US - Oklahoma - Full Moon 249 - 12/14/16
Claude Russell Bridges, aka Leon Russell
2 April 1942 - 13 November 2016
There are a few memorable moments on The Concert For Bangladesh, the soundtrack album from the world's first two big benefit concerts, organised by George Harrison and his friend and sitar mentor Ravi Shankar at at Madison Square Garden in New York on 1. August 1971. There's the polite applause after a little while during the traditional Indian music section at the start of the concert and the polite thanks from Shankar before he adds something like: 'If you enjoyed the tuning so much, I hope you'll enjoy the playing more'. There's also Ringo's performance of his second, newest at the time and very best single as a solo artist to this very day "It Don't Come Easy", there's Eric Clapton's guitar playing along with George throughout, not least the guitar duel in the extended Beatles' favourite "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", the introduction to the acoustic set by Bob Dylan, George's renditions of some of the songs from his first real and very best solo album All Things Must Pass, not least the two singles "What Is Life" and "My Sweet Lord", and of course the song "Bangla Desh" at the very end, released as the world's first charity single only three days prior to the concerts. My personal favourite highlight is what George introduces as 'a couple of numbers from Leon'. It's a medley of the Rolling Stones' classic "Jumpin' Jack Flash", coupled with "Young Blood" by Doc Pomus, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, originally recorded by The Coasters in 1957. It's a fierce and rough and bluesy performance by Leon Russell and he sounds as the only artist to really turn his heart and soul inside out that day.
Leon joined his first band at the age of 14 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, along with J.J. Cale and a few others. He moved to Los Angeles two years later an earned a living as a session musician for several years. He played on recordings by Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Doris Day, Barbra Streisand, The Ventures, Sam Cooke, The Everly Brothers, BB King, Ray Charles, The Ronettes, The Crystals, Phil Spector on his famous Christmas Album, Jan & Dean, The Beach Boys, The Byrds, The Rolling Stones, John Lennon, Badfinger, Bob Dylan, The Band, Doug Sahm, Eric Clapton, Jerry Garcia, Duane Allman, Gram Parsons, Willie Nelson, Harry Nilsson, Dave Mason and Joe Cocker to name some. The famous - at least to those into 1960s garage and psychedelic rock - backwards feedbacked guitar intro to The Electric Prunes' greatest hit "I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night" was recorded at Leon's home studio in LA. His first solo album was released in 1970. It included the crooner kind of ballad "A Song For You", maybe his most well-known song, covered by The Carpenters, Ray Charles, Whitney Houston, Willlie Nelson, The Temptations, even Simply Red, Donna Summer and Amy Winehouse among several others.
I've been so many places in my life and time
I've sung a lot of songs, I've made some bad rhyme
I've acted out my life in stages
With ten thousand people watching
But we're alone now and I'm singin' this song for you
I know your image of me is what I hope to be
I've treated you unkindly but darling can't you see
There's no one more important to me
Darling can't you please see through me
'Cause we're alone now and I'm singin' this song to you
You taught me precious secrets of the truth, withholdin' nothin'
You came out in front and I was hiding
But now I'm so much better so if my words don't come together
Listen to the melody 'cause my love's in there hiding
I love you in a place where there's no space or time
I love you for my life, 'cause you are a friend of mine
And when my life is over, remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singin' this song for you
His piano playing, hoarse, sometimes wild voice and broad Southern accent covered every aspect of American popular music from rock'n'roll, pop, rhythm'n'blues, gospel, soul, blues ... and he inspired artists as different as Elton John and Pixies' Black Francis, hopefully not for the same reasons. He will be remembered fondly!
Copyright © 2016 JP