Now playing: Leon Russell

Somewhere, around 1970, this guy shows up, seemingly out of nowhere, and he hit like a cyclone. He was known as the Master of Space and Time and he was the classic “women want him, men want to be like him”. My Mom declared that she wanted to run away with him. One minute, he was playing with Delaney and Bonnie, then George Harrison, then Joe Cocker, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton. He was everywhere and he was a force.

 His debut album arrived with mystery, just two simple unsmiling black and white portraits of the man, with liner notes dedicating the record to his favorite musicians. Rumors abounded that this list was actually the guys appearing on the record. As it turned out later, the rumors were true; this “unknown rookie” was backed up by George and Ringo, Mick and Keith and Bill and Charlie, Clapton, Klaus Voorman, D&B, Steve Winwood… 

 The songs were strong, Glyn Johns’ recording made you feel like you were in the room, and that voice, there was never anyone like him, before or since. Then there was the piano playing – raucous, rocking, gospel, bass heavy and rollicking. He was a pure original.

 Eventually, we learned that we’d known Leon all along. He had played on Strangers in the Night with Sinatra, he played on all of Phil Spector’s classics, played on Pet Sounds and Mr. Tambourine Man (Byrds version), played with the Monkees, Ray Charles, Barbra Streisand, Glen Campbell… shit, he was on the road with Jerry Lee Lewis when he was 15! He was both a Shindog and a member of the Wrecking Crew. The dude was in the T.A.M.I. show!

 And Leon wrote hits. Lots and lots of hits, from Delta Lady (Joe Cocker) to Superstar (the Carpenters), This Masquerade (George Benson), Hummingbird (BB King) to his best known song, the lead track from this debut album, A Song For You, which was recorded by Amy Winehouse and literally 200 other artists.

 When you read his list of credits, there’s just one wow after another (Day After Day by Badfinger?!)

 Without knowing it, Leon had been around for my whole life, but this album was the first time I knew his name – Leon Russell, legend and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.

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