leon russell

by erin thursby
Looking for a legend to listen to at one of local fests? Leon Russell will perform at Rhythm & Ribs Festival set for April 3-5 in St. Augustine.
Throughout the years, Leon Russell has kept up an incredible pace of touring, songwriting, collaborating and producing albums. When asked by EU Jacksonville how he manages to do so much, he simply says “It keeps me from having to take a real job.”
As a performer he’s turned out an unbelievable number of albums on his own, but he’s also written top hits for other performers such as B.B. King’s ‘Hummingbird’, Joe Cocker singing ‘Delta Lady’ and The Carpenters took ‘Superstar’ (which he co-wrote with Bonnie Bramlett) to #2 on the pop charts. In 1976 George Benson won the “Record of the Year” Grammy for his cover of Russell’s ‘This Masquerade.’ Not only that, but it turned out to be the first song in music history to hit #1 on the jazz, pop and R&B charts.
He’s a diverse, genre jumping performer. He’s perhaps best known for his album Carney, which he released in 1972, making him the biggest concert draw by the end of that year. He was known in the rock genre but he wanted to do something different, so he released a country music album, Hank Wilson’s Back under the name Hank Wilson in August of 1973.
He’s had a long association with Willie Nelson. In the late 70s they toured together and eventually did a country album together in 1979 called One for the Road.
Listening to his music, there’s a heavy blues influence that shines through. Asked what genres inspire him the most, he replies that it’s “mostly blues with a little classical and rock influence.”
Russell’s latest album, Angel in Disguise (2007), is a work that Russell calls his best so far. And it is an amalgamation of all that’s unique about his sound. Rock, country, bluegrass and the blues are all woven through out the work. No doubt he’ll play a few songs from his newest along with old favorites at Rhythm & Ribs.
With a career that’s spanned 30 years, Leon Russell has collected some very devoted fans. They’re called the LeonLifers. They got connected by starting Leon Russell chat rooms in late ’98. By 2000, they started to organize events and gave Russell a commemorative plaque for his achievements. In 2004, they hired Leon for a live private performance where they served him barbeque and presented him with a Gibson 335, a gorgeous mahogany guitar overlaid with a blue finish and Grover tuning keys. LeonLifer John Beyrooty says that, “It’s really a phenomenon, everybody has favorite groups and what we have, and what our generation has, staying with these artists that have been around for thirty years; I sincerely doubt that it will happen with today’s groups and today’s fans thirty years from now.”
You can hear Leon live at Rhythm & Ribs Festival on Saturday, April 4 at the St. Francis Field in St. Augustine. If you want a little preview of his sound, check out his website leonrussellrecords.com, where he’s got MP3s of his songs ready for download and you can listen to snippets before purchasing.