Leon Russell is a legend.
There are legends that are more popular, but none exceed the talent of Claude Russell Bridges from Lawton, Oklahoma.
Russell is best known as a pianist but he also plays the guitar, bass, and sings. He’s an accomplished live performer, session musician, songwriter, and producer. He’s a member of both the Rock and Roll and Songwriter’s Halls of Fame.
Russell’s solo recording career began in 1968. Since that time he’s released nearly 40 albums most of which have not charted very high—only six have been certified gold.
Two of Russell’s biggest albums have been collaborations.
In 1979, Russell teamed with Willie Nelson to record the album One for the Road.
Then in 2010, Russell worked with Elton John to make The Union. This collaboration also resulted in a tour. Elton John and Leon Russell tickets were sold all over North America.
Russell thrives in several different music genres. Generally known for his work in rock and blues rock, Russell has also exceled in folk, rhythm & blues, and country.
Often, when recording or performing country music, Russell will use the non de plume “Hank Wilson.”
The reason why Leon Russell isn’t as prominent as other musicians from his generation is because Russell was more of a behind-the-scenes guy.
He began his amazing career as a teenager playing clubs in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area. Russell and his band, The Starlighters (which included J.J. Cale), helped develop the famous “Tulsa Sound.”
Russell eventually relocated to Los Angles and became a sought after session musician. He played on several of the decade’s biggest hits including Gary Lewis and the Playboys’ “This Diamond Ring” and Glen Campbell’s 1967 album Gentle on my Mind.
In the waning years of the 1960s, Russell joined Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. It was also during this time that Russell had his first big success as a songwriter thanks to Joe Cocker recording “Delta Lady.” Cocker recorded that song for his 1969 self-titled album.
Russell and Cocker would team again in 1970 for the latter’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen, one of the best live albums of that era.
Some other well-known songs either written or co-written by Russell include “Superstar,” “A Song for You,” and “This Masquerade.”
Perhaps Russell’s success has less to do with talent and more to do with whatever they were serving in the cafeteria at the Will Rogers High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Russell’s classmates at that institution included pop singer Anita Bryant, David Gates (frontman of Bread), and blues rock guitarist Elvin Bishop.