Today’s “freebie” coincides with the passing of a great pianist, singer, songwriter, and even guitar player, Leon Russell, who died peacefully at home in Nashville yesterday.
He had been around since the late Fifties, but the first I heard of him was as bandleader for Joe Cocker’s 1969 “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” tour. I think I played the grooves off that double album. The first big single from that was “The Letter”; Leon is playing piano here (he’s the one in the top hat).
I sat up late one evening watching “The Homewood Sessions – Leon Russell & Friends” on WTTW when I was a sophomore in high school. One of the songs he did that night was “A Song For You,” which has been covered by many artists and might be his most famous song.
I got a copy of his 1972 album, Carney, for Christmas that year. It wasn’t my favorite album, but I played it a lot, and two of the songs really stuck with me, both from the B side of the album (where all the weird stuff on albums used to go). One was “Magic Mirror.”
The other was “This Masquerade,” later a huge hit for George Benson.
He made 31 solo albums and collaborated on many others, and would show up from time to time backing other musicians. He and Edgar Winter toured together in the late Eighties; here’s “Harlem Nocturne” from that tour.
Elton John, who had once been Leon’s opening act, said this of him: “He was my biggest influence as a piano player, a singer and a songwriter.” On hearing of his passing, John said “My darling Leon Russell passed away last night. He was a mentor, inspiration and so kind to me.”
Farewell and Godspeed, Leon Russell.