Russell c. 1980
|Birth name||Claude Russell Bridges|
|Also known as||Hank Wilson|
April 2, 1942 |
Lawton, Oklahoma, United States
|Genres||Country, rock, folk, rhythm and blues, folk rock, blues rock|
|Instruments||Vocals, piano, organ, guitar, bass guitar, mandolin|
|Labels||Capitol, Shelter Records, Paradise Records|
Born in Lawton, Oklahoma, United States, Russell began playing piano at the age of four. He attended Will Rogers High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Also at Will Rogers High School were Anita Bryant, who was one year older, and in the same 1959 class, David Gates. Russell and Gates played and recorded together as the Fencement. A few years younger, also at Will Rogers, was Elvin Bishop. At this time Russell was already performing at Tulsa nightclubs. 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 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. After performing country music under the name Hank Wilson in the 1970s and 1980s, Russell had largely faded into obscurity. He re-emerged in 2010 when Elton John called on him to record an album that became The Union. The album brought renewed popularity to Russell who has since released a solo album and toured around the world.  
Russell began his musical career at the age of 14 in the nightclubs of Tulsa, Oklahoma. He and his group the Starlighters, which included J.J. Cale, Leo Feathers, Chuck Blackwell and Johnny Williams, were instrumental in creating the style of music known as the Tulsa Sound. After settling in Los Angeles, he studied guitar with James Burton. Known mostly as a session musician early in his career, as a solo artist he has crossed genres to include rock and roll, blues, and gospel music, playing with artists as varied as Jan & Dean, Gary Lewis, George Harrison, Gram Parsons, Delaney Bramlett, Ringo Starr, Doris Day, Elton John, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, the Byrds, Barbra Streisand, the Beach Boys, the Ventures, Willie Nelson, Badfinger, Tijuana Brass, Frank Sinatra, the Band, Bob Dylan, J.J. Cale, B.B. King, Dave Mason, Glen Campbell, Joe Cocker and the Rolling Stones.
Russell moved from Tulsa to Los Angeles in 1958. where, as a first-call studio musician, he 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. 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. 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). 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.
Russell released "Everybody’s Talking ‘Bout the Young", in 1965. It was Russell’s first solo single on Dot Records
Leon Russell and Denny Cordell created Shelter Records in 1969, a US record label. The label operated from 1969 to 1981. The company established offices in both Los Angeles and Tulsa. Shelter Records used Sound City Studios for recording in its early days.
Russell played as a member of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends band in In 1969 and 1970, playing guitar and keyboards on their albums and as part of the touring band. Working with Delaney & Bonnie, Russell 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! The album, co-produced and arranged by Russell, reached #11 on the Billboard 200. 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. "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".
"Leon Russell and friends" recorded the "Homewood Sessions", broadcast as an "unscripted and unrehearsed" one-hour TV special on KCET TV (Los Angeles) that aired in December 1970 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 2010 by The Pearl District Association) in Tulsa. 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.
Russell produced some tracks for Bob Dylan in March of 1971 when Dylan was experimenting with his new 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.
At the invitation of former Delaney & Bonnie and George Harrison, Russell played piano on Badfinger's third album, Straight Up in the summer of 1971. The piano part complemented Pete Ham and George Harrison's dual slide guitars on Badfinger's "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." Russell (on bass guitar and vocals) and Harrison (on electric guitar and vocals) also backed up Bob Dylan's set.
Russell was very busy in 1971 as Shelter Records released Leon Russell and the Shelter People and Asylum Choir II (which was co-produced by Marc Benno) and recorded at Russell’s Skyhill Studios. Leon Russell and the Shelter People went on to be Leon's first US Gold album. 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 Records 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, and was a regular performer at Gilley's Club, the Pasadena, Texas, honkytonk made famous in Urban Cowboy.
Shine a Light was a song featured on the Rolling Stones' 1972 album Exile on Main St.. A version of the song, under the title Get a Line on You, was made by Leon Russell at Olympic Studios in October 1969 with assistance from Jagger (lead vocal), Ringo Starr (drums), Leon Russell (piano), and probably also Bill Wyman (bass) and Mick Taylor (guitar). The recording was made during the recording sessions for the album Leon Russell (released 1970), where both Starr and Wyman contributed drums and bass to some of the tracks. However, the song "Get a Line on You" was not on the released album, but was shelved until 1993, when it finally surfaced as a bonus track on the 24K gold re-release by DCC Compact Classics (DCC Compact Classics GZS 1049).
Russell and his band hit the road in 1972 with 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 1973. In November 1972, Billboard cited Russell as a top concert draw and reported the '72 tour gross at almost $3 million. That same year, he released his Carney album, which was Leon's third solo studio album. The album peaked at number 2 on the Billboard 200. The album featured Tight Rope and This Masquerade, and it was his second Gold album.
Leon released Leon Live album, it charted and was his third US Gold album. The album was recorded live at Long Beach Arena, August 28, 1972, a three LP release.
Looking Back was released by Russell on Olympia Records in 1973, shortly after the success of his single "Tightrope." it contains instrumental tracks that were recorded in the mid-1960s, featuring Russell on harpsichord.
