By Steve Newton
Just when it seems like 2016 couldn’t get much worse–what with the recent death of Leonard Cohen and the election of Donald Trump–here comes some more sad news.
Music legend Leon Russell, best known for writing and/or recording songs like “Delta Lady”, “This Masquerade”, and “Tight Rope”–and for performing with virtually everybody–passed away in Nashville last night at the age of 74.
Born in Lawton, Oklahoma, in 1942, Russell began playing piano at the age of four, and by 14 he was playing in Tulsa nightclubs with a band called the Starlighters that included J.J. Cale.
In the ’60s and ’70s he became prominent as a session musician, and his skills would find him performing with a multitude of artists, including Gram Parsons, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Ray Charles, Barbra Streisand, the Beach Boys, the Ventures, Willie Nelson, Frank Sinatra, the Band, Bob Dylan, B.B. King, Joe Cocker, and the Rolling Stones.
Russell hit the charts in 1972 with his debut single, “Tight Rope”, which reached number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became one of my favourite all-time tunes. In ’75 he cracked the Top 40 with the single “Lady Blue”, off his fourth gold album, Will O’ the Wisp.
Russell was a major influence on the world’s singer-keyboardists, one example being Elton John, who helped rejuvenate Russell’s career in 2010 with the double album The Union, which also spawned a documentary film by Cameron Crowe exploring the creative process of John and Russell in the making of the album.
“He was my biggest influence as a piano player, a singer, and a songwriter,” John told ABC News after Russell’s death was announced on his website.
“We thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers during this very, very difficult time,” wrote Russell’s wife Jan Bridges. “My husband passed in his sleep in our Nashville home. He was recovering from heart surgery in July and looked forward to getting back on the road in January. We appreciate everyone’s love and support.”
“I’m up on the tightwire, flanked by life and the funeral pyre, putting on a show for you to see.”