Happy Birthday Leon Russell: A Career Of Collaborating


Renowned multi-instrumentalist, producer, arranger and songwriter Leon Russell was born on this date in Lawton, Oklahoma in 1942. The 2011 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductee passed away in November 2016 at the age of 74, bringing an end to an admirable career that saw Russell become a sought-after session musician and touring aficionado, alongside well-respected and successful solo work.

In honor of what would be Leon’s birthday today, below is a collection of video footage of the legendary musician on stage with just a small sample of the many artists he collaborated with over the course of over a half-century of performing. The first clip presented is from Joe Cocker’s famed 1970 Mad Dogs & Englishmen Tour in which Russell served as performer and musical director. The video below showcases Cocker leading the ensemble on The Box Tops’ hit “The Letter.”

Russell was one of 11 veterans of Cocker’s acclaimed tour that participated in the all-star Mad Dogs & Englishmen tribute set led by Tedeschi Trucks Band at the 2015 Lockn music festival. Here’s Chris Robinson fronting the collective on “Space Captain”:

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 Russell’s Paradise Studios along with harmonica player Mickey Raphael:

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” in the clip below:

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 at the 2010 Grammy Awards. The collaboration featured “America The Beautiful,” “Dixie Lullaby” and “Chicken Fried,” watch:

[Updated from original article published September 13, 2015.]