Musical palate cleanser, 2016 keeps getting suckier edition

I really hate this year.

Leon Russell, the longhaired, scratchy-voiced pianist, guitarist, songwriter and bandleader who moved from playing countless recording sessions to making hits on his own, died on Saturday in Nashville, Tenn. He was 74.

His death was announced on his website, which said that he had died in his sleep but gave no specific cause.

If you don’t know much about Russell except for a couple of hits, his career was remarkable.

With a top hat on his head, hair well past his shoulders, a long beard, an Oklahoma drawl in his voice and his fingers splashing two-fisted barrelhouse piano chords, Mr. Russell cut a flamboyant figure in the early 1970s. He led Joe Cocker’s band Mad Dogs & Englishmen, appeared at George Harrison’s 1971 Concert for Bangladesh and had hits of his own, including “Tight Rope.” His songs also became hits for others, among them “Superstar” (written with Bonnie Bramlett) for the Carpenters, “Delta Lady” for Joe Cocker and “This Masquerade” for George Benson. More than 100 acts have recorded “A Song for You,” a song Mr. Russell said he wrote in 10 minutes.

By the time Mr. Russell released his first solo album in 1970, he had already played on hundreds of songs as one of the top studio musicians in Los Angeles. Mr. Russell was in Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound Orchestra, and he played sessions for Frank Sinatra, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, the Ventures and the Monkees, among many others. He is heard on “Mr. Tambourine Man” by the Byrds, “A Taste of Honey” by Herb Alpert, “Live With Me” by the Rolling Stones and all of the Beach Boys’ early albums, including “Pet Sounds.”

My favorite performance of his was from the aforementioned Concert for Bangladesh, where he delivered a rollicking version of “Jumping Jack Flash/Youngblood”.

Vaya con Dios, my man.

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21 Comments

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21 responses to “Musical palate cleanser, 2016 keeps getting suckier edition

  1. Hardcoredawg 93

    I have an album from the 70’s- “Hank Wilson’s Back”- and it sounds awesome after a couple bourbons.

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  2. Russ

    RIP, brother.

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  3. doofusdawg

    Lady Blue one of my all time favorites. Thanks for posting his death… I hadn’t heard.

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  4. Red Cup

    Saw Leon a few years ago. He opened for Dylan at Chastain. He was the highlight of the show. RIP

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  5. Burt

    I grew up with Russell playing on the turntable. That voice always brings back memories from my childhood. I guess Delta Lady was my favorite.

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  6. Athens Dog

    Saw him at the foundry last year. Wonderful concert. Sad news indeed.

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  7. He played at Huff Gym at Illinois with Mad Dogs and Englishmen minus Joe. They just on a riser, not a stage, so I was lucky enough to lean on his piano and shoot the breeze with him between songs. This version of Honky Tonk Woman was with that band.

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  8. Macallanlover

    His version of “Heartbreak Hotel” with Willie Nelson is the best have ever heard. Not much the King did was ever done better by other artists but this one is worth the time to listen to, especially with volume cranked. RIP old boy.

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  9. Billy C

    I saw him at the Overton Park Shell in Memphis in 1972 with the Shelter People. Freddie King was his opening act. It was a great show..

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  10. Idlewild Dawg

    RIP. Check out his song “Shootout on the Plantation” & his cover of Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”.

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  11. Uglydawg

    We understand, Leon..you had to go back to the island..watch the seabirds fly and hear the night bird cry..RIP

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  12. PTC DAWG

    BA, ICYF.

    Thanks for the links, I appreciate your musical tastes.

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  13. Chopdawg

    Saw him at the Stegosaurus in 1974, great concert, for his encore he hopped up on top of his piano with a beer in his hand.

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    • Bulldog Joe

      Saw him the last two times he played Athens. On encores, he said:

      “This is the part of the show where I’m supposed to leave the stage and y’all are supposed to cheer and I’m supposed to come back.”

      “But I’m too old for that shit now, so I’m just gonna go ahead and play some more songs for y’all.”

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  14. Bryan J Glass

    I was fortunate enough to see Leon and Willie in Columbus, GA, in 1979. I took off work from Albany and was second in line so I had my hands on the stage. What a show! Gave Willie an Abraham that night and really enjoyed Leon and his wife too!

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  15. Saw him in seattle in the 70’s. One hell of a show. It takes a lot to laugh and a train to cry. My favorite.

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