Leon Russell

Leon Russell…I remember his moment of superstardom, maybe for a year or two, where he was all over the radio. There was a live record, mostly forgotten now, that sold a zillion copies and an endless, loose, all over the place Jumping Jack Flash, or was that from Mad Dogs and Englishmen? My early seventies is beginning to blur. His spell in the spotlight faded and he retreated back to the studio where he was quietly omnipresent, and his hits disappeared from the classic rock format (as did 90% of everything we used to hear on the FM in the free form days) and he became yet another forgotten superstar. Those were loose and wanton days, musically, a description my wife used once and I have never topped, and Leon Russell was as loose and wanton as it got, hippie Texas R&B rock and roll, piano driven, screaming back up singers, musicians and children and dogs and some of the best session cats in the business getting down, getting bad, getting fucked up. Leon does a lanky strut, picking bluesy hippie rock’n’roll notes from an electric guitar, a John Brown beard and John Brown eyes beneath prematurely gray locks tucked into a demented Uncle Sam chapeau. Then back on piano, and Leon is telling a story about his woman, a crazy Oklahoma hillbilly hepcat voice curling around the words, punctuating with piano, followed by the choir, the band poised, the crowd waiting, Jim Keltner (or Jim Gordon, or both) hinting on the high hat. Leon leaves it hanging. Seconds tick by in four. Rock’n’roll is in the air. We wait, audience, players, listeners, for the damn tune to resolve itself, it’s been endless. Leon lets us dangle, on a tight rope, waiting to see how he finishes this. It goes something like this here, he says, and out comes Jumping Jack Flash again on the piano, one two, one two three, one two three….


Leon Russell, Joe Cocker. Mad Dogs and Englishmen at the Fillmore East in 1969. A Michael Ochs photo.

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