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Author Topic: The Leon Russell Thread  (Read 7760 times)

compasspnt

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Re: The Leon Russell Thread
« Reply #15 on: March 06, 2005, 02:35:52 am »

First I should say that there are a lot of people in this business who have worked more closely with Leon, and for longer periods, than, I did.  But for a brief period, somewhat early in our two careers, we did converge a bit.

Back when I was stationed at the early Ardent Studios commercial location (National Street in Memphis, 1960's, mostly), Leon was a somewhat regular visitor and participant.  There was a guy around the scene, who was from Memphis but had taken off into the world, named Don Nix.  Don had been a saxophone player in The Markeys, the early Stax band which had the huge instrumental hit, "Last Night."  He became a writer and producer, and was probably best known for writing the Albert King song "Going Down," which later was covered by Jeff Beck/Rod Stewart.  Don became a fixture in the "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" scene, and through that association, brought in such personnae as Leon, Denny Cordell, Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, and others into the Memphis/Ardent circle.

Leon was amazing to me.  He was such an accomplished musician.  He would play incredible things on the piano, often "performing" a musical comedy act for all of us privately, wherein he would play perfectly a series of classic tunes, but with very odd, intended mistakes put in such perfect places, that it sounded just barely off and wrong...only someone with powerful virtuosity could have been that good AND that bad all at once.  It was hilarious...but you had to be there.

Leon had just a short while before done the first Asylum Choir recordings with Marc Benno.  We all thought they were great, very inventive.  "Welcome To Hollywood" was the big hit to me.  The original vinyl album had a very large photo of a roll of toilet paper on the cover.  Leon was strangely obsessed with tissue, and for that reason had paid homage to the invention.  This music is mostly lost today, which is a GREAT shame.

Leon was always very up on gear.  He would regale us with tales of his Chamberlin, of which he was quite fond.  He was one of the first to have his own studio, in his home, and recorded or overdubbed many great productions there.  As mentioned previously somewhere in this forum, he was a highly respected studio musician in LA, even to the point of being called for first piano on Sinatra sessions, as well as Phil Spector's.  Leon produced many huge hit records before a producer was a "household name," including such things as Gary Lewis and the Playboys, and the awesome recording of "Lies" by The Knickerbockers (which was almost all Leon as the band, done in his house).  One incident which haunts me to this day was when Leon heard a demo I had just done of a then-new song I had written.  He loved the song, and thought it was perfect for Gary Lewis (Gary is Jerry Lewis' son).  This would have been the follow-up single to "This Diamond Ring," a huge pop hit.  Well, although I was flattered, I was also horrified.  I thought "This Diamond Ring" was way too nerdy and "milk toast."  I preferred The Yardbirds, and blues music.  If I wanted pop, I'd go for The Beatles.  But NOT Gary Lewis and The Playboys!  So I refused to let him use the song.  Of course, for the rest of the years since then, I have highly regretted this decision.  I was up on a high horse, and missed out on what may well have been a good opportunity.  I listen now with respect to "This Diamond Ring," and recognise it as the great pop production that it was.  Oh well, live and learn!

Leon brought Denny Cordell in for a few sessions.  Denny was the tremendous English producer who was responsible for many great recordings, not the least of which was "A Whiter Shade of Pale."  Denny was a great guy, and became a lifelong friend, if not a constantly present one, until his unfortunate death a few years ago.  His son Tarka is still my good friend (I recently mixed Tarka's newest production).  Denny was a joy to be around back then, and his and Leon's bringing in such great players as Jim Keltner and others was an inspiration.

Leon at that time was working on his solo album "Stranger In A Strange Land," and he had seen my Moog synth, just arrived from Trumansburg, NY.  As I had been learning this new craft of synthesis directly from Robert Moog, Leon wanted me to show him how it all worked.  So we set it up, and he brought in his tapes.  We did the synth parts on that song and others on the album during these "lessons."

We at Ardent worked several times over probably 8-9 years for and with Leon at various times.  One of the last things I remember doing was a great album for his Shelter label, for singer-songwriter Willis Alan Ramsey.  This is still one of my favourite albums, and Willis is a good friend.  He had recorded it in various places, but brought it into Memphis to be mixed.  This album had the original version of "Muskrat Love," which was covered and a hit by The Captain and Tenille a while later.

I haven't had any contact with Leon for many years now.  From what I understand, he grew somewhat reclusive and even more different than he always had been.  I think perhaps some T. Leary related experiments may have caught up somehow.  But the genius will always shine through.


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johnnywiz

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Re: The Leon Russell Thread
« Reply #16 on: March 06, 2005, 04:35:35 pm »

Mom said if ya ain't got nuthin good to say.... but...

I know of more than a few live sounds guys that well, let's say, have had somewhat less than good experiences with Mr. Russell, myself included.

