Leon Russell

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Leon Russell

Leon Russell in 2009
Background information
Birth nameClaude Russell Bridges
Born(1942-04-02) April 2, 1942 (age 70)
Lawton, Oklahoma United States
GenresCountry, rock, folk, rhythm and blues, folk rock, blues rock
OccupationsMusician, singer-songwriter
InstrumentsVocals, piano, organ, guitar, bass guitar
Years active1956–present
LabelsCapitol, Shelter Records, Paradise Records
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Leon Russell

Leon Russell in 2009
Background information
Birth nameClaude Russell Bridges
Born(1942-04-02) April 2, 1942 (age 70)
Lawton, Oklahoma United States
GenresCountry, rock, folk, rhythm and blues, folk rock, blues rock
OccupationsMusician, singer-songwriter
InstrumentsVocals, piano, organ, guitar, bass guitar
Years active1956–present
LabelsCapitol, Shelter Records, Paradise Records

Leon Russell (born Claude Russell Bridges April 2, 1942) is an American musician and songwriter, who has recorded as a session musician, sideman, and maintained a solo career in music.[1]

Born in Lawton, Oklahoma, he began playing piano at the age of four. Russell attended Will Rogers High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At this time he was already performing at Tulsa nightclubs.[2] After moving to Los Angeles, he became a session musician, working as a pianist on the recordings of many notable musical artists since the 1960s. By the late 1960s, Russell diversified, becoming successful as an arranger [3] and wrote and co-wrote songs. As a musician, he worked his way from gigs as a sideman to well known performers. By 1970 he had graduated to solo recording artist, although he never ended all his previous roles within the music industry.

Russell was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on Monday, March 14, 2011, at a black-tie dinner at The Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Manhattan.[4]



Russell began his musical career at the age of 14 in the nightclubs of Tulsa, Oklahoma. He and his group The Starlighters, which included J.J. Cale, Leo Feathers, Chuck Blackwell and Johnny Williams,[5] were instrumental in creating the style of music known as the Tulsa Sound. After settling in Los Angeles, he studied guitar with James Burton. Known mostly as a session musician early in his career, as a solo artist he has crossed genres to include rock and roll, blues, and gospel music, playing with artists as varied as Gary Lewis, George Harrison, Gram Parsons, Delaney Bramlett, Ringo Starr, Doris Day, Elton John, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, The Ventures, Willie Nelson, Badfinger, Tijuana Brass, Frank Sinatra, The Band, Bob Dylan, Glen Campbell, and The Rolling Stones.[6]

As a first call studio musician in Los Angeles, Russell played on many of the most popular songs of the 1960s, including some by The Byrds, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Bobby "Boris" Pickett, and Herb Alpert. He can be seen in 1964's "The T.A.M.I. Show", playing piano with "The Wrecking Crew" (an informal name for the top L.A. session musicians of the 1960s), sporting short, dark, slicked-back hair, in contrast to his later look.[6] Soon after, he was hired as Snuff Garrett's assistant/creative developer, playing on numerous #1 singles, including "This Diamond Ring" by Gary Lewis and the Playboys.[3] He wrote or co-wrote two hit songs for Gary Lewis and Playboys: "Everybody Loves a Clown" (which hit the Billboard Top 40 on October 9, 1965, remaining on the chart for 8 weeks and rising to number 4) and "She's Just My Style" (which hit Billboard's Top 40 on December 18, 1965 and rose to number 3).[7] He played xylophone and bells on the 1966 single "The Joker Went Wild", sung by Brian Hyland and penned by Bobby Russell (no relation to Leon). He also worked sessions with Dorsey Burnette and Glen Campbell on Campbell's 1967 album Gentle on My Mind, where he was credited as "Russell Bridges" on piano.[citation needed]

Russell's first commercial success as a songwriter came when Joe Cocker recorded the song "Delta Lady" for his 1969 album, Joe Cocker! [6] The album, produced and arranged by Russell, reached #11 on the Billboard 200.[8] Russell went on to organize and perform in the tour supporting Cocker's album, Mad Dogs and Englishmen.[9] "Superstar", co-written by Russell, Delaney Bramlett and Bonnie Bramlett, was sung by Rita Coolidge on that tour and later proved a success for The Carpenters, Luther Vandross, Sonic Youth and other performers.

