Leon Russell (born Claude Russell Bridges; April 2, 1942 – November 13, 2016) was an American musician and songwriter who was involved with numerous bestselling pop music records during his 60-year career. His genres included pop, country, rock, folk, gospel, bluegrass, rhythm and blues, folk rock, blues rock, surf, standards, and Tulsa Sound.
His collaborations rank as some of the most successful in music history, and as a touring musician he performed with hundreds of notable artists. He recorded 33 albums and at least 430 songs. He wrote “Delta Lady“, recorded by Joe Cocker, and organized and performed with Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour in 1970. His “A Song for You”, added to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2018, has been recorded by more than 200 artists, and his “This Masquerade” by more than 75.
As a pianist, he played in his early years on albums by The Beach Boys, Dick Dale and Jan and Dean. On his first album, Leon Russell, in 1970, the musicians included Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison. One of his biggest early fans, Elton John, said Russell was a “mentor” and an “inspiration”. They recorded their album The Union in 2010, which earned them a Grammy nomination.
Russell produced and played in recording sessions for, among others, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Ike & Tina Turner, and The Rolling Stones. He wrote and recorded the hits “Tight Rope” and “Lady Blue”. He performed at The Concert for Bangladesh in 1971 along with Harrison, Dylan, and Clapton, for which he earned a Grammy Award.
His recordings earned six gold records. He received two Grammy awards from seven nominations. In 2011, he was inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
A Poem Is A Naked Person is a film directed by Les Blank, filmed in 1972-1974 but not publicly released until 2015, after Blank’s death. The film is a documentary about musician Leon Russell, produced and financed largely by Russell and his then-business partner Denny Cordell. Blank spent a large portion of two years on the film, but then its release was delayed for forty years due to creative differences and music clearance problems. Blank’s son, Harrod Blank (who was a child when the movie was filmed), spent years working on the clearances, before it was finally shown publicly in 2015.
I’m not really sure where I heard about this movie, but I’m glad I did, as I watched it last night. It’s a rough ride. Les Blank throws a lot of other things into the movie besides Leon speaking or performing, but that’s a good thing because he is weaving a weird vibe that works for a musical genius like like Leon Russell. Don’t expect him to be singing his chart-busting and award-winning songs in here. He is all over the place with the music, from gospel to old country. The venues are just as varied and interesting. What is consistent are the throngs of people who come out to see him do his thing and are mesmerized into a nirvanic state.
Now I’m going to throw a curve ball into this post. There are a couple of guest cameo performances in here, and one of them is the song that brought “the light” to me last night. It’s George Jones, singing his 1965 song “Take Me.”