Leon Russell, “The Master Of Space And Time” Dead at 74
The singer got the ambiguous title during his stint as Joe Cocker’s Musical Director for the “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” era in 1970.
Russell died in his sleep in Nashville, Tennessee, this morning. (November 13, 2016) His health had not been good for at least the past 10 years. In 2010, he underwent surgery to stop leaking brain fluid, and he suffered a heart attack in July 2016.
It was Elton John, a few years ago, who felt it was his mission to make sure that we didn’t forget about Leon Russell. So much so that the pair recorded the fabulous rootsy Americana album ‘The Union’ in 2010. On hearing the news of his old friends death Elton wrote, “My darling Leon Russell passed away last night. He was a mentor, inspiration and so kind to me,” John wrote. “Thank God we caught up with each other and made The Union. He got his reputation back and felt fulfilled. I loved him and always will.”
On Russell’s own website the words…”The Master Of Space And Time was a legendary musician and songwriter originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma who performed his gospel-infused southern boogie piano rock, blues, and country music for over 50 years.”
The singer was born in 1942. His real name was Claude Russell Bridges and like many who were just wired to have the gift and the wisdom to perfect it, he got on stage as early as he could playing in nightclubs as a young teen. He got people talking quickly and soon Jerry Lee Lewis was knocking on his door.
By the time he was 17 years-old LA was his home and he quickly became one of most in-demand session musicians playing with the Byrds, Herb Albert and Phil Spector. He also earned his membership into, the now famous, “Wrecking Crew,” of backup/studio cats that were the best in the business. Then came the segue from his name only being on the back of albums (if at all) to the front – in big letters.
Russell’s self titled debut album featured a tune that would have a special quality that would describe many of his future hits, many that would be recorded by others – it was an ingredient that many Jazz standards had. ‘A song For You’ could be recorded by any artist in any genre and still sound well-rooted in that land. The tune about forgiveness has been recorded by The Carpenters, Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Donna Summer and in 2005 Herbie Hancock and Christina Aguilera’s version was nominated for a Grammy.
Like, ‘A Song For You’ his standard ‘This Masquerade’ was recorded by dozens of musicians but it’s the 1976 rendition by George Benson and his classic ‘Breezin’ album that stamped it’s place in music history. Originally a B-side to Russell’s 1972 hit ‘Tight Rope’ the tune earned Benson a Grammy in 1977 as ‘Record of the Year.’
Russell almost disappeared in the 80’s and 90’s. Instead of stadiums he played in clubs. He just fell out of flavor.
Elton John said a few years ago, “There are some people who are born to be leaders of musicians — and he is,”
Russell loved to talk about his journey’s and friends most notably Bob Dylan, George Harrison and the Stones.
Russell, an inductee of both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Married to his second wife, Janet, since 1979, Russell has six children. – by John Beaudin
John Beaudin has been in major market radio (Edmonton, Vancouver & Calgary) for 33 years and a music journalist since 1989. He graduated from Broadcasting school as a news man so he would have the skills to write about the artists that inspired him since he bought his first album, “Madman Across The Water” by Elton John as a teen. In the 80’s Beaudin was the host of the syndicated radio show “The Cross Canada Report” which had two version (Rock and A/C). Beaudin was also asked to be a judge at the Juno Awards (Canada’s answer to the Grammys) Twice. He has anchored every position in radio including morning and afternoon drive and was a Program and Music Director for The Breeze and California 103 in Calgary. He currently hosts the popular Lovesongs at QM-FM in Vancouver.
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