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Leon Russell (1942 - 2016)

Getty Images / Redferns / Photo by Robert Knight Archive

Leon Russell (1942 - 2016)

Leon Russell, a legendary rock musician and songwriter, died Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016, at his home in suburban Nashville, Tennessee, according to multiple news sources. He was 74.

His wife, Jan Bridges, said through an intermediary that the legendary musician and songwriter died in his sleep.

Russell learned to play the piano at a young age growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He also played the guitar. By the time he was 14, he was playing in the Tulsa nightclubs with his group the Starlighters. The legendary J.J. Cale was also a member of that band.

Russell moved out to Los Angeles and became a popular session musician. He had the ability to play a variety of music including rock, blues, soul, country, and gospel. He played on albums by the Byrds, Glen Campbell, and Gary Lewis and the Playboys. He co-wrote the hit song “Everybody Loves a Clown” for Gary Lewis and the Playboys in 1965. He also played for a while with the legendary session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew. He was featured on the Ronettes' hit song “Be My Baby.”

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He worked with Joe Cocker and, most famously, led the English singer's band on the classic 1970 tour “Mad Dogs and Englishmen.” The list of bands and timeless songs he worked on is almost endless. He played on the Beach Boys classic “Pet Sounds” and with a variety of musicians including Frank Sinatra and the Monkees. He toured with the Rolling Stones. He was also part of George Harrison's "Songs for Bangladesh."

Russell also had a long solo career. He released his first album in 1970, the self-titled “Leon Russell.” The album featured one of his best-known songs, “A Song for You,” which has been covered by Andy Williams and Elton John.


He was a musicians’ musician and continued to play and collaborate with other artists later in his career. Elton John and Russell released an album in 2010 called “The Union.” Cameron Crowe made a documentary that followed the creative process between the two artists in the making of the album.

Elton John wrote on Twitter, "My darling Leon Russell passed away last night. He was a mentor, inspiration & so kind to me. I loved him and always will."

Sheryl Crow: "So long, Leon Russell. You played your heart out and we will miss you. Thank you for sharing your divine talent with us. [❤️] #LeonRussell

Sean Lennon: "Leon Russell R.I.P. One of my biggest music and style icons."

Russell was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.

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