In the early ’50s, when Claude Russell Bridges was growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he learned about gospel music not by going to church, but by listening to it on the radio. He soaked up blues, folk, country and R&B the same way, and learned how to play all of it on the piano — the music of Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, you name it. Because Tulsa was in a dry county, there were no restrictions preventing him playing in clubs there at only 14. By age 16, he set his sights on Los Angeles, borrowed a fake ID from his friend Leon and adopted his name, and finagled his way into bars, night clubs and recording studios, where music industry people began to take notice.
Leon Russell was on his way.
By 1970-1972, he seemed to be everywhere, appearing with and/or producing records by the likes of George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Rita Coolidge, Badfinger and more. His gospel-flavored piano, unusual vocal stylings and significant songwriting contributions made him a force to reckon with, influencing generations of musicians (particularly keyboard players) from Elton John to Bruce Hornsby.
Now, sadly, Russell is gone, dead at 74 from complications following a heart attack and surgeries. He joins a disproportionately large group of ’60s-’70s rock heroes who have passed away in 2016. Read More