An inductee in the Songwriters Hall of Fame for such classics as “Delta Lady,” the Oklahoma-born Leon Russell (April 2, 1942-November 13, 2016) began as a nightclub piano player at the age of 14, backing touring artists when they came to town. Jerry Lee Lewis was so impressed that he hired Russell and his band for two years of tours.
He relocated to Los Angeles in 1959, where he became known as a top musician (he played keyboard for the studio team known as the Wrecking Crew). Russell played on The Beach Boys’ “California Girls” and landmark “Pet Sounds” album, Jan and Dean’s “Surf City,” the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” and the Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
He also produced and played on recording sessions for Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Ike and Tina Turner, the Rolling Stones and many others. And his 1970 debut album, “Leon Russell,” featured a pretty hefty backing band: John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts, Mick Jagger, Merry Claytton and Joe Cocker, among others.
In 1973, when he was the headline act for such artists as Willie Nelson and Elton John, Billboard Magazine listed Russell as the top concert attraction in the world.
In a 1992 interview with The Associated Press, Russell - referred to as “The Master of Time and Space” - 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.”