Tuesday, March 15, 2011
LEON RUSSELL - A REAL LIFE TESTIMONIAL
"The first time I heard Leon Russell I was watching Saturday Night Live rerun that had been filmed years before I was even born ('editor's note' - most likely the May 15 1976 episode). He was the musical guest that night and while I can’t remember the song that was performed, I liked his look - big beard (that had not yet gone white) and a badass top hat, especially. He reminded me of Dr. John.
At some point I looked into his back catalog and picked up his self-titled debut with his whiskered, unsmiling face against an electric blue background. I fell into it immediately. He played the sort of R&B-studded Southern rock that I was very much into at the time, with a stronger sense of songcraft and less guitar noodling than a lot of the other bands. There are no sharp edges to his voice when he sings, only a round, slurred Oklahoma drawl that he played up very effectively over the bump and shuffle of his backing band. This was wonderful to a faux-jaded teenager like me. I even liked his re-imagined covers he put on the album. To this day, his gospel shakedown of John Lennon's 'Give Peace A Chance' remains one of my favorite covers.
Russell was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame tonight, almost certainly due to the album released last year that he shared with another talented musician. He was a brilliant and sought-after session man before anyone had ever heard of him, and he deserves the acclaim he’s gotten lately. Give Leon Russell a listen and see for yourself."
Here's my beginner's guide to Leon: on April 5, EMI releases The Best Of Leon Russell, a single CD collection, featuring mostly '70s material, but it also has "If It Wasn't For Bad" from The Union. The Leon celebration doesn't end tonight. Leon is being inducted into The Songwriter's Hall of Fame later this year.