 Leon Russell and the Shelter People 17 14 U.S.: Gold[182]
Asylum Choir II (with Marc Benno) 70
1972 Carney 2 4 U.S.: Gold[182]
1973 Looking Back
Leon Live 9 9 U.S.: Gold[182]
Hank Wilson's Back Vol. I 28 15 85
1974 Stop All That Jazz 34 43
1975 Live in Japan
Will O' the Wisp[82] 30 72 U.S.: Gold[182]
1976 Wedding Album (with Mary Russell)[98] 34
1977 Make Love to the Music (with Mary Russell) 142
1978 Americana[103] 115
1979 One for the Road (with Willie Nelson) 25 3 28 1 11 U.S.: Gold[182]
Canada: Gold[183]
Life and Love[108] 204
1981 The Live Album (with The New Grass Revival)[110] 187
1984 Hank Wilson, Vol. II[112]
Solid State[113]
1992 Anything Can Happen[120]
1995 Hymns of Christmas[123]
1998 Legend in My Time: Hank Wilson Vol. III[126]
1999 Face in the Crowd[127][128]
Blues: Same Old Song[129]
2000 Live at Gilley's[130]
2001 Guitar Blues[131]
Rhythm & Bluegrass: Hank Wilson, Vol. 4 (with The New Grass Revival)[135]
2002 Moonlight & Love Songs (with The Nashville Symphony)[136]
2006 Angel in Disguise[142]
2007 Bad Country[143]
Almost Piano[144]
2008 In Your Dreams[145]
A Mighty Flood
2010 The Union (with Elton John)[15] 3 7 24

Canada: Gold
U.K.: Silver[184]

2014 Life Journey[161] 164
2015 Prince of Peace: Radio Broadcast 1970[185]
Riding the Northeast Trail: The New Jersey Broadcast 1979 (with Willie Nelson)[186]
2016 The Homewood Sessions Vine Street TV Broadcast 1970[187]
Live and Pickling Fast (1980) (with The New Grass Revival)[138]
2017 On a Distant Shore[188]
"—" denotes releases that did not chart.

Compilation albumsEdit

Year Album Peak chart positions Certifications
(sales thresholds)
U.S.
1976 Best of Leon Russell[189] 40 U.S.: Gold[182]
1985 Best Of Leon Russell: A Song For You[115] -
1991 Delta Lady[119][190]
1992 Collection[191]
1996 Gimme Shelter: The Best of Leon Russell[192]
1997 Retrospective[193]
2000 Crazy Love[194]
2001 Best of Leon Russell[195]
Signature Songs[134]
2002 A Song For You (DVD)[196]
2005 Mystery Train (Live but Digitally Reworked)[197]
2009 Best of Hank Wilson[198]
2011 The Best of Leon Russell[199][200]
2013 Snapshot[201]
2013 The Montreux Session[202]
"—" denotes releases that did not chart.

SinglesEdit

[203]

Year Single Chart positions Album
U.S.
[204]
U.S. Country Canada Canada Country Canada AC Australia
[205]
1970 "Roll Away the Stone" 109 24 Leon Russell
1970 "A Song for You" 24 Leon Russell
1971 "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" 105 11 Leon Russell and the Shelter People
"The Ballad of Mad Dogs & Englishmen" Leon Russell and the Shelter People
(from the film Mad Dogs & Englishmen)
1972 "Tryin' to Stay 'Live" 115 Asylum Choir II
"Tight Rope" 11 5 24 Carney
1973 "Queen of the Roller Derby" 89
"Rollin' in My Sweet Baby's Arms" (as Hank Wilson) 78 57 30 Hank Wilson's Back, Vol. 1
"I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" (as Hank Wilson) 78
1974 "A Six Pack to Go" (as Hank Wilson) 68 76
"If I Were a Carpenter" 73 87 97 Stop All That Jazz
1975 "Lady Blue"[82] 14 44 18 Will O' the Wisp
1976 "Back to the Island" 53 33
"Rainbow in Your Eyes" 52 Wedding Album[98]
1978 "Heartbreak Hotel" (w/ Willie Nelson)[62] 1 1 One for the Road
1984 "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues" 63 Solid State
"Wabash Cannonball" (w/ Willie Nelson, as Hank Wilson) 91 single only
1992 "Anything Can Happen" Anything Can Happen
"No Man's Land"
2000 "Crazy Love"
2010 "If It Wasn't For Bad" (with Elton John) The Union
"—" denotes releases that did not chart.

Music videosEdit

Year Video Director
1992 "Anything Can Happen" Sherman Halsey
"No Man's Land"

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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External linksEdit