Article

Leon Russell Dies at 74

Wikimedia Commons

Leon Russell, the 74-year-old piano man and southern rock icon, passed away last night in Tennessee.

The manager of his Facebook page delivered the news with a sobering tone earlier this morning: “Musician Leon Russell has died in Nashville at the age of 74. His wife said he died in his sleep.”

According to The New York Times, Russell had experienced several serious health scares over the past five years including a brain fluid leak and a heart attack. He had been scheduled for additional heart surgery in the coming months.

Russell first began performing live as a teenager in Tulsa, Oklahoma with his band the Starlighters. The group (which included JJ Cale) is credited with developing The Tulsa Sound, a mix of rockabilly, blues and country music.

In the late 1950s, Russell moved out west to Los Angeles where he became a session musician. His studio resume is long, storied and unbeatable as he performed with the likes of Sam Cooke, the Byrds, the Beach Boys, George Harrison, Frank Sinatra, Glen Campbell and many others. By 1970, Russell released his eponymous debut album which features "A Song For You." The tune has since been covered by Carpenters, the Temptations, and Ray Charles (who won a Grammy for his rendition in 1993).

In 1979, Russell and Willie Nelson released One for the Road, a collection of country and pop standards. Russell's popularity faded throughout the '80s and '90s, but he continued to put out new material while still considered a coveted session musician. 

In 2009, Sir Elton John collaborated with Russell on a new record, The Union, which inspired the Americana musician to return to a career on the road.

Leon Russell is survived by his wife Janet Lee Constantine and their six children.

One of the greats...what a shame...RIP Leon!

Thank you. A lot of folks do not realize how big Leon was. For a time he was the biggest name in R&R, and before that was a studio musician and arranger, having worked with everyone from Frank Sinatra to the Byrds, as did his buddy GlenCampbell. Looking at TV clips from as early as 1964, you could tell he had it. He also infused a wide range of music, from Chuck Berry to Hank Williams, into his own, the master of time and space. I was fortunate to have seen him numerous times during his heyday, and sevral times in the recent past. When he played MerleFest a couple of years ago I was working the stage that day, and was his security detail. He was kind and generous.

Being just a bit younger Amos, I really found Leon on "Mad Dogs and Englishmen"...as you note, an incredible musician...as a band leader and arranger on that tour, his playing and arranging was just incredible, and that record is quite a document, he's the heart and soul there...and that led me to other things Leon...

So sad. I also stumbled across Leon via "Mad Dogs..." Never will get over "Girl From The North Country" on that album. Later, when I discovered the whole backstory and Leon's unbelievable generosity of spirit, I was a devotee for life. RIP indeed.

His playing had everything in it...rock, blues, gospel, soul, R & B, country...one of the giants...

He really understood space. The idea that what you don't play is as important as what you do. At a time when artists seem to be terrified of leaving a second unfilled, Leon Russell should be an icon of taste and room to breathe. 

I can't say it better than that...well put...