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Leon Russell

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Title: Leon Russell  
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Subject: The Union (Elton John and Leon Russell album), Wedding Album (Leon and Mary Russell album), She's Just My Style, Willis Alan Ramsey (album), Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues
Collection: 1942 Births, American Male Singers, American Male Singer-Songwriters, American Rock Guitarists, American Rock Musicians, American Rock Pianists, American Rock Singers, American Rock Songwriters, American Session Musicians, American Singer-Songwriters, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends Members, Elton John, Grammy Award Winners, Living People, Musicians from Oklahoma, People from Lawton, Oklahoma, People from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees, Songwriters from Oklahoma, The Wrecking Crew (Music) Members
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Leon Russell

Leon Russell
Russell circa 1980
Background information
Birth name Claude Russell Bridges
Also known as Hank Wilson
Born (1942-04-02) April 2, 1942
Lawton, Oklahoma, United States
Genres Country, rock, folk, rhythm and blues, folk rock, blues rock
Occupation(s) Musician, singer-songwriter
Instruments Vocals, piano, mandolin
Years active 1956–present
Labels Capitol, Shelter Records, Paradise Records

Leon Russell (born Claude Russell Bridges April 2, 1942) is an American musician and songwriter, who has recorded as a session musician, sideman, and maintained a solo career in music.[1]


  • Overview 1
  • Career 2
  • Legacy 3
  • Discography 4
    • Studio albums 4.1
    • Compilation albums 4.2
    • Singles 4.3
    • Music videos 4.4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Born in Lawton, Oklahoma,[2] United States, he began playing piano at the age of four. Russell attended Will Rogers High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At this time he was already performing at Tulsa nightclubs.[3] After moving to Los Angeles, he became a session musician, working as a pianist on the recordings of many notable musical artists from the 1960s. By the late 1960s, Russell diversified, becoming successful as an arranger[4] and songwriter. As a musician, he worked his way up from gigs as a sideman to well known performers. By 1970 he had graduated to solo recording artist, although he never ended his previous roles within the music industry.

Russell was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on Monday, March 14, 2011.[5]


Russell began his musical career at the age of 14 in the nightclubs of Gram Parsons, Delaney Bramlett, Ringo Starr, Doris Day, Elton John, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, The Ventures, Willie Nelson, Badfinger, Tijuana Brass, Frank Sinatra, The Band, Bob Dylan, J.J. Cale, B.B. King,[7] Dave Mason, Glen Campbell, Joe Cocker and The Rolling Stones.[8]

As a first call studio musician in Los Angeles, Russell played on many of the most popular songs of the 1960s, including some by The Byrds, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Bobby "Boris" Pickett, and Herb Alpert. He can be seen in 1964's T.A.M.I. Show, playing piano with "The Wrecking Crew" (an informal name for the top L.A. session musicians of the 1960s), sporting short, dark, slicked-back hair, in contrast to his later look.[8] Soon after, he was hired as Snuff Garrett's assistant/creative developer, playing on numerous #1 singles, including "This Diamond Ring" by Gary Lewis and the Playboys.[4] He wrote or co-wrote two hit songs for Gary Lewis and Playboys: "Everybody Loves a Clown" (which hit the Billboard Top 40 on October 9, 1965, remaining on the chart for eight weeks and rising to number 4) and "She's Just My Style" (which hit Billboard′s Top 40 on December 18, 1965, and rose to number 3).[9] He played xylophone and bells on the 1966 single "The Joker Went Wild", sung by Brian Hyland and penned by Bobby Russell (no relation to Leon). He also worked sessions with Dorsey Burnette and Glen Campbell on Campbell's 1967 album Gentle on My Mind, where he was credited as "Russell Bridges" on piano, and arranged and conducted the 1966 easy listening album Rhapsodies for Young Lovers by the Midnight String Quartet.

In 1969 and 1970, Russell worked as a member of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, playing guitar and keyboards on their albums and as part of the touring band. Here he met George Harrison and others with whom he would work over the next couple of years.

Russell's first commercial success as a songwriter came when Joe Cocker recorded the song "Delta Lady" for his 1969 album, Joe Cocker![8] The album, co-produced and arranged by Russell, reached #11 on the Billboard 200.[10] Russell went on to organize—using many of the musicians from Delaney & Bonnie's band—and perform in the 1970 Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour.[11] "Superstar", co-written by Russell, was sung by Rita Coolidge on that tour and album. It later proved a success for The Carpenters, Luther Vandross, Sonic Youth and other performers.

During the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, Shelter Records released his 1970 solo album Leon Russell, which included the first recording of "A Song for You". This has become one of his best-known songs, with versions released by more than 40 different artists including The Carpenters, Ray Charles, Peggy Lee, Willie Nelson, Helen Reddy, Whitney Houston, Elkie Brooks, Amy Winehouse, Donny Hathaway, and Christina Aguilera. Both The Carpenters and The Temptations named an album after the song. Also in 1970, Russell played piano on Dave Mason's album, Alone Together, most notably on the song "Sad and Deep as You".

In December 1970 "Leon Russell and friends" recorded the "Homewood Sessions", broadcast as an "unscripted and unrehearsed" one-hour TV special on KCET TV (Los Angeles) and later re-broadcast several times on the Public Broadcasting System.

During the 1960s and early 1970s, Russell owned the Church Recording Studio on 3rd Street (renamed Leon Russell Road in 2006) in Tulsa.[12] His former home on Grand Lake, Oklahoma, contained a dining room table and chairs made from church pews taken out of the church when it was turned into a studio.

In March, 1971, Russell produced some tracks for Bob Dylan, who was experimenting with his sound. The sessions produced the single "Watching the River Flow" and "When I Paint My Masterpiece", both of which prominently featured Russell's gospel-flavored piano.

During the summer of 1971, at the invitation of former Delaney & Bonnie band-mate George Harrison, Russell played piano on Day After Day". The Straight Up sessions were interrupted when many of the musicians left for New York City to participate in the Concert For Bangladesh, at which Russell performed a medley of the songs "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Young Blood" and sang a verse on Harrison's "Beware of Darkness."[8] Russell (on bass guitar and vocals) and Harrison (on electric guitar and vocals) also backed up Bob Dylan's set.

A busy year for Russell, 1971 also brought the Shelter release of Leon Russell and the Shelter People and Asylum Choir II (which was co-produced by Marc Benno). That same year, Russell played on recording sessions with B.B. King, Eric Clapton, and Bob Dylan.

Russell helped blues guitarist Freddie King to revive his career by collaborating with him on three of his albums for Shelter during the early 1970s. During those same years, Russell helped himself to a nice share of what was then called the "County and Western" market, recording and performing under the moniker Hank Wilson,[13] and was a regular performer at Gilley's Club, the Pasadena, Texas, honkytonk made famous in Urban Cowboy.

Russell in 2009.

1972 was highlighted by a large-scale concert tour by Russell and his "Shelter People" entourage. A live performance was recorded in California at the Long Beach Arena on August 28, 1972, and was released as the Leon Live album. In November 1972, Billboard cited Russell as a top concert draw and reported the '72 tour gross at almost $3 million.[4]

Russell's song, " Hot 100Billboard. Leon and then-wife Mary Russell were musical guests on the May 15, 1976, episode of Saturday Night Live in its first season, hosted by Dyan Cannon. In 1976 Russell was Grammy Award nomination for Song of the Year in 1977.[15]

In 1979, Russell and Willie Nelson had a number-one hit on the Billboard country music chart with their duet of "Heartbreak Hotel". Russell spent the next two years touring with the New Grass Revival, and released two more albums with Paradise before the label folded.[8]

After a number of years of reduced prominence, Russell's career was rejuvenated when Elton John sought him out for a new project.[16] In November 2009, Russell worked together with John and Bernie Taupin on The Union, a double album record credited equally to both Russell and John. Recorded in February 2010 and produced by T-Bone Burnett,[17] the CD was released on October 19, 2010.[18] The recordings were interrupted in January 2010 by a health scare: Russell was hospitalized and underwent surgery for a brain fluid leak, as well as treatment for heart failure and pneumonia.[19] On April 2, 2011, Russell and John performed together as the musical guests on Saturday Night Live. Rolling Stone placed the album in third place on its list of the 30 Best Albums of 2010.[20] A couple of months later, Russell announced plans for a solo LP, although no specifics were given, and in October 2010 Russell and John embarked on The Union Tour.

Russell's current band line-up includes long-time bass player Jackie Wessel, Brandon Holder on drums, multi-instrumentalist Beau Charron, and grandson Payton Goodner on percussion.


Pixies vocalist Black Francis credits Russell with influencing his vocal style: "I realize there's a certain kind of vocalizing I do that takes its cue from Leon Russell. He sang in a southern accent but it was very blown-out and exaggerated, very free and loose." [21]


Studio albums

Year Album Peak chart positions Certifications
(sales thresholds)
US US Country CAN CAN Country NZ
1968 Look Inside the Asylum Choir (with Marc Benno) 201
1970 Leon Russell 60
1971 Leon Russell and the Shelter People 17 14 US: Gold[22]
Asylum Choir II (with Marc Benno) 70
1972 Carney 2 4 US: Gold[22]
1973 Leon Live 9 9 US: Gold[22]
Hank Wilson's Back 28 15 85
1974 Stop All That Jazz 34 43
1975 Will O' the Wisp 30 72 US: Gold[22]
1976 Wedding Album (with Mary Russell) 34
1977 Make Love to the Music (with Mary Russell) 142
1978 Americana 115
1979 One for the Road (with Willie Nelson) 25 3 28 1 11 US: Gold[22]
CAN: Gold[23]
Life and Love 204
1981 The Live Album (with New Grass Revival) 187
1984 Hank Wilson, Vol. II
Solid State
1989 Leon Russell
1991 Delta Lady[24]
1992 Anything Can Happen
Crazy Love
1995 Hymns of Christmas
1998 Hank Wilson, Vol. 3: Legend in My Time
1999 Face in the Crowd
Blues: Same Old Song
2000 Live at Gilley's
2001 Guitar Blues
Signature Songs
Rhythm & Bluegrass: Hank Wilson, Vol. 4 (with New Grass Revival)
2002 Moonlight & Love Songs (with the Nashville Symphony)
2003 In Your Dreams
Bad Country
Almost Piano
2006 A Mighty Flood
Angel in Disguise
2010 The Union (with Elton John) 3 7 24

CAN: Gold
UK: Silver[25]

2014 Life Journey 164
"—" denotes releases that did not chart.

Compilation albums

Year Album Peak chart positions Certifications
(sales thresholds)
1974 Looking Back
1976 Best of Leon Russell 40 US: Gold[22]
1992 Collection
1996 Gimme Shelter: The Best of Leon Russell
1997 Retrospective
2001 Best of Leon Russell
2009 Best of Hank Wilson
"—" denotes releases that did not chart.


Year Single Chart Positions Album
US Country CAN CAN Country CAN AC
1970 "Roll Away the Stone" 109 Leon Russell
1971 "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" 105 Leon Russell and the Shelter People
1972 "Tryin' to Stay 'Live" 115 Asylum Choir II
"Tight Rope" 11 5 Carney
1973 "Queen of the Roller Derby" 89
"Rollin' in My Sweet Baby's Arms" (as Hank Wilson) 78 57 30 Hank Wilson's Back, Vol. 1
"I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" (as Hank Wilson) 78
1974 "A Six Pack to Go" (as Hank Wilson) 68 76
"If I Were a Carpenter" 73 87 Stop All That Jazz
1975 "Lady Blue" 14 44 18 Will O' the Wisp
1976 "Back to the Island" 53 33
"Rainbow in Your Eyes" 52 Wedding Album
1978 "Heartbreak Hotel" (w/ Willie Nelson) 1 1 One for the Road
1984 "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues" 63 Solid State
"Wabash Cannonball" (w/ Willie Nelson, as Hank Wilson) 91 single only
1992 "Anything Can Happen" Anything Can Happen
"No Man's Land"
"—" denotes releases that did not chart.

Music videos

Year Video Director
1992 "Anything Can Happen" Sherman Halsey
"No Man's Land"


  1. ^ Leon Russell at AllMusic
  2. ^ biography
  3. ^ "Leon Russell". Retrieved 2014-04-01. 
  4. ^ a b c Billboard , September 18, 1965, p. 76
  5. ^ "Leon Russell: inducted in 2011 | The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum". Retrieved 2012-04-24. 
  6. ^ Wolley, John. "Come Blow Your Horn", Tulsa World, March 31, 2002.
  7. ^ Liner notes- BB King "Indianola Mississippi Seeds" ABC Dunhill Records INC
  8. ^ a b c d e Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. pp. 838–839.  
  9. ^ See generally Joel Whitburn, The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, p. 275 (5th ed. 1992).
  10. ^ "Joe Cocker! – Joe Cocker". AllMusic. Retrieved 2012-04-24. 
  11. ^ Joe Cocker Mad Dogs & Englishmen Tour photos at
  12. ^
  13. ^ Thom Jurek (June 23, 2009). "Best of Hank Wilson – Leon Russell | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-04-01. 
  14. ^ "Music Search, Recommendations, Videos and Reviews". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-04-01. 
  15. ^ Richard S. Ginell. "Breezin' – George Benson | Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-04-01. 
  16. ^ Graham Rockingham, "Leon Russell enjoys kickstart from Elton John", Hamilton Spectator, August 11, 2012.
  17. ^ "New Album Update" at
  18. ^ Cashmere, Tim (July 25, 2010). "Elton John and Leon Russell Album Cover Revealed – News". Retrieved 2012-04-24. 
  19. ^ [1]
  20. ^ "30 Best Albums of 2010". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2014-04-01. 
  21. ^ Fox, Killian (June 28, 2014). "Black Francis: soundtrack of my life". The Guardian. Retrieved June 28, 2014. 
  22. ^ a b c d e f "Recording Industry Association of America". RIAA. Retrieved 2012-04-24. 
  23. ^ "Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA)".  
  24. ^ "The Complete Leon Russell Discography 2". Retrieved 2012-04-24. 
  25. ^ [2]
  26. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2011). Top Pop Singles 1955–2010. Record Research, Inc. p. 776.  

External links

  • Official website
  • Tulsa Area Music Archives,
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