Leon Russell, who died the other day at the age of 74, was a musical genius. The Oklahoma-born Russell began as a session musician in Los Angeles in the sixties and honed his skills as a producer, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist working with various performers and playing in the house band for Jimmy O'Neil's pop show "Shindig." He was called the Master of Space and Time for all of the sessions he worked on in such a short period. By the time Russell released his debut album in 1970, he had already co-produced Joe Cocker's second album and led his Mad Dogs and Englishmen touring band. Russell's sour, abrasive voice brought his personal, evocative lyrics to life. His greatest songs - "Delta Lady," the haunting ballads "This Masquerade" and "Hummingbird," the gospel-tinged "Stranger In a Strange Land," the biting protest song "Alcatraz," and the intensely personal ballad "A Song For You," among others, have become classics, and his songs have been covered by the Carpenters, B.B. King, Ray Charles, George Benson, and Joe Cocker. His own covers of Bob Dylan and George Harrison songs were just as accomplished, showing his skills as an arranger.
I was lucky enough to see Leon Russell perform at a concert in New Jersey on March 27, 2015, forty-five years to the day after his and Joe Cocker's historic Mad Dogs and Englishmen show at the Fillmore East in New York. He walked to the piano with a cane, and he was not the wild man he had once been, but his spirit and talent remained, as well as his ability to tell some wonderfully humorous anecdotes about his career between songs. It was probably one of the best concerts I'd ever seen. And we'll never see his like again. But now that is his life as over, remember when he was singing his songs for us. R.I.P.