Leon Russell is an icon, but somehow is still an underappreciated artist. He is spoken of in tones reserved not just for the most talented musicians, but also for the most complex and fascinating. His career is like a roadmap of music history, often intersecting with rock royalty like Bob Dylan, the Stones, and the Beatles. He started in the Fifties as a teenager touring with Jerry Lee Lewis, going on to play piano on records by such giants as Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, and Phil Spector, and on hundreds of classic songs with major recording artists. Leon was Elton John’s idol, and Elton inducted him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. Leon also gets credit for altering Willie Nelson’s career, giving us the long-haired, pot-friendly Willie we all know and love today.
In his prime, Leon filled stadiums on solo tours, and was an organizer/performer on both Joe Cocker’s revolutionary Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour and George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh. Leon also founded Shelter Records in 1969 with producer Denny Cordell, discovering and releasing the debut albums of Tom Petty, the Gap Band, Phoebe Snow, and J.J. Cale. Leon always assembled wildly diverse bands and performances, fostering creative and free atmospheres for musicians to live and work together. He brazenly challenged musical and social barriers. However, Russell also struggled with his demons, including substance abuse, severe depression, and a crippling stage fright that wreaked havoc on his psyche over the long haul and at times seemed to will himself into obscurity. Now, acclaimed author and founding member of Buffalo Tom, Bill Janovitz shines the spotlight on one of the most important music makers of the twentieth century.