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Leon Russell dies at 74

Monday, November 14, 2016 – Leon Russell, a bluesy, soulful singer, who also delved into country, died on Sunday at 74 in Nashville.

Russell, who had a long career as a solo artist and sideman, had heart surgery in July and died in his sleep, according to his wife.

Russell was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. He produced and played in sessions with Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra and the Rolling Stones. Russell also released "The Union" in 2010 with Elton John as a duets album, a disc which rejuvenated his career. He had hits as a solo artist with "Tight Rope" and "Lady Blue."

Claude Russell Bridges was born April, 2, 1942 in Lawton, Okla. He started playing piano at the age of four and performed in Tulsa nightclubs. He adopted the name Leon as a teen. Russell moved in Los Angeles at the age of 16, studying guitar with James Burton, who played with Elvis Presley.

Russell played on various sessions, including Glen Campbell's 1967 album "Gentle On My Mind." He continued writing, recording, founded the Shelter Records label, which released Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and the Dwight Twilley Band along with forging his own solo career.

Russell released "Hank Wilson's Back! (Vol. 1)," a country disc recorded at producer Owen Bradley's barn studio in Nashville in 1973.

Following a tour with Nelson, the two had a number 1 hit in 1979 with their duet of "Heartbreak Hotel." They put out "One for the Road," a country pop rock disc in 1979.

Russell soon spent a few years touring with progressive bluegrass band New Grass Revival, which included Sam Bush and John Cowan. The band backed him up on tour. They released a live album in 1981, "Leon Russell& New Grass Revival: The Live Album," a disc recorded on May 15, 1980 in Pasadena, Cal.

A second Hank Wilson disc, "Hank Wilson Vol. II" came out in 1984. A third volume was out in 1998 with "Rhythm & Bluegrass: Hank Wilson, Vol. 4" in 2001 on his own label.

He released a number of albums on his own with his career on the downslide until recording the disc with Elton John.

CD reviews for Leon Russell

Best of Hank Wilson CD review - Best of Hank Wilson
To the casual observer it might seem odd that Leon Russell thinks he needs an alter ego for his country records, since everything he's ever done, including his hits in the 70's like Tightrope and Lady Blue never lacked for twang. But a closer look at the Hank Wilson nom du banjo itself (chosen to honor two of country's greatest Hanks - Williams and Thompson) as well as the track listings - absolutely indisputable classics such as Sixteen Tons, Heartaches by the Number, »»»
Legend in My Own Time: Hank Wilson, Vol. 3
Even if Leon Russell had not established himself as an acclaimed recording artist, his reputation as a session man would have ensured his status as a legend. While mostly associated with rock music, Russell's country credentials are solid. As in the previous two volumes show-casing his alter-ego Hank Wilson, he serves up reworkings of country classics. Included are three Willie Nelson classics ("Night Life," "Crazy" and "Funny How Time Slips Away"), and Nelson joins Russell on "He Stopped Loving »»»
Editorial: Walking the talk – When names like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Waylon and the Hag are invoked, you're talking hard core country. These are the touchstones of country , the guys who made country music what it was and still is (or maybe can be). When these folks would sing about being down-and-out and the rough-and-tumble, they knew of what they were singing about. Fast forward a few years to the country singers of today. »»»
Concert Review: Womack planned a good night – Lee Ann Womack pretty much summed up where she's at these days in concluding her show with Don Williams "Lord I Hope This Day Is Good." The ever-strong voiced country traditionalist sang, "I don't need fortune and I don't need fame" with the concluding line of the stanza asking the Man upstairs to "plan a good day for me.... »»»
Concert Review: Cantrell continues to satisfy – Laura Cantrell may never be a country star. Not at this stage of her career when she's 50, touring here and there and releasing new music every few years or so. But five albums in, Cantrell continues as a warm, enjoyable and worthy purveyor of her brand of country. That would mean going towards a more traditional side, not rushing the songs... »»»
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