The Ron Kane Files

Writing About Music

Monday, February 02, 2009

Leon Russell

2-2-09 Leon Russell

I finally got to see Leon Russell perform live last summer (’08), at the Orange County Fair. Seemed to me like Leon & his band sort of rushed through everything, playing some songs so fast I had trouble identifying them. Maybe he’d be more comfortable in a smaller venue, and perform ‘better’? I don’t know – it would depend on the venue and my inclination.

So, why do I care about Leon Russell at all? For me, it all boils down to my fandom of his “Carney” LP (1972) of the last 35+ years. Great album, great songs (“Tightrope”, “Out In The Woods”, “This Masquerade” etc.)

Mr. Russell came to L.A. and various worked for / with Phil Spector, Herb Alpert etc. in the early 60’s – I have not found a lot of his ‘session work’ to be credited. I think most everybody first heard of him when Joe Cocker got so famous / popular. Mr. Russell is all over those first two Joe Cocker LP’s – and he’s practically the star of the Cocker & Co. live album set “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” (see the DVD of it, amazing!). And Russell’s performance in the “Bangla Desh” (George Harrison et al) film is certainly flamboyant! His double CD retrospective is most excellent (lots of obscurities). And I am not really familiar with his albums recorded under the name “Asylum Choir” (but I own both of them).

So, the first phase of his solo career is over 7 albums:

1. Leon Russell (1970) with ‘famous’ friends

2. Leon Russell & The Shelter People (1971) with ‘famous’ friends

3. Carney (1972)

4. Leon Live (3LP set) (1972)

5. Hank Wilson’s Back! (1973)

6. Stop All That Jazz (1974)

7. Will O’ The Wisp (1975)

All on Shelter Records (followed by a “Best of” LP in ’76). I know there are variants of the first album (I believe DC Comics successfully sued them over their use of the Superman logo), as well as an offensive track being removed (and replaced?) at some point. And over #2, I think there was some confusion as to who got the LP, Shelter (via Capitol) or A&M Records (probably due to Russell’s big success with Joe Cocker?). And I have European editions of #3 and #4 on the Philips label!

Are the ‘famous friends’ on #1 & #2 really Dylan, The Stones or…? #5 - #7 are the ones I am still discovering. I must find a CD of #6. By ’73, he was totally off of my radar, as was even Joe Cocker. #5 is a C&W album – something I was not ready for in ’73!

But, because of “Carney”, I am now ready – thirty years too late? – to give #5 - #7 a chance. If there are any revelations, I will advise. Thanks for the music, Mr. Russell, sir!



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