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Author Topic: The Leon Russell Thread  (Read 8906 times)

J.J. Blair

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The Leon Russell Thread
« on: March 02, 2005, 09:19:40 pm »

Now that we know that Terry has an association with the Master of Space and Time, let's hear about it!

BTW, for those of you my age or younger who have no idea what a ginormous rock star Leon was in the '70s, he was the top grossing act of 1973, at a time when there was a LOT of competition for that title.  His failure to appear on the so called "classic rock" that can't play anything besides "Stairway to Freebird", is a crime.  It goes to show that radio is still a stoolie for the big labels.  And the fact is that Shelter Records is not distributed by a major, hence nobody is getting hookers for some Clear Channel program director the way they do to keep selling copies of Fleetwood Mac Rumors or Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band.

My life changed one night in Chicago as a teenager, when I heard WXRT play "Out In the Woods."  With its mutant Jim Keltner jungle rhythm and Chamberlain sound effects, I thought that had to be the coolest fucking thing I ever heard.  One of the greatest songwriters of our time, and a true musical and studio genius.  He was also part of the famed L.A. 'Wrecking Crew' of the '60s, playing on most of Phil Spector's productions, and records for everybody from the Beach Boys to Frank Sinatra.

Gary Klaff had told me a story about visiting him one time, and one wall of his house had a semi backed up to it, with all the recording gear set up in the semi as his studio.  He explained to Gary that when he got in his car and drove away from Merry Clayton, ending their relationship, he regretted all the gear that he left behind.  He made his studio in a truck so that if he ever has to up and leave a women again, he's  taking his gear with him!  

OK, Terry ... dish!
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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

Brian Roth

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Re: The Leon Russell Thread
« Reply #1 on: March 02, 2005, 11:41:05 pm »

I have some "peripherial" contacts with Leon beginning in the 70's on through the 90's.  Leon purchased an old church building in Tulsa ca 9172 or so, and built a pretty elaborate studio for the times.  When I was first there, it had an API desk and a 3M 16 track (M56, IIRC).  I taught some weekend recording classes at the church.  Leon had built a second room on a lakefront property in the Tulsa area so wasn't around very much.  However, the nearby houses adjoining the church held the various offices for Shelter records.

Steve Ripley, a friend/client from Stillwater, OK eventually ended up working for Leon when he moved back to CA.  Steve then moved on to other projects, including manufacturing the stereo Ripley guitar.

In the late 80's, Steve moved back to OK and bought the old Church, which had by then become an MCI room.  In the early 90's, Steve got a contract with Arista for what became "The Tractors" album and gutted the place, installing a Neve 8068 desk (ex. Power Station) and a Studer A800 along with a ton of nice mics and outboards.  During that project, Leon appeared and decided the couch in the CR sucked, so he went to a local store and bought a new one for Steve!

Plenty of other war stories form Tulsa, but I'll stop there!

Bri

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Re: The Leon Russell Thread
« Reply #2 on: March 03, 2005, 10:07:11 am »

I've a laserdisc of him on the JC Mad dogs Englishman tour. I was a bit turned off.
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Calfee Jones

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Re: The Leon Russell Thread
« Reply #3 on: March 03, 2005, 12:05:36 pm »

I can't leave it like that  Crying or Very Sad

The Mad Dogs and Englishmen record was a big influence on me. And Leon was THE MAN playing piano and guitar, and those innovative arrangements! And what about the Concert for Bangledesh?

I always loved his southern gospel piano style. So many good things...
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J.J. Blair

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Re: The Leon Russell Thread
« Reply #4 on: March 03, 2005, 02:44:41 pm »

The whole Maddogs and Englishmen sound was Leon, not to mention that 'Delta Lady' is his song.  You can also hear his imprint all over Clapton's "Blues Power".
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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

compasspnt

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Re: The Leon Russell Thread
« Reply #5 on: March 04, 2005, 01:35:45 pm »

I am concocting an answer concerning the great Leon, but just haven't had time to write it yet.  This will come soon.
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David Kulka

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Re: The Leon Russell Thread
« Reply #6 on: March 04, 2005, 10:17:41 pm »

I'm suprised that no one has mentioned Leon Russell's 40-track Stephens tape machine!  I never met the man or participated in any of his sessions, but people were always talking about his amazing Stephens, which may have been the only one of its kind.  I wonder if he still owns it?
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compasspnt

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Re: The Leon Russell Thread
« Reply #7 on: March 04, 2005, 11:17:45 pm »

David Kulka wrote on Fri, 04 March 2005 22:17

I'm suprised that no one has mentioned Leon Russell's 40-track Stephens tape machine!  I never met the man or participated in any of his sessions, but people were always talking about his amazing Stephens, which may have been the only one of its kind.  I wonder if he still owns it?


