Leon Russell (born Claude Russell Bridges; April 2, 1942 – November 13, 2016) was an American musician and songwriter, who recorded as a session musician, sideman, and maintained a solo career.
As a songwriter, he wrote songs including “Delta Lady,” recorded by Joe Cocker, and organized Cocker’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” tour in 1969. More than 100 acts have recorded his “A Song for You.” As a pianist, he played in his early years on albums by The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. On his first album, “Leon Russell,” in 1970, musicians included John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison. One of his biggest early fans, Elton John, said Russell was a “mentor” and “inspiration,” and they recorded The Union in 2010, John’s only duet album of his career.
Russell later produced and played during recording sessions for numerous musicians, including Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Ike and Tina Turner, and the Rolling Stones. His own hits which he wrote and recorded included “Tight Rope” and “Lady Blue.” He performed at the The Concert for Bangladesh in 1971 along with Dylan and Eric Clapton. In 2011 he was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
Russell died in his sleep in Nashville, Tennessee, on November 13, 2016, at the age of 74, his wife said in a statement on his website. In 2010, he underwent surgery to stop leaking brain fluid, and he suffered a heart attack in July 2016.
Elton John, who had once been Russell’s opening act, said “He was my biggest influence as a piano player, a singer and a songwriter.” On hearing of Russell’s death, he said “My darling Leon Russell passed away last night. He was a mentor, inspiration and so kind to me.” John once recalled:
When Mr. Russell’s “Greatest Hits” album came on one day during the trip, I started to cry, it moved me so much. His music takes me back to the most wonderful time in my life, and it makes me so angry that he’s been forgotten.