NASHVILLE, Tenn. (November 13, 2016)
– Leon Russell, born Claude Russell Bridges, who sang, wrote and
produced some of rock ‘n’ roll’s top records, passed away Sunday, Nov.
13 at the age of 74.
Leon’s wife, Jan Bridges, released the following statement:
“We thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers during this
very, very difficult time. My husband passed in his sleep in our
Nashville home. He was recovering from heart surgery in July and looked
forward to getting back on the road in January. We appreciate everyone’s
love and support.”
Leon’s last performance was July 10 in Nashville.
Known as “The Master Of Space And Time,” Leon was a legendary
musician and songwriter who performed his gospel-infused southern boogie
piano rock, blues, and country music for more than 50 years.
Leon, born in Lawton, Okla., began as a nightclub piano player in
Oklahoma at the age of 14, also backing touring artists when they came
to town. Jerry Lee Lewis was so impressed with Leon that he hired him
and his band for two years of tours.
He wrote Joe Cocker’s “Delta Lady” and in 1969 put together Cocker’s
“Mad Dogs and Englishmen” tour, which spawned a documentary film and a
hit double album.
As a musician, primarily a pianist, he played on The Beach Boys’
“California Girls” and Jan and Dean’s “Surf City.” Leon also played
guitar and bass.
Leon has also toured with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, Edgar
Winter, The New Grass Revival, Willie Nelson, Sir Elton John and
performed with George Harrison and Friends at the Concert For
Leon produced and played on recording sessions for Bob Dylan, Frank
Sinatra, Ike and Tina Turner, the Rolling Stones and many others.
He recorded hit songs himself like “Tight Rope” and “Lady Blue” and
participated in “The Concert for Bangladesh.” John Lennon, Ringo Starr
and George Harrison played on his first album, Leon Russell.
His concerts often ended with a rousing version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” In 1973, Billboard
listed Leon as the top concert attraction in the world. About this
time, he was the headline act on billings that included Elton John and
at other times Willie Nelson.
In a 1992 interview with The Associated Press, Leon said music doesn’t really change much.
“It’s cyclical, like fashion. You keep your old clothes and they’ll be in style again sooner or later.
“There are new things, like rap. But that’s a rebirth of poetry. It’s brought poetry to the public consciousness.”
He and Elton John released The Union, a critically received duo album in 2010.
Besides his music, Leon was known for his striking appearance: wispy
white hair halfway down his back and that covered much of his face.
Leon relocated to Los Angeles in 1959, where he became known as a top musician, and later to Nashville.
In the early 2000s he began his own record label, Leon Russell
Records. Leon was inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame and
the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2011.