Soon after the Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour, Shelter Records released his 1970 solo album Leon Russell, which included the first recording of "A Song for You". This has become one of his best-known songs, with versions released by more than 40 different artists including Ray Charles, Peggy Lee, Willie Nelson, Helen Reddy, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, Donny Hathaway, and Christina Aguilera. Both The Carpenters and The Temptations named an album after the song. Also in 1970, Russell played piano on Dave Mason's album, Alone Together, most notably on the song "Sad and Deep as You".

During the 1960s and '70s, Russell owned the Church Recording Studio on 3rd Street in Tulsa. Russell still records there frequently, while his former home on Grand Lake, in northeast Oklahoma, still contains the dining room table and chairs made from church pews from his Church Studio. On the property stands a private recording studio that has hosted many musicians, including members of The Beatles.

During the summer of 1971, at the invitation of George Harrison, Russell played piano on Badfinger's third album, Straight Up. The piano part complemented Pete Ham and George Harrison's dual slide guitars on Badfinger's "Day After Day". The Straight Up sessions were interrupted when many of the musicians left for New York City to participate in the Concert For Bangladesh, at which Russell performed a medley of the songs "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Young Blood" and sang a verse on Harrison's "Beware of Darkness."[6] Russell (on bass guitar) and Harrison (on electric guitar and vocals) also played on a number of Bob Dylan's hits.

A busy year for Russell, 1971 also brought the Shelter release of Leon Russell And The Shelter People and Asylum Choir II (which was co-produced by Marc Benno). That same year, Russell played on recording sessions with B.B. King, Eric Clapton, and Bob Dylan.

Russell helped blues guitarist Freddie King to revive his career by collaborating with him on three of his albums for Shelter during the early 1970s.

1972 was highlighted by a large-scale concert tour by Russell and his "Shelter People" entourage. A live performance was recorded in California at the Long Beach Arena on August 28, 1972, and was released as the Leon Live album. In November 1972, Billboard cited Russell as a top concert draw and reported the '72 tour gross at almost $3 million.[3]

Russell's song, "This Masquerade", the B-side of his 1972 hit single "Tight Rope", went on to be recorded by numerous artists, including Helen Reddy and The Carpenters.[10] George Benson's version of the song reached #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1976.[11]

In 1979, Russell and Willie Nelson had a number-one hit on the Billboard country music chart with their duet of "Heartbreak Hotel". Russell spent the next two years touring with the New Grass Revival, and released two more albums with Paradise before the label folded.[6]

After a number of years of reduced prominence, Russell's career was rejuvenated when Elton John sought him out for a new project.[12] In November 2009, Russell worked together with John and Bernie Taupin on The Union, a double album record credited equally to both Russell and John. Recorded in February 2010 and produced by T-Bone Burnett,[13] the CD was released on October 19, 2010.[14] On April 2, 2011, Russell and John performed together as the musical guests on Saturday Night Live. Rolling Stone placed the album in third place on its list of the 30 Best Albums of 2010.[15]A couple of months later, Russell announced plans for a solo LP, although no specifics were given, and in October 2010 Russell and John embarked on The Union Tour.

Russell's current band line up includes long time bass player Jackie Wessel, Brandon Holder on drums, Chris Simmons on guitar, and multi-instrumentalist Beau Charron.



YearAlbumPeak chart positionsCertifications
(sales thresholds)
USUS CountryCANCAN CountryNZ
1966Rhapsodies for Young Lovers (with Midnight String Quartet)
1968Look Inside the Asylum Choir (with Marc Benno)201
1970Leon Russell60
1971Leon Russell And The Shelter People1714US: Gold[16]
Asylum Choir II (with Marc Benno)70
1972Carney24US: Gold[16]
1973Leon Live99US: Gold[16]
Hank Wilson's Back281585
Looking Back
1974Stop All That Jazz3443
1975Will O' the Wisp3072US: Gold[16]
1976Best of Leon Russell40US: Gold[16]
Wedding Album (with Mary Russell)34
1977Make Love to the Music (with Mary Russell)142
1979One For the Road (with Willie Nelson)25328111US: Gold[16]
CAN: Gold[17]
Life and Love204
1981The Live Album (with New Grass Revival)187
1984Hank Wilson, Vol. II
Solid State
1989Leon Russell
1991Delta Lady[18]
1992Anything Can Happen
Crazy Love
1995Hymns of Christmas
1996Gimme Shelter: The Best of Leon Russell
1998Hank Wilson, Vol. 3: Legend in My Time
1999Face in the Crowd
Blues: Same Old Song
2000Live at Gilley's
2001Best of Leon Russell
Guitar Blues
Signature Songs
Rhythm & Bluegrass: Hank Wilson, Vol. 4 (with New Grass Revival)
2002Moonlight & Love Songs (with the Nashville Symphony)
2003In Your Dreams
Bad Country
Almost Piano
2006A Mighty Flood
Angel in Disguise
2009Best Of Hank Wilson
2010The Union (with Elton John)3724

CAN: Gold
UK: Silver[19]

"—" denotes releases that did not chart.


YearSingleChart PositionsAlbum
US CountryCANCAN CountryCAN AC
1970"Roll Away the Stone"109Leon Russell
1971"A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall"105Leon Russell and the Shelter People
1972"Tryin' to Stay 'Live"115Asylum Choir II
"Tight Rope"115Carney
1973"Queen of the Roller Derby"89
"Rollin' in My Sweet Baby's Arms" (as Hank Wilson)785730Hank Wilson's Back, Vol. 1
"I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" (as Hank Wilson)78
1974"A Six Pack to Go" (as Hank Wilson)6876
"If I Were a Carpenter"7387Stop All That Jazz
1975"Lady Blue"144418Will O' the Wisp
1976"Back to the Island"5333
"Rainbow in Your Eyes"52Wedding Album
1978"Heartbreak Hotel" (w/ Willie Nelson)11One for the Road
1984"Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues"63Solid State
"Wabash Cannonball" (w/ Willie Nelson, as Hank Wilson)91single only
1992"Anything Can Happen"Anything Can Happen
"No Man's Land"
"—" denotes releases that did not chart.

Music videos

1992"Anything Can Happen"Sherman Halsey
"No Man's Land"


  1. ^ Leon Russell at Allmusic
  2. ^ Biography at Leon Russell Records
  3. ^ a b c [Sept. 18, 1965 p.76].
  4. ^ "Leon Russell: inducted in 2011 | The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum". Rockhall.com. http://rockhall.com/inductees/leon-russell/. Retrieved 2012-04-24. 
  5. ^ Wolley, John. "Come Blow Your Horn", Tulsa World, March 31, 2002.
  6. ^ a b c d e Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. pp. 838–839. ISBN 1-84195-017-3. 
  7. ^ See generally Joel Whitburn, The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, p. 275 (5th ed. 1992).
  8. ^ "Joe Cocker! - Joe Cocker". AllMusic. http://www.allmusic.com/album/joe-cocker-r4236/charts-awards. Retrieved 2012-04-24. 
  9. ^ Joe Cocker Mad Dogs & Englishmen Tour photos at lindawolf.net
  10. ^ This Masquerade at AllMusic.com
  11. ^ Breezin' at AllMusic.com
  12. ^ Graham Rockingham, "Leon Russell enjoys kickstart from Elton John", Hamilton Spectator, August 11, 2012.
  13. ^ "New Album Update" at berniejtaupin.com
  14. ^ Cashmere, Tim (2010-07-25). "Elton John and Leon Russell Album Cover Revealed - Undercover.fm News". Undercover.com.au. http://www.undercover.com.au/News-Story.aspx?id=11444_Elton_John_and_Leon_Russell_Album_Cover_Revealed. Retrieved 2012-04-24. 
  15. ^ "The 30 Best Albums of 2010". Rolling Stone (December 25, 2010). Retrieved 2011-01-18
  16. ^ a b c d e f "Recording Industry Association of America". RIAA. http://www.riaa.com/goldandplatinumdata.php?table=SEARCH_RESULTS. Retrieved 2012-04-24. 
  17. ^ "Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA)". Canadian Recording Industry Association. http://www.cria.ca/cert.php. Retrieved 2008-06-02. 
  18. ^ "The Complete Leon Russell Discography 2". Oocities.org. http://www.oocities.org/sunsetstrip/backstage/5646/leondsc3.html. Retrieved 2012-04-24. 
  19. ^ http://www.bpi.co.uk/certifiedawards/search.aspx
  20. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2011). Top Pop Singles 1955–2010. Record Research, Inc. p. 776. ISBN 0-89820-188-8. 

External links