|The ultimate rock & roll session man,
Leon Russell's long and
storied career includes collaborations with a virtual who's who of music
icons spanning from Jerry Lee Lewis to Phil Spector to the Rolling
Stones. A similar eclecticism and scope also surfaced in his solo work,
which couched his charmingly gravelly voice in a rustic yet rich swamp
pop fusion of country, blues and gospel. Born Claude Russell Bridges on
April 2, 1942, in Lawton, OK, he began studying classical piano at age
three, a decade later adopting the trumpet and forming his first band.
At 14, Russell lied about his age to land a gig at a Tulsa nightclub,
playing behind Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks before touring in support of
Jerry Lee Lewis. Two years later, he settled in Los Angeles, studying
guitar under the legendary James Burton and appearing on sessions with
Dorsey Burnette and Glen Campbell. As a member of Spector's renowned
studio group, Russell played on many of the finest pop singles of the
1960s, also arranging classics like Ike & Tina Turner's monumental
"River Deep, Mountain High"; other hits bearing his input include the
Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man," Gary Lewis & the Playboys' "This Diamond
Ring," and Herb Alpert's "A Taste of Honey."
While touring with Delaney & Bonnie, he scored his first
songwriting hit with Joe Cocker's reading of "Delta Lady," and in 1970,
upon founding his own Shelter Records imprint, he also organized
Cocker's legendary Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. After the subsequent
tour film earned Russell his first real mainstream notoriety, he issued
a self-titled solo LP, and in 1971 appeared at George Harrison's Concert
for Bangladesh following sessions for B.B. King, Eric Clapton, and Bob
Dylan. After touring with the Rolling Stones, Russell increasingly
focused on his solo career, reaching the number two spot with 1972's
Carny and scoring his first pop hit with the single "Tight Rope."
The success of 1973's three-LP set Leon Live further established his
reputation as a top concert draw, and later the lovely single "Lady
Blue" kept him on the airways...
In 1976, the Russell-penned
"This Masquerade" earned a Grammy Award for singer George Benson. Russell teamed with Willie Nelson for 1979's Willie
& Leon. He then spent the next two years touring with his bluegrass
band, the New Grass Revival, issuing a live LP in 1981; Bruce Hornsby
produced Anything Can Happen in 1992.
He released five albums during the 90's
including "Anything Can Happen" (1992), "Blues" (1995), "Legend In
My Time - Hank Wilson Volume #3" (1998), and "Face In The Crowd"
(1999). EMI Records also released two compilation CD's - "Gimme
Shelter" and "Retrospective" in the late nineties which highlight
his legendary songs including "This Masquerade" (the first song in
music history to occupy the number one spot in jazz, pop, and R&B
charts), "Hummingbird", "A Song For You", "Superstar" and "Delta
Lady" to name a few. A recent quote called his live performances
"not just a greatest hits review," although there is always that
element, but a performance where his energy and passion come out and
the musical spark he creates still blazes brightly, alive and fresh
promise and renewed potential."