Leon Russell played on, produced, arranged, and wrote some of rock and roll's
most successful and important records. George Benson's cover of "This Masquerade"
written by Leon was the first song in music history to occupy the number one spot
on the jazz, pop, and R&B charts. "This Masquerade also "Record
of the Year" and a Grammy in 1976. He released four Gold Albums and had a
hand in many other chart hits including "Superstar," and a "A Song
Leon was instrumental in some of Joe Cocker's biggest hits, including, perhaps,
the defining song of Joe Cocker's career, "Delta Lady," written by
The Carpenters struck gold with Leon's song "Superstar," Ray Charles
covered "A Song For You," and B.B. King covered "Hummingbird."
Leon Russell is pop music's most anonymous big shot."
Born in 1942, Leon began as a night club piano player in Oklahoma at the age
of 14. Leon backed touring artists when they came to town. He and his band were
hired to back Jerry Lee Lewis at Cain's ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Lewis
was so impressed that he hired Leon's band for two years of road tours. Relocating
to Los Angeles just before its rise to prominence as rock's capital in the 1960's,
Leon became part of the "Wrecking Crew," an elite group of studio
musicians which included Glen Campbell and Hal Blaine.
Leon eventually produced and played on sessions with Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra,
Ike and Tina Turner, The Rolling Stones, The Byrds, The Ventures, Bobby Darin,
Wayne Newton, Sam Cooke, Johnny Mathis and many records with Herb Albert and
Leon can be heard playing piano on Jan and Dean's "Surf City," Bobby
Boris Pickett's "Monster Mash LP," and The Beach Boys "California
Girls" and "Pet Sounds" among others. Leon played on most of
Phil Spector's landmark records. According to Jack Nitzsche, noted producer,
writer and arranger, "Leon was there for the solos and the fancy stuff,"
Jack was the band leader for those sessions.
George Harrison's guitar playing on Leon's first album led to his participation
in the first rock and roll benefit concerts, the "Concert for Bangladesh."
Leon played piano, guitar, and bass guitar. His duet with George Harrison on
"Beware of Darkness," and his performance of "Youngblood"
and "Jumpin' Jack Flash" are legendary. These performances were subsequently
included in the film and platinum album "Concert for Bangladesh."
The all star lineup included: George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Bob
Dylan, Billy Preston, Klaus Voorman, Badfinger, and Ravi Shankar, along with
Leon's band members Don Preston, Carl Radle, and Claudia Linnear with friends
Jim Horn, Jim Keltner, and Jesse Ed Davis.
Leon's career was well underway at the time of the Concert for Bangladesh.
Three of Leon's solo albums, 1971's "Leon Russell and The Shelter People,"
1972's "Carney" (which went to number two on the pop album chart),
and 1973's three album set "Leon Live" were certified gold. These
albums were released on Shelter Records, owned by Leon and producer Denny Cordell,
along with early albums by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Phoebe Snow and
The Gap Band, also three albums that Leon produced and played on for the great
blues guitarist, Freddie King.
In the 1970's Leon was established as a major live performer and was reported
by Billboard Magazine to be the top concert attraction in the world by 1973.
Many different performers opened for Leon in this period including Elton John,
ZZ Top, Willie Nelson and Charlie Daniels. Leon and the Shelter People, along
with Memphis blues singer Furry Lewis, taped a fan favorite special that aired
on PBS. Miss Emily Smith was featured dancing while baking a pie.
Leon shocked everyone and became the toast of Nashville, Tennessee, when he
recorded his first Hank Wilson country record. This was at the peak of his popularity
as a rock performer. Popular artists of the time played it safe with their careers
by restricting themselves to a single genre of music. Leon became known as a
musical "ChameLeon," delighting his fans and confusing his critics
who just didn't get it. Country artists like Mark Chestnut and Clint Black have
credited Leon and his Hank Wilson's Back Volume One album with inspiring them
to pursue country music careers.
After receiving his fourth gold album for "Will O' The Wisp," which
included the hit single "Lady Blue", Leon teamed with Willie Nelson
and the dynamic duo achieved success with the "One For The Road" record.
This record was honored by the Country Music Association as "Best Album
of The Year." Willie & Leon's hit "Heartbreak Hotel", topped
the country charts, and they have toured together many times since, and in recent
years having much success with their "Two Man" show. Leon co-hosted
the first of the Willie Nelson 4th of July Picnics. This show was later broadcast
on Wolfman Jacks "Midnight Special." These picnics were perhaps the
single most important force that helped bridge the gap between hippies and rednecks
in the 1970's. Leon also joined the Willie Nelson tour at the peak of Willie's
popularity circa 1979, in which he substituted for Willie's sister Bobby on
Leon wrote and recorded many major hits and FM radio staples and fan favorites
that became standards for the period including: Superstar (with Delaney Bramlett),
A Song for You, This Masquerade, Blues Power (with Eric Clapton), Dixie Lullaby
(with Chris Stainton), I Put a Spell on You, Shoot Out on the Plantation, Delta
Lady, Roll Away the Stone (with Greg Dempsey), Stranger in a Strange Land (with
Don Preston), Out in the Woods, Lady Blue, Back to the Island, Bluebird, Lost
Inside of You (with Barbara Streisand) for A Star is Born.
In the 1980's Leon toured with The New Grass Revival. The live album and video
from this tour featured knockout bluegrass versions of the Beatles, "I've
Just Seen a Face" and the Rolling Stones "Jumpin' Jack Flash."
Leon also toured with Edgar Winter on a double bill for two years and shared
the stage of Austin City Limits with him. They played concerts in Canada, Brazil,
Mexico, and Russia, as well as many in the US.
Continuing into the 1990s, he released "Anything Can Happen," which
was produced by Leon & Bruce Hornsby in 1992 for Virgin Records. He followed
that up with 1998's "Hank Wilson Vol. 3: "Legend In My Time"
and in 1999, "Face In The Crowd."
In 2002 on LRR, came the self titled release by Leon's son Teddy Jack, and
one of the most exciting releases of Leon's career, "Moonlight and Love
Songs," which features Leon singing "standards" accompanied by
the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.
Current members of Leon's band include: Leon's daughters, Tina Rose and Sugaree
Noel on Vocals and Percussion; Jackie Wessel, Bassist/Backing Vocals; Cody Chesterfield,
Drums/Percussion; J. "Curly" Speegle, Guitarist/Backing Vocals; Grant