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Leon Russell: Homewood Session, 1970

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Leon Russell was an interesting artist. Born in Oklahoma, he began playing piano at a very young age and was getting paid for it starting at 14 when he gigged in Tulsa. As Leon told me when I visited him at home in Nashville in 2014: “Whatever I heard I could remember and play. When I came home from jobs, I'd listen to my radio. The only station it picked up favored R&B and Pentecostal gospel."

Like all naturally gifted players, he wound up in Los Angeles, in 1958. Except his first job out there was in advertising. Two years later, Leon quit to tour as Jerry Lee Lewis's opening pianist. He soon became a first-call studio pianist, recording on dozens of pop hits by artists ranging from Gary Lewis and the Playboys (that's Leon's piano on Everybody Loves a Clown) to Frank Sinatra. Then he was Joe Cocker's musical director on the singer's Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour. From there, he had an eclectic career as a producer and a solo artist veering in and out of styles ranging from disco to country.

As I wrote about Leon back in 2014: “A self-described independent and edgy artist, Mr. Russell is clearly eager for renewed mainstream acceptance—on his terms. And though Mr. Russell's backwoods vocals and honky-tonk piano sound untrained, few musicians can match his skill or feel-good touch." Leon died in 2016.

Earlier in the week, Jim Eigo of Jazz Promo Services sent along a link to a live studio session led by Leon and held on December 5, 1970. Known as the Homewood Session, the hour-long date was taped for television. Here's the video...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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