Wednesday, June 25, 2008

FEATURE ARTIST: LEON RUSSELL, with a sidebar on Willie Nelson, and Life

I was talking recently with a long-time friend (the one I call my sister from another mother and father) about what we’d both been listening to lately. We’re both really into music, but our tastes are somewhat different – while she’s at the mall watching Tristan and Isolde broadcast live from the Met in HD, I’m hunched over my computer searching for rare and obscure doo-wop. She likes Dave Brubeck, and I like Dave Crosby. But we overlap on a few things, like Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson. And, I just found out, we both like Leon Russell. How could you know someone for decades and not know they like Leon Russell; that’s so basic! We were both surprised. Well, anyway, after that, I grabbed a Leon Russell CD as I was heading out the door, and drove off down the road to the familiar strains of “Roll Away the Stone,” smiling.

Leon Russell (b. 1941) is having a long and illustrious career, starting with his early days in L.A. as an arranger, producer, and a highly respected session musician for Phil Spector. He’s contributed to and worked with the widest spectrum of talent you can imagine; everybody from Gary Lewis and the Playboys to the Byrds to Herb Alpert. My introduction to Leon came through the rock and soul extravaganza, Mad Dogs and Englishmen. From there it was just a hop skip and a jump to Derek and the Dominos, Delaney and Bonnie, Rita Coolidge etc. I really could have a Leon Russell wing in my CD collection. In January of this year, Leon released In Your Dreams, his…wait, let me go to Wikipedia and count…I make it his 39th album! And he’s still looking as fierce and Rasputin-y as ever.

Well, almost “as ever.” Leon didn’t always have his signature long hair and beard. Oh no. Like his friend and fellow artist, Willie Nelson (their duet of Heartbreak Hotel went to #1 on the Billboard Country chart in 1979), Leon is one of those guys whose looks, as well as talent, span several critical decades. Let me put it this way – if you see an early picture of David Crosby – or Dave Brubeck for that matter – they pretty much look the same over time. Don’t panic, what I simply mean is, if you put a photo of Crosby from today beside one of him from the 60s, you wouldn’t have much trouble figuring out they're the same person. But Leon, and Willie…I’m thinkin’ maybe you might have trouble.

Now, I’m not bringing this up to poke fun at anyone; we all have pictures of our younger selves we're glad aren't on our driver license permanently. But it’s a Law of Life – you live long enough, and you’re bound to leave a trail of photographic documentation of your questionable fashion statements behind…(see the 2 photos in the left hand margin of me, your most humble blogger, with 1965 helmet hair, and more recently). Well... enough philosophy already, let's hear some music.

Happily, someone on YouTube has posted a vid of Leon Russell doing “Roll Away the Stone.” It says it’s a 1964 clip, and judging by his getting-longer hair and still-bare chin, it’s “transitional.’

Another great YouTube find! “Roll Over Beethoven” No matter what style, what decade, Leon’s hair is impressive. What a pomp! And what's even more impressive is all that rockin' talent in one so young.

No comments: