This Thursday Leon Russell will bring down the house at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center.
“I have yet to meet Leon, but am looking forward to it,” said local musician Randall Rospond, who’s opening for Russell. “He’s been an inspiration and hero from my high school years. Seeing him in that top hat and ‘Holy Trinity’ tank top–a classic Rock ‘n Roll image–when he was musical director during Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour is a haunting visual of Rock ‘n Roll style if there ever was one. I had a home-burned cassette of his greatest hits that I totally burned out from overplay. That unique voice and southern sound–I was fascinated with all things southern when I was young, and he totally had the vibe. I remember being thrilled at how raw his vocals were. This was the early and mid-’70s, so there was so much mystery in all of his sound, attitude and visual image. I was 16 in 1976 and Leon was from outer space compared to my suburban Toronto upbringing.”
Here are 10 things I learned about Russell:
1. Leon Russell does not have a Twitter account but he’s got 74,331 likes on his Facebook page where fans post messages like this: “Are you still on the Hawaiin [sic] Islands ?? Could’ve sworn I heard you rocking out on Coconut Island tonight! Couple of locals playing and then you stepped up. Always wanted to meet you. Went on a trip in 69 listening to your music and it was awesome. Will never forget it. Gosh if you’re at the Hilo Hawaiin [sic], we are in room 820. Please stop by for a cold beer and let me get a photo with you. I’ve had 15 surgeries and not expected to be on this earth too much longer and to meet you would be one item off my bucket list !! Love and Peace !!”
2. His real name is Claude Russell Bridges. He was born wearing a white top hat and aviator shades in Oklahoma in 1942.
3. As a session musician, Russell has collaborated with musicians like Glen Campbell, Joe Cocker, Willie Nelson, Edgar Winter, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, J.J. Cale, David Gates, Bruce Hornsby, Hal Blaine, Tommy Tedesco, Bobby “Boris” Pickett, B.B. King, Freddie King, Bill Wyman, Steve Cropper, Carl Radle, Chuck Blackwell, Don Preston, Jesse Ed Davis, Rita Coolidge, Gram Parsons, Barbra Streisand, Ike & Tina Turner, Ricky Nelson, Herb Alpert, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Ann-Margret, Dean Martin, Marvin Gaye, Dave Mason, Steve Winwood, and groups such as Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, The Monkees, The Astronauts, The Accents, The Fencemen, The Ventures, The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Jan & Dean, Gary Lewis & The Playboys, Paul Revere & The Raiders, The Rolling Stones, The Ronettes, The Crystals, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, The Everly Brothers, The Righteous Brothers and The Flying Burrito Brothers, among others.
4. He has 35 records on his own discography. His first pop hit was the song “Tightrope” from his album Carnie that went to number two in 1972.
5. In 2010 he recorded an album with Elton John called The Union. The song “If It Wasn’t for Bad” off that album was nominated for a Grammy.
6. His official website (Leonrussellrecords.com) sucks, but it was there that I discovered the “LeonLifer’s.” Best described by member Steve Burns, “There are hundreds of thousands of Leon Russell fans out there, but we have gone a step further to almost fan-atic.” My membership is now pending for the LeonLifer’s club that chats about Leon at a Yahoo group page. The Lifers also release eclectic videos about Leon and hire Leon Russell for their own private gatherings. Member Nancy Roloff says “a LeonLifer is someone who has been fortunate enough and lucky enough to have been exposed to Leon, and doesn’t have to be from the 1960’s.”
7. His hit song “A Song for You” was covered by Amy Winehouse, The Carpenters, Ray Charles, Peggy Lee, Willie Nelson, Helen Reddy, Whitney Houston, Elkie Brooks,Donny Hathaway and Christina Aguilera.
8. Russell lied about his age to get his first job playing in a band at a Tulsa nightclub. At the time, he was 14. He moved to Los Angeles at 17.
9. Russell has been a prolific musician in the industry for more than 50 years, playing pop, rock, country, blues, piano, folk rock and more. In 2001 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
10. Russell started growing his beard at the age of four, the same year he started playing piano.
Tickets: $40, $45, $55
Maui Arts and Cultural Center
One Cameron Way, Kahului