In­flu­en­tial rocker Leon Rus­sell dies

Jamaica Gleaner - - ENTERTAINMENT -

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP): LEON RUS­SELL, who per­formed, sang, and pro­duced some of rock ‘n’ roll’s top records, has died. He was 74.

Rus­sell’s wife, Jan Bridges, said in a state­ment that her hus­band died in his sleep on Sun­day at their Nashville home. She said Rus­sell had heart by­pass surgery in July and had been plan­ning on re­sum­ing tour­ing in Jan­uary.

His fi­nal per­for­mance was on July 10 in Nashville.

Be­sides his mu­sic, Rus­sell was known for his strik­ing ap­pear­ance: wispy white hair half­way down his back and which cov­ered much of his face.

Rus­sell recorded hit songs like Tight Rope and Lady Blue and par­tic­i­pated in The Con­cert for Bangladesh. John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and Ge­orge Har­ri­son played on his first al­bum, Leon Rus­sell. Later, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Wil­lie Nel­son were among those to cover Rus­sell’s bal­lad A Song for You, which he wrote for the al­bum.


“A true pa­tri­arch has been lost,” said Beau Char­ron, Rus­sell’s gui­tar and pedal steel player, in a state­ment. “Leon Rus­sell fa­thered many mu­si­cians and fans through life and love with his mu­sic. On his own terms. My years with him have shaped me in pro­found ways and I am heart­bro­ken to lose my men­tor and friend.”

Tributes poured in from en­ter­tain­ers who ap­pre­ci­ated Rus­sell’s gospel-in­fused South­ern boo­gie pi­ano rock, blues, and coun­try mu­sic.

On Twit­ter, Cat Stevens wrote that Rus­sell was “a great in­flu­ence and song­writer.” Char­lie Daniels said Rus­sell “left a lot of great mu­sic be­hind.” And Richard Marx tweeted: “What an ex­tra­or­di­nary mes­sen­ger of beauty he was.”

Rus­sell played key­board for the Los An­ge­les stu­dio team known as the Wreck­ing Crew, help­ing pro­ducer Phil Spec­tor de­velop his game-chang­ing wall-of­sound ap­proach in the 1960s.

He wrote Joe Cocker’s Delta Lady and in 1969 put to­gether Cocker’s Mad Dogs and English­men tour, which spawned a doc­u­men­tary film and a hit dou­ble al­bum.

As a mu­si­cian, pri­mar­ily a pi­anist, he played on The Beach Boys’ Cal­i­for­nia Girls and land­mark Pet Sounds al­bum, Jan and Dean’s Surf City, the Ronettes’ Be My Baby, and the Byrds’ Mr Tam­bourine Man. He also played the gui­tar and the bass.

Rus­sell pro­duced and played on record­ing ses­sions for Bob Dy­lan, Frank Si­na­tra, Ike and Tina Turner, the Rolling Stones, and many oth­ers. He ar­ranged the Turn­ers’ River Deep, Moun­tain High.

His con­certs of­ten ended with a rous­ing ver­sion of Jumpin’ Jack Flash. In 1973, Bill­board Mag­a­zine listed Rus­sell as the top con­cert at­trac­tion in the world. About this time, he was the head­line act on billings that in­cluded El­ton John and at other times Wil­lie Nel­son.

In a 1992 in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press, Rus­sell said mu­sic doesn’t re­ally change much. “It’s cycli­cal, like fashion. You keep your old clothes and they’ll be in style again sooner or later. There are new things, like rap. But that’s a re­birth of po­etry. It’s brought po­etry to the pub­lic con­scious­ness,” he said.

In 2011, Rus­sell was cho­sen for in­duc­tion into the Song­writ­ers

Hall of Fame. He also was honoured with an Award for Mu­sic Ex­cel­lence from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

He and El­ton John re­leased The Union, a crit­i­cally re­ceived duo al­bum, in 2010.

“He was a men­tor, in­spi­ra­tion and so kind to me,” El­ton John said in a Face­book post Sun­day. “Thank God we caught up with each other and made The Union. He got his rep­u­ta­tion back and felt ful­filled. I loved him and al­ways will.”

Born Claude Rus­sell Bridges in Law­ton, Ok­la­homa, Rus­sell be­gan as a night­club pi­ano player in Ok­la­homa at the age of 14, also back­ing tour­ing artists when they came to town. Jerry Lee Lewis was so im­pressed with Rus­sell that he hired Rus­sell and his band for two years of tours.

He re­lo­cated to Los An­ge­les in 1959, where he be­came known as a top mu­si­cian, and later to Nashville.

In the early 2000s, he be­gan his own record la­bel, Leon Rus­sell Records.

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