Rock’n’roll musician Leon Russell dies, aged 74

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The Oklahoman - who Elton John cites as his "biggest influence" - was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011

Rock’n’roll musician Leon Russell has died, aged 74.

Russell, a multi-instrumentalist who was known best as a pianist, worked with the likes of The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and George Harrison during a long and successful career that produced over 35 albums.

Born in Oklahoma in 1942, Russell began playing in the nightclubs of Tulsa in the late ’50s with his band, the Starlighters. The group have been credited by many with developing the ‘Tulsa Sound’, a mix of rockabilly, country and rock’n’roll. After being invited to tour with Jerry Lee Lewis, Russell moved to LA, where he went on to work with Phil Spector (he played keys on the Spector-produced Ronettes track, “Be My Baby”) and The Byrds.

Russell released his self-titled debut studio album in 1970, when he began to achieve the height of his fame – his third solo album, ‘Carney’, peaked at number two on the US Billboard Hot 200 chart in 1972, while his single ‘A Song For You’, released in 1970, earned extra attention in later years when it was covered by the likes of the Temptations, Willie Nelson and Ray Charles (whose cover version won the 1993 Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance).

A SONG FOR YOU – Leon Russell & Friends (1971)

Another excerpt from the 1971 “Homewood Sessions” featuring Leon Russell and a few good friends such as Don Nix and Furry Lewis. Furry can be seen several times throughout the video. This song is, in many people’s opinion, one of the finest ballads ever written. I agree!

The musician also worked as a producer, earning credits on the two Bob Dylan songs ‘Watching the River Flow’ and ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’. He served as a producer and songwriter on Joe Cocker’s self-titled 1969 LP, and later led Cocker’s famous ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ tour in 1970.

Russell came to prominence once again in 2010, when Elton John – who hailed Russell as “my biggest influence as a piano player, a singer and a songwriter” – invited him to record the 2010 album ‘The Union’. John today honoured Russell’s life and career, paying tribute to the 74-year-old on his Twitter account.

Russell was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011 for his “musical excellence.” He recorded his last album, ‘Life Journey’, in 2014.

Leon Russell died peacefully at his home in Nashville, Tennessee earlier today. He was 74.