Actually this was mentioned briefly in the strange, other-worldly gear thread.  He brought this thing in one time...it was very strange, I thought.  Very small, also.  But people who use them love the sound.  RT Baker had one, too.
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Brian Roth

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Re: The Leon Russell Thread
« Reply #8 on: March 05, 2005, 02:06:09 am »

I've had a couple of contacts with John Stephens over the years, including one local studio in my area which bought a used 24 track, and this room in the LA area which purchased a new Stephens 24 track machine:

http://www.rothtech.org/m77/m77.html

While I was working on the latter project, John Stephens made several "house calls" and we at least became acquainted.  His multitrack design was extrememly advanced for the time...two motors (one per reel) with no pinch roller/capstan.  The transport control circuitry was exceptionally simple compared to, say, an Ampex ATR-100.

John's biggest claim to fame was his 2" 40 track, and as Terry has mentioned, Roy Thomas Baker owned one in a road case.  The biggest "hit" from that machine was Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody".

Leon also bought a 40 track and had it coupled into a Helios desk (with a fire-engine-red color scheme).  I recently found a pic of that Helios desk as it travelled through Tulsa at Steve Ripley's studio (the original "church" that Leon built), but I misplaced the link to the pix.

John Stephens had some serious legal difficulties, but is now back in biz:

http://www.stephenselectronics.com/

Bri



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J.J. Blair

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Re: The Leon Russell Thread
« Reply #9 on: March 05, 2005, 06:26:13 am »

Is John still in LA?  It would be a dream if there were somebody other than Corky Tanassee to work on 3M machines.  Of all the flakes in the tech business, that guy takes the cake.
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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

russrags

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Re: The Leon Russell Thread
« Reply #10 on: March 05, 2005, 09:29:47 am »

Hey JJ,

I know a lot of stories as I've done tons of recording with Leon in Nashville. Probably getting close to 200 songs, 18 of them with The Nashville Symphony and guests Edgar Winter, Jim Price, Bruce Hornsby & Louie Shelton.  You should hear what Mike Lawler and I did with him just a couple weeks ago .. wow !!!

Here's a pic of the Stephens 40-track.  
This one is serial #2 .. Leon also has serial #1

enjoy,

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

index.php/fa/746/0/
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Tim Halligan

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Re: The Leon Russell Thread
« Reply #11 on: March 05, 2005, 10:27:51 am »

Isn't that some kind of heresy to have the Stephens next to a pile of DA-88's?

Cheers,
Tim
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russrags

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Re: The Leon Russell Thread
« Reply #12 on: March 05, 2005, 11:05:45 am »

This is an archiving station I set up.
I've gone through Leon's tape vault, which consists of over 10,000 2" 40-track 15 ips tapes.  Much of it is recorded rehearsals, but there are some real gems in there too.

A lot of the reels had to be baked, some were transferred to DA-88 digital backups .. other more important material is in Pro Tools now.

Believe me Leon owns about 4 of every piece of current gear as well as all the old stuff.

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 #13 on: March 05, 2005, 02:27:39 pm »

Russ, that machine is amazing looking.  My friend used to have a 2" 16 trk. suitcase model, and they told me that they would go visit John in jail so he could tell them how to fix it.  LOL!

Lucky man, getting to work with Leon.  First song I ever taught myself on piano was "A Song for You", because I figured it would help me get in this chick's pants.  

It worked.

I remember a few years ago on Leon's website, he was selling an API console, some ratty old couch and a tractor.  I thought it was an interesting grouping.  Personally, I'd kill to get that red Helios.
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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

Brian Roth

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Re: The Leon Russell Thread
« Reply #14 on: March 05, 2005, 07:19:06 pm »

J.J., I'll try to remember to ask Ripley who he sold that red Helios to.  Awhile back I poked around in it when it was sitting in the main room at the Church.

Bri

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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
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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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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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