Leon Russell, the wild-haired legendary singer-songwriter who inspired everyone from Elton John to Black Francis, has died at 74. Janet Lee Constantine, Russell’s wife, reported that he died in his sleep.
From the Hollywood Reporter on Russell’s decades-long career:
He wrote Joe Cocker’s ‘Delta Lady’ and in 1969 put together Cocker’s ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ tour, which spawned a documentary film and a hit double album. As a musician, primarily a pianist, he played on The Beach Boys’ ‘California Girls’ and Jan