And so Leon Russell says to me …

Leon Russell, 1942-2016. (Photo from Getty Images)

Leon Russell, 1942-2016. (Photo from Getty Images)

The year is 1999, and Leon Russell is coming to perform at the New York State Blues Festival in downtown Syracuse’s Clinton Square.

I bag a phone interview to write a preview story for the big daily.

So in my preparation, I see that Mr. Russell doesn’t do many interviews any more. In fact, some folks have started calling him the R word. As in recluse.

This music writer slips that into our phone conversation.

Leon Russell answers me, in that great raspy voice of his:

“I’m talking to you, aren’t I? Perhaps you’re a recluse, too.”

Gotten by a great.

I brought it up again for another story before he came to Syracuse again in 2012. I got to review his show in the Westcott Theater in 2012, too.

Leon Russell died Sunday at the age of 74.

RIP, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, great voice always.

What’s your favorite song performed by Leon Russell, and why? What’s a good one-liner somebody has gotten off on you? What’s your favorite song written by Leon Russell and performed by somebody else, and why?

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10 thoughts on “And so Leon Russell says to me …

  1. Well, Mark….as *you* would know, during the production of Badfinger’s “Straight Up” album in ’71, George Harrison brought Leon Russell into Apple Studios to see if he could add anything special to a new song called “Day After Day”. Begrudgingly, Leon had George play him the track once….and then sat at the piano, tinkled out a couple things…and said, “OK, roll tape”.

    In one take, Leon’s iconic “less is more” piano part was laid down for history….Badfinger’s highest charting single. It helped George played some slide guitar on it, too. But man….ONE take?!

    Within a couple of weeks, George left the sessions to help his friend Ravi Shankar, by creating the Concert For Bangladesh in NYC, with Leon & Badfinger in tow. And of course, Leon and his band knocked it out of the park with the Jumpin’ Jack Flash medley.

    I’ve worked with Joey Molland of Badfinger for over 10 years now, and have developed a nice 2 man acoustic storyteller act. When we get to ‘Day After Day’, I switch from guitar to piano. And it always sends a chill down my spine knowing I’m replicating the work of a genius…but in that genius, created a part that a piano hack like me can play with enough practice. That’s the part Leon plays in my life.

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  2. Mark…back in 1999 on the day that Leon performed, I was involved with the New York State Rhythm & Blues Festival and the Benny Mardones in concert at Oneida Shores. I was doing the event management for Benny. He was able to do a great show before the storm blew through. I had hope to catch some of Leon’s show. By the time I arrived, Jimmy “Austin” Murphy told me that the storm came through the Square too, pushing Leon’s performance back a hour and half. So I was able to see the entire set! It was amazing to see all the people come back and more, with over 8,000 in attendance. Leon was in fine form and if I remember correctly his daughter was in his band. I first started listening to Leon in 1968 when he was with Marc Benno in the Asylum Choir. My favorite Leon song is “Stranger in a Strange Land”…initially due to the sci-fi book by Robert Heilien with the same title. Great article!

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