Collaborating With Leon Russell


One of the stars of the Mad Dogs & Englishman tribute set at Lockn’ Festival Friday night was renowned keyboardist Leon Russell who was also part of the original recording with Joe Cocker. Inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2011, Russell’s storied career includes stints as a sought-after session musician and touring aficionado, alongside a well-respected and successful solo career. This week’s Sunday Cinema installment collects video footage of the legendary performer on stage with just a small sample of the many musicians he’s collaborated with over the course of over a half century of work.

The first clip presented is from the famed 1970 Mad Dogs & Englishmen Tour in which Russell served as performer and musical director. The video below showcases Joe Cocker leading the ensemble on The Box Tops’ hit “The Letter.”

Russell was a driving force in the development of the late 1950s/early 1960s roots-rock movement later dubbed the Tulsa Sound along with the likes of Rocky Frisco, Elvin Bishop, Gus Hardin and J.J. Cale. The footage below captures Leon collaborating with J.J. Cale – the pair started out together in the Tulsa-based band The Starlighters – performing Cale’s classic “After Midnight.”

Another act associated with the Tulsa Sound was the local outfit the Gap Band. Below watch as Russell leads the group that would go on to become a popular funk act.

Here’s high quality footage of Russell and Willie Nelson in 1979. Watch as the pair performs a rocking “Heartbreak Hotel” at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey.

In 1971 Russell appeared at George Harrison’s all-star Concert For Bangla Desh that also featured Bob Dylan, Ravi Shankar, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston and others. Leon plays bass alongside Harrison and Ringo Starr as Bob Dylan leads the group through his “It’s Takes A Lot To Laugh/It’s Take A Train To Cry.”

Over 30 years later, in 2011, Russell was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame by collaborator Elton John with whom he released the 2010 album The Union. The first clip below features Russell’s performance at the Rock Hall induction ceremony with members of the CBS Orchestra and John Mayer adding guitar. The second video shows Russell and John’s joint appearance at the Beacon Theatre in New York City.

Finally, here’s a video of the Zac Brown Band joined by Russell from the 2010 Grammy Awards. The collaboration featured a “America The Beautiful,” “Dixie Lullaby” and “Chicken Fried.”

Collaborating With Leon Russell Playlist

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