Leon Russell is an icon, but somehow is still an underappreciated artist. He is spoken of in tones reserved not just for the most talented musicians, but also for the most complex and fascinating. His career is like a roadmap of music history, often intersecting with rock royalty like Bob Dylan, the Stones, and the Beatles. He started in the Fifties as a teenager touring with Jerry Lee Lewis, going on to play piano on records by such giants as Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, and Phil Spector, and on hundreds of classic songs with major recording artists. Leon was Elton John’s idol, and Elton inducted him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. Leon also gets credit for altering Willie Nelson’s career, giving us the long-haired, pot-friendly Willie we all know and love today.
Now, acclaimed author and founding member of Buffalo Tom, Bill Janovitz shines the spotlight on one of the most important music makers of the twentieth century.
Leon Russell: The Master of Space and Time's Journey Through Rock & Roll History will be published on March 14, 2023. Hachette Books provided an early galley for review.
This one of those names in music history I recognize, but it is a story about which I know very little. Ask me to name some of his songs and all I can give you is "Tight Rope" from 1972. But as a huge music nerd, I realized that this a biography I needed to check out.
Janovitz is very thorough in his documenting Russell's life. As a musician himself, he provides an accurate account of studio and tour activities in a very understandable, reader-friendly way. He makes sure that every known detail is told.
A couple facts from Russell's life jumped out at me that I really appreciated. He had his hand in the Gary Lewis and the Playboys' hit "This Diamond Ring" which happened to be number 1 on the US Billboard charts the day I was born. He was very much the "Kevin Bacon" of the music world in the 60's and 70's; so many artists and industry folks can be connected to Russell by a few if not one degree of separation. For example, I did not know about his relationship with Rita Collidge, a singer whose songs I enjoyed in the 70's. Also, the Carpenters had major hits covering songs he wrote or co-wrote.
In the end, this is a stark look at the life of someone had major impact on the world of popular music and who, tragically, ended up in a very real, very relatable way. This book will serve well to remind people of his legacy.