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LEON RUSSELL by Bill  Janovitz


The Master of Space and Time's Journey Through Rock & Roll History

by Bill Janovitz

Pub Date: March 14th, 2023
ISBN: 9780306924774
Publisher: Hachette

An ambitiously comprehensive biography of a musical supernova.

Though the Oklahoma musician and composer’s time in the spotlight was comparatively brief, he commanded it in the early 1970s like no one else, exerting a transformative influence on rock in the process. As one of the primary creative forces behind Delaney & Bonnie, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen, and George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh, Leon Russell (1942-2016) had a magnetic pull on artists, fellow musicians, and audiences introduced to his talents on the big screen. As a recording artist, he wrote standards often covered by others. Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, and numerous other luminaries fell under his spell, wanting to channel some of the Southern gospel dynamism he injected into the rock mainstream, and unknown Tom Petty signed to his label and became a star. Then Russell seemed to disappear, or something dissipated. What happened? Janovitz, author of Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of the Rolling Stones, works his way through a complicated story. A sickly kid from Tulsa, Russell established himself as a studio superstar among studio musicians, playing on Phil Spector tracks and making hits with artists from Glen Campbell to Gary Lewis & the Playboys. Then he grew his hair and beard, experimented with LSD, and gathered a commune of kindred musical spirits around him. Russell had deep-seated insecurities and stage fright, and he was likely bipolar and perhaps autistic (both undiagnosed). He indulged heavily in shopping, eating, and sex, and he was stubborn and prone to trusting the wrong people. Though he ran out of steam, he persevered through decades, playing smaller venues. Despite his many personal and professional struggles, the story has a happy ending of sorts, with Elton John rescuing him from semi-oblivion and championing a career revival. In this exhaustively researched book, Janovitz mostly succeeds in creating a full portrait of a “Stranger in a Strange Land.”

Overlong for nonfans but certainly definitive.