Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The great Leon Russell

Leon Russell helped shape the sound of rock and roll piano as we know it. As a LA session player in the early 60's, he played on many iconic songs for a boatload of artists such as The Beach Boys, Aretha Franklin, The Crystals, Darlene Love and Frank Sinatra. He was the guy you wanted on your session. By the late 60's, he was writing arrangements for likes of The Stones and Glenn Campbell. He appeared at George Harrison's "Concert for Bangladesh" and was the bandleader for Joe Cocker's "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" tour. Russell is also a great singer/songwriter releasing over 30 albums of his own. His credits are endless ... and look at this guy, what a BAD ASS !!! The Keith Richards of piano (minus the heroin addiction). Sadly once the 80's arrived, the sounds of popular music had drastically changed, and the demand for his talents had disappeared. Thankfully there would be an opportunity for us to be reminded of his genius.

In 2009 Elton John was at a point in his career where he didn't know what his next project should be. While listening to Leon's Greatest hits inspiration was born. Elton called Leon and asked if he wanted to make a record. Elton had known Leon back in the 70's and wanted the world to see what an influence Leon was to him and to all of rock and roll. Leon said sure and in 2010 they recorded the "The Union". It received critical acclaim upon release and for my money it's well deserved. Produced by the omnipresent T-Bone Burnett, it's a great blend of blues and rock. Some outstanding guest musicians on this too - Booker T, Marc Ribot, and Jim Keltner just to name a few. Most impressive though is how well Elton and Leon compliment each other while both playing on the same song. Pianos take up a lot of space sonically yet these two never seem to  step on each other's musical thoughts.

I love learning more about the process that goes into creating an album. Luckily Cameron Crowe made a documentary about "The Union" for HBO. It's very engaging, although there is a bit too much Elton and not enough Leon for my tastes. Elton has had more than enough time in the spotlight and it would have been nice to hear more from Leon about his life and work. Having said that, I do recommend checking it out. Sadly HBO seem to be holding this hostage. It's not on Netflix or iTunes so if you are an HBO subscriber you can see it via HBO GO, if not find a friend that is.

Here's a teaser for the film and few of my favorite Leon creations:

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