so leon russell has gone home...

So Leon Russell has gone home. For years I loved that cat before I even knew his name from his studio work with the Wrecking Crew. Think Phil Spector's "wall of sound," Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, The Beach Boys and Ventures as well as The Monkees, The Mommas and the Poppas, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Joe Cocker, George Harrison, Glen Campbell and the Rolling Stones. He was a monster!

I became conscious of his contributions to the music I loved when Joe Cocker released his self-titled first album, Joe Cocker, in 1969.  Playing piano, organ and guitar, Russell gave the English "Grease Band" some down home funk. And his role expanded after Woodstock when visa troubles brought Cocker's US tour to a grinding halt: the Grease Band had to go back to England but Cocker was booked at essential American gigs. So, another musical legend was born as Russell assembled the best and the baddest players in the USA in less than a week's time, and they hit the stage as "Mad Dogs and Englishmen." A riotous collection of top flight musicians rallied to make Cocker's music explode on stage. Under Brother Leon's tutelage - and groove stick as maestro- they took on soul, funk, gospel, a few soul jazz standards and the best of that era's rock and roll.. They covered Traffic and the Stones, the Beatles and the Band, Leonard Cohen and Ray Charles. 

This tour - plus Harrison's "Concert for Bangladesh" and later The Band's "Last Waltz" - became the inspiration for the big Thanksgiving Eve gigs we've done over the years. The original impetus, of course, was Bob Franke's tune of the same name and Pete and Arlo's shows over Thanksgiving weekend in NYC.


Two things about Leon's sound grabbed me where I live:  his white/soul/gospel funk, and, his willingness to collaborate with anyone committed to the groove. He played with Willie Nelson and Elton John as well as Eric Clapton and Amy Winehouse. His commitment was to groove and beauty and he let his light shine everywhere he went.  He NEVER gave up his freak flag. He kept being his big, bad, wildass self for over 50 years - and we are the better for it. The sound he created on Mad Dogs' version of "Feelin' Alright" is sublime. (There are no visual clips of this masterpiece, but do yourselves a favor and turn it up LOUD in gratitude for one of the giants. He beats the crap out of the key board on this and makes even the lame dance!)

Comments

Bill said…
Great stuff. Thanks for sharing. RIP Mr. Russell
RJ said…
You are very welcome, Bill. Thanks for stopping by.
Cheryl Beddow said…
Loved Leon from the minute I heard him on Mad Dogs. Then I had to find out as much as I could back in the day, Was not much. I Had to really dig for it. Thank God for the internet and all the info you can find now. I will miss him forever and I wish more people would look him up and respect the talented people that made music what it is.

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