Legendary musician Leon Russell will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next month, and today it was reported that superstar Elton John will be among the presenters at the 26th annual induction ceremony. Cleveland.com also lists Neil Young, Paul Simon, John Legend and Bette Midler as presenters for the event, which takes place on Monday, Mar. 14, at New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
Elton John and Leon Russell, both at the ceremony. One presenting, one receiving. Coincidence? Not likely.
Why Elton John?
The recent Elton John and Leon Russell collaboration, The Union, charted at #3 on Billboard when it was released in October 2010. The album’s first single, “If It Wasn’t For Bad,” is up for a GRAMMY nomination. And with John long citing Russell as his early inspiration and idol, the surprise would be if someone other than Elton John was chosen to induct the 68 year old Oklahoman to the Rock Hall.
Elton John was a virtual unknown in 1970 when he performed his first shows at L.A.’s Troubadour. Leon Russell, already a big name in the music industry, was in the audience on one of those nights to catch the show. Russell later had the young Brit open for him at the Filmore East in NYC. At the time, Elton John claimed to have been inspired by Russell’s style. Early Elton John recordings like Tumbleweed Connection bear this out, and any fan listening to John’s 11-17-70 live album can easily spot Russell’s influence in the younger man’s vocal inflections and piano work.
Why Leon Russell?
Leon Russell has had an illustrious, though sometimes anonymous, 50 year career in the music industry. Russell started out touring with Jerry Lee Lewis, was instrumental in creating Phil Spector’s ‘wall of sound,’ and became one of the most sought-after session musicians as a member of ‘The Wrecking Crew.’ Leon Russell is also an accomplished songwriter, penning numerous hits recorded by others, such as ‘Superstar’ (The Carpenters), ‘Delta Lady’ (Joe Cocker), and the GRAMMY-winning ‘This Masquerade’ (George Benson). He was the mastermind behind Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, and was a featured performer at George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh along with such names as Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton. As a solo artist in the 1970s, Russell was one of the hottest live acts in rock music.
As Elton John’s star climbed, Leon Russell’s began to dim. Russell, a very private man, would be the first to admit he didn’t take to the kind of publicity that keeps a star in the spotlight. So he went about quietly creating music and playing clubs, gradually fading from public view.
Leon Russell has always been hard to categorize: is he rock? blues? country? gospel? blue-eyed soul? In fact, Russell’s music is a swampy, Southern-fried mix of genres, creating a unique flavor all his own – and he is credited with the birth of what is known as the Tulsa Sound. Russell produced, arranged, or played on a virtual Who’s Who of popular music, and continued to write and record solo music through 2006.
Elton John approached him in 2009 with the idea to collaborate, and the resulting T Bone Burnett-produced album has received widespread critical acclaim since its release and brought Leon Russell back into the public’s consciousness.
Leon Russell’s recognition at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony is for “Musical Excellence,” formerly the “Sideman” category. One look at Russell’s resume validates that he has been far more than a supporting player, and has made lasting and significant contributions to popular music.
Inclusion in the Rock Hall is a long overdue accolade for this genre-defying pioneer known for his stunning songwriting, distinctive vocals and masterful piano playing – hallmarks of his more than 30 albums.
Having Elton John present the Rock Hall honor to Leon Russell would be the icing on the cake.
You can be notified by email whenever new articles are published by clicking the Subscribe button at the top of this article.
Follow @RyderPat and @MasterSpaceTime for more entertainment news and information, and “Like” our Master of Space and Time (Examining Leon Russell) Facebook page for additional content!
My local Long Island columns are:
- Long Island Celebrity Headlines Examiner
- Long Island Events Examiner
- Long Island Headlines Examiner
- Long Island Historic Places Examiner
- Long Island Performing Arts Examiner
My national entertainment columns are:
- ‘American Idol’ Examiner
- Elton John Examiner
- Leon Russell Examiner