About 15yrs or so ago, I was filling in some nights doing FOH & monitors for a friend at a tiny night club in a Boston suburb. Leon and his tour manager showed up early in a van and I was ready for him, or so I thought <g>. I welcomed them both to the club, showed them to the dressing room / hospitality, all's going well.

The tour manager walked me to the van and gave me the keys. "Here's a stage plot (a napkin), set up everything and we'll see you in an hour", and walks away. After picking up my jaw off the ground, I thought screw it, the show's sold out and I'm the only one around, suck it up and just do it. I open the van and it was loaded to the roof with tons of keyboards and a B3. I had to grab a bartender to help me cart the shit in.

After setting the stage, aiming mic's, getting levels, and setting monitors, I go back to the dressing room to let them know that I'm read for a soundcheck and ask if there is anything else that I could get them. Leon answered, "Yeah, y'all can get the f*** outta my way".

Kinda blew me away at the time, but thankfully I was back on the road a few days later, where it just became another story. Another story told to and heard from other roaddogs who experienced the same on that particular Leon tour.
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JohnnyWiz
"What's with all these people who think that intonation is overrated?" JJB

russrags

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Re: The Leon Russell Thread
« Reply #17 on: March 06, 2005, 04:53:13 pm »

I hear ya Johnny,

So your a member of the FBL Club too  Cool
I'm a Platnim Club Member Ha!!  Ha!!  
---- Fired By Leon Club -----

He really doesn't respect Engineers, it's a shame he thinks of them as no more than glorified Roadies.

I've been around him a lot and know every trick he pulls out of the hat.  You just have to get past it and try not to repeat mistakes and do your best to stay one step ahead of him .. oh coarse that's pretty tough, if not down right impossible.  

I make him look pretty good and don't let him get away with much.
I do LOVE it when his eyes light up.  

As I said, I do have some stories.  Not all are good, but many are.

Russ
http://home.bellsouth.net/p/PWP-russragsdale

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J.J. Blair

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Re: The Leon Russell Thread
« Reply #18 on: March 06, 2005, 06:32:23 pm »

This is why I always make a point of telling any of my heros, "I'm a huge fan of your music."  For all I know, they may be in Waddy Wachtel's photography club.
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studio info

They say the heart of Rock & Roll is still beating, which is amazing if you consider all the blow it's done over the years.

"The Internet enables pompous blowhards to interact with other pompous blowhards in a big circle jerk of pomposity." - Bill Maher

"The negative aspects of this business, not only will continue to prevail, but will continue to accelerate in madness. Conditions aren't going to get better, because the economics of rock and roll are getting closer and closer to the economics of Big Business America." - Bill Graham

johnnywiz

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Re: The Leon Russell Thread
« Reply #19 on: March 06, 2005, 06:41:33 pm »

Yeah, goes both ways sometimes I guess...
One positive look from him would have been plently for me.

Another time I was doing my then usual house gig at in a Boston club (mixing 4-6 acts a night, 7 days a week), and had an attitude. The headliner shows up 1/2 hour late for soundcheck and I blow them off and proceed to check everyone else. Checks are over, I go to dinner, then come back and mix all 4. The headliner opens with "Hey Mr Tamborine Man", and play a few more classics. The club owner comes to the FOH booth and tells me that he had heard I had a little trouble with this band. I confess to being in a bitchy mood, and he asks if I know who they are. I had no idea, but they sound familiar I said. He tells me it's a band called DJango, with Gene Clark.

After the show Gene and I were up in the office getting paid, when he let me have it. Saying, "Let me guess, you work here as a stepping stone looking for your next bigger gig. You'll never get there with an attitude like yours."
This was exactly what I needed to hear at the time and it really straightened my ass out, and good things started happening.
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JohnnyWiz
"What's with all these people who think that intonation is overrated?" JJB

johnnywiz

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Re: The Leon Russell Thread
« Reply #20 on: March 06, 2005, 06:45:33 pm »

J.J. wrote on Sun, 06 March 2005 18:32

For all I know, they may be in Waddy Wachtel's photography club.


btw, Waddy's cousin AJ Wachtel was a local legend here for years.
Know mostly for rock writing and guzzling competitions, NNITO.
Quite a character.
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JohnnyWiz
"What's with all these people who think that intonation is overrated?" JJB

MB

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Re: The Leon Russell Thread
« Reply #21 on: March 07, 2005, 03:50:56 am »

johnnywiz wrote on Mon, 07 March 2005 00:41



After the show Gene and I were up in the office getting paid, when he let me have it. Saying, "Let me guess, you work here as a stepping stone looking for your next bigger gig. You'll never get there with an attitude like yours."
This was exactly what I needed to hear at the time and it really straightened my ass out, and good things started happening.


Gene Clark...I'm listening to "No Other" right now. What a fantastic record.
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