Five years ago today, on November 13th, 2016, Leon Russell died in his sleep at the age of 74. The American musician and songwriter was a “master of space and time,” and best remembered for his work throughout 1970s as a studio pianist and songwriter.
Russell’s first commercial success as a songwriter came when Joe Cocker recorded “Delta Lady” for his 1969 self-titled album. Russell co-produced and helped arrange the recordings heard on Joe Cocker, which went on to peak at #11 on the Billboard 200 album sales chart.
Russell then went on to organize and play on the 1970 Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. During that time, he released his own self-titled solo album which included “A Song For You”, which became one of his best-known originals with over 40 cover versions performed and recorded by artists including Ray Charles, Peggy Lee, Helen Reddy, Willie Nelson, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, Donny Hathaway, The Carpenters, and The Temptations. A few years ago, a young entertainer who happens to be blind and autistic captured the hearts of the nation on America’s Got Talent with his jaw-dropping rendition of the song.
Kodi Lee – “A Song For You” – America’s Got Talent
[Video: America’s Got Talent]
Russell continued to tour with a busy performance schedule up until his death, and it 2016, joined Tedeschi Trucks Band during their show at the Chicago Theatre. The esteemed pianist joined the band for two numbers, covering The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Darlin’ Be Home Soon” and Titus Turner’s “Sticks & Stones”. Russell also joined TTB on stage the year prior at LOCKN’ Festival in 2015 for a live collaboration on Mad Dogs & Englishmen‘s tribute to Joe Cocker. Anchored by the Tedeschi Trucks Band, the group hosted an incredible lineup of special guests throughout the night that included Russell, Dave Mason, Rita Coolidge, Chris Robinson, Doyle Bramhall II, John Bell, Alecia Chakour, and Warren Haynes. In 2021, Tedeschi Trucks Band revisited the extensive undertaking with a new documentary, Learning To Live Together.
Scroll down to revisit some of Leon Russell’s magical collaborations from throughout his career.
Tedeschi Trucks Band with Leon Russell – “Sticks & Stones” – 1/22/16
[Video: Brian J. Leonard]
Leon Russell with John Mayer – “A Song For You” – 2011 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
[Video: Tony DeSanto]
Elton John & Leon Russell – The David Letterman Show – 2/9/11
[Video: Tony DeSanto]
Ray Charles with Leon Russell, Willie Nelson – “A Song For You” – Live At The Beacon Theatre, 2003
[Originally published 11/13/18]