“How many days has it been, since I was born
How many days until I die
Do I know any ways
That I can make you laugh
Or do I only know how to make you cry”
In the past year the world has seen some of the biggest names in music cross the Great Divide. Artists like B.B. King, Scott Weiland, Alan Toussant, Natalie Cole, Lemmy, and most recently David Bowie have all left an indelible impact on their genre, leaving music lovers everywhere and especially admirers of their work lamenting the void they’ve left behind. Although they have perished, their work lives on eternally, allowing us to reminisce, reconnect or maybe discover their work for the first time. Oftentimes we are filled with regret for being unmotivated or unable to see these artists appear on stage. Friends, that’s why I don’t want you to miss your chance to see one of the last living musical icons out there. No, I’m not talking about Madonna or Justin Bieber, I’m referring to Leon Russell, one of the most prolific American musicians of our time, and he’s coming to Louisville on January 21st at Headliners Music Hall.
You will be hard-pressed to find a musician who’s influenced the world of music more than Leon Russell. While he has been an acclaimed musician for nearly four decades and most recently inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 2011, many people are unfamiliar with his work.
Growing up in Oklahoma, he began his career sneaking into night clubs to play music at the age of 14. He developed a distinct style of music along with J.J. Cale called the Tulsa Sound, a mixture of rockabilly, country, blues and rock ‘n’ roll. In fact, Eric Clapton was heavily influenced by this sound. Russell’s musical prowess was highly sought after by recording artists across a variety of the aforementioned genres. Russell didn’t stop there. He worked in other genres including bluegrass, gospel and soul. Although he started out as a solid studio musician, Russell was an incredible songwriter, solo artist and live performer in his own right. His signature top hat, wispy hair, long beard and sunglasses coupled with his formidable skill as a pianist and guitarist made him a venerable rock star. Just studying a rock n’ roll family tree you’d see that Russell has written songs for and performed alongside well-known artists such as: Gary Lewis and the Playboys, the Byrd’s, George Harrison, Ray Charles, the Beach Boys, Willie Nelson, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, B.B. King, the Band, Glen Campbell, Joe Cocker and Elton John just to name a few.
Leon Russell’s biggest commercial success “Tight Rope” released in 1972, reached 11th in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. However one of my all time favorites is his bluegrass rendition of The Rolling Stones classic, “Wild Horses”.
Fame is a funny thing. While widely popular in the 1970’s, Leon began to fade into obscurity in some sense of the word. That’s not to say Russell stopped making music. He continued to pump out work. However, he didn’t reach the heights of “commercial” success that he experienced in the 1970’s. That was until fellow rock legend Elton John, a longtime Leon Russell fan himself, hit the play button on his iPod while on vacation about six years ago. The sound of Leon’s voice touched him so deeply he called Russell and began a strong friendship and ultimately a musical collaboration that pulled Leon out of the shadows and back into the spotlight. Their album the Union in 2010, was met with high acclaim and praised as being the pair’s best work to date.
Here’s Elton John inducting Leon Russell into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame:
Not only is Russell a Hall of Famer, he is rock royalty with an upcoming show in Louisville. Let me be clear, while this isn’t a farewell tour by any means, don’t miss an opportunity to see an American icon. Despite Russell’s series of health issues, he’s still in command of his craft, touring and making some of the best music of his career. Admittedly, I have a deep personal connection to Leon’s music. My dad frequently played his music in our household when I was growing up, and I’ve seen him perform in Louisville before. Russell didn’t disappoint. He’s called The Master of Space and Time, but no title or amount of greatness can prevent the inevitable. So when this National Treasure leaves us, as so many others have, and the music world mourns his loss, you’ll remember where you were when you stood in front of true greatness.
Tickets on sale at Headliners Music Hall