Russell released Hank Wilson's Back! (Vol. 1), The album was recorded at the producer, Owen Bradley’s, barn studio in Nashville in 1973. The album made it into the Top Thirty Hits. Track one, Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms, was minor hit.
Leon helped the group the Gap Band, a trio of Tulsa brothers, kick off their chart success in 1974. The group went on to produce several funk-disco hits. The Gap Band backed Leon on his Stop All That Jazz album.
Russell released Live In Japan on Shelter Records. The album was recorded live at Budokan Hall, Tokyo, Japan on November 8, 1973 and released in 1975.
Helen Reddy sang Russell's Bluebird song as a single and on her No Way to Treat a Lady album released in 1975 . The song debuted on Billboard's Hot 100 in the issue of the magazine dated July 5, and reached number 35 over the course of six weeks there. That same issue also marked its debut on the magazine's Easy Listening chart, where it spent eight weeks and peaked at number five, and on the RPM singles chart it got as high as number 51. Reddy comments on the tune, "I love Leon Russell's writing and I love this song. It was an integral part of my repertoire for nearly 30 years, and I never tired of singing it."
Russell's song, This Masquerade, the B-side of his 1972 hit single Tight Rope, went on to be recorded by numerous artists, including Helen Reddy and The Carpenters. George Benson's version of the song reached #10 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1976 Russell was Grammy Award nomination for Song of the Year in 1977. In 1977 Benson's version of Russell's This Masquerade won a Grammy Award for Record of the Year. Leon Russell's version is part of the soundtrack for the Exorcist director William Friedkin's psychological thriller film Bug. The Bug Soundtrack was released on May 22, 2007. It also appeared in the movie The Pursuit of Happyness.
Russell released the Wedding Album a studio album with his then wife, Mary Russell, otherwise known as Mary McCreary. It was distributed and released by Warner Bros. Records in 1976 . Leon and Mary Russell as producers of the album, with the exception of the final track, "Daylight", which was produced by its writer, Bobby Womack. The Wedding Album was Paradise Records' first Album.
Leon and his 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.
Russell release his Americana album, the title is credited to the mix influences that made Russell’s unique Music. Released by Rhino / Warner Bros in 1978 .
After touring with Willie Nelson, Russell and Willie had a number-one hit on the 1979 Billboards country music chart with their duet of "Heartbreak Hotel". Willie and Russell released their joint duet studio country pop-rock album,One for the Road in 1979. One for the Road was his 5th Gold album.
Leon Russell released Life And Love a LP Album on Paradise Records in 1979 .
Russell spent the next two years touring with the New Grass Revival, and released two more albums with Paradise Records before the label folded. On May 15, 1980 Russell joined with New Grass Revival to record a live album at Perkins Palace in Pasadena, California, the album was released in 1981 as Leon Russell & New Grass Revival – The Live Album.
Leon played piano on New Grass Revival's Commonwealth album released in 1981.
Following up on his country theme, he made a second Hank Wilson album, Hank Wilson Vol. II released in 1984. Hank Wilson being Leon's self-styled country music alter-ego since the early 70's. Released on Leon Russell Records.
Leon released a country blues album, recorded in Hendersonville, Tennessee at his Paradise Studios, called Solid State. Released by Paradise Music in 1984.
Leon released a self-titled album Leon Russell in 1989 on DCC Compact Classics.
Leon released Delta Lady on Del Rack Records in 1991 . Many of the songs are remixes of early recording.
Leon released a new album Anything Can Happen recorded at Paradise Studios, released on Virgin Records in 1991. Pianist Bruce Hornsby produced this comeback album. During the late 1980s and early 1990s Hornsby worked extensively as a producer and sideman with Leon.
in 1993, Paradise Records released the LEON RUSSELL 24K GOLD DISC album. It was a remix of recordings done at Olympic Sound in London in 1969.
Leon released his Hymns of Christmas, album with 10 instrumentals Hymns by Leon on Leon Russell Records in 1995.
Capitol/EMI Records released the album Gimme Shelter! The Best of Leon Russell, a two CD album set with 40-tracks covering 1969 to 1992, in 1996.
Capitol/Right Stuff Records released in 1997 the album Retrospective, an album with Leon's 18 all-time best-selling songs.
Blues: Same Old Song CD was released on Paradise Records in 1999 .
Leon and Q Records released in 2000 Live at Gilley's , a performance from September 17, 1981.
Signature Songs was released in 2001 on Leon Russell Records. It was re-released in 2007 by MRI Associated Labels.
Guitar Blues was released on Leon Russell Records in 2001, Russell back with the New Grass Revival.
Leon returned as Hank Wilson but this time with a twist of bluegrass in Rhythm & Bluegrass: Hank Wilson, Vol. 4, released in 2001 on Leon Russell Records.
Moonlight & Love Songs was released on Leon Russell Records in 2002, an album of Russell's standards.
Angel in Disguise released by Leon Russell Records in 2007, Russell at age 65 made this new Okie rock album.
A new CD released in 2007 Crazy Love album on Leon Russell Records, a Rock album.
Russell played at Diversafest, Tulsa's Music Conference and Festival in 2007. From 2002 to 2010, Dfest was an annual live event that showcased independent and emerging artists and hosted educational music industry panels and a tradeshow. Over its last four years, Dfest was held in the historic Blue Dome District of Tulsa, Oklahoma .
In Your Dreams was released on CD on Leon Russell Records in 2008 .
Bad Country released on Leon Russell Records in 2008, with 12 original songs by Russell.
After a number of years of reduced prominence, Russell's career was rejuvenated when Elton John sought him out for a new project. 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, the CD was released on October 19, 2010. The Union was Leon's 6th Gold album. 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. 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. 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. Elton John and Leon Russell also appeared on The David Letterman Show.
Russell's current[when?] band line-up includes long-time bass player Jackie Wessel, Brandon Holder on drums, multi-instrumentalist Beau Charron, and grandson Payton Goodner on percussion.
On March 16, 2015, a restored version of the previously unreleased 1974 documentary about Russell, A Poem Is A Naked Person, by filmmaker Les Blank, was screened publicly at the South by Southwest Film Festival. The film features concert footage of Russell in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Anaheim, California, and footage of the recording sessions for the album Hank Wilson's Back.
On September 11, 2015, Russell joined alumni, Rita Coolidge, Claudia Lennear, Chris Stainton and other members of the 1970 Joe Cocker Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour for a special tribute concert to Joe Cocker organized by the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Original tour photographer, Linda Wolf documented the reunion and performance. A full documentary of the reunion and performance will be released early 2016, directed by Jesse Lauter and Jojo Pennebaker, son of D.A. Pennebaker.
Russell extended a nationwide concert tour to enthusiastic crowds from 2016 and scheduled into 2017.
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."
|Year||Album||Peak chart positions||Certifications
|US||US Country||CAN||CAN Country||NZ|
|1968||Look Inside the Asylum Choir (with Marc Benno)||201||—||—||—||—|
|1971||Leon Russell and the Shelter People||17||—||14||—||—||US: Gold|
|Asylum Choir II (with Marc Benno)||70||—||—||—||—|
|1973||Leon Live||9||—||9||—||—||US: Gold|
|Hank Wilson's Back Vol. I||28||15||85||—||—|
|1974||Stop All That Jazz||34||—||43||—||—|
|1975||Will O' the Wisp||30||—||72||—||—||US: Gold|
|1976||Wedding Album (with Mary Russell)||34||—||—||—||—|
|1977||Make Love to the Music (with Mary Russell)||142||—||—||—||—|
|1979||One for the Road (with Willie Nelson)||25||3||28||1||11||US: Gold
|Life and Love||204||—||—||—||—|
|1981||The Live Album (with New Grass Revival)||187||—||—||—||—|
|1984||Hank Wilson, Vol. II||—||—||—||—||—|
|1992||Anything Can Happen||—||—||—||—||—|
|1995||Hymns of Christmas||—||—||—||—||—|
|1998||Legend in My Time: Hank Wilson Vol. III||—||—||—||—||—|
|1999||Face in the Crowd||—||—||—||—||—|
|Blues: Same Old Song||—||—||—||—||—|
|2000||Live at Gilley's||—||—||—||—||—|
|Rhythm & Bluegrass: Hank Wilson, Vol. 4 (with New Grass Revival)||—||—||—||—||—|
|2002||Moonlight & Love Songs (with the Nashville Symphony)||—||—||—||—||—|
|2003||In Your Dreams||—||—||—||—||—|
|2006||A Mighty Flood||—||—||—||—||—|
|Angel in Disguise||—||—||—||—||—|
|2010||The Union (with Elton John)||3||—||7||—||24|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart.|
|Year||Album||Peak chart positions||Certifications
|1976||Best of Leon Russell||40||US: Gold|
|1996||Gimme Shelter: The Best of Leon Russell||—|
|2001||Best of Leon Russell||—|
|2009||Best of Hank Wilson||—|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart.|
|US Country||CAN||CAN Country||CAN AC|
|1970||"Roll Away the Stone"||109||—||—||—||—||Leon Russell|
|1970||"Song for you"||—||—||—||—||—||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|
|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"||—||—||—||—||—|
|2010||"If It Wasn't For Bad" (with Elton John)||—||—||—||—||—||The Union|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart.|
|1992||"Anything Can Happen"||Sherman Halsey|
|"No Man's Land"|
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- Don Preston (guitarist)
- Leon Wilkeson
- Ambrose Campbell
- Indianola Mississippi Seeds
- Superstar (Delaney and Bonnie song)
- The Asylum Choir
- Kathi McDonald
- Wild Horses (The Rolling Stones song)
- Patrick Henderson
- Don Nix
- Hummingbird (1955 song)
- Jesse Ed Davis
- Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section
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- Laredo, Joseph F. "The Master of Time & Space." Liner notes for Gimme Shelter! The Best of Leon Russell. EMI/Shelter Records, 1996.
- Simmons, Michael. "The Ringleader of Seventies Rock Royalty Returns from the Wilderness." Mojo (November 2010).
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- [Billboard, March 4, 1967, & December 15, 1973, p. 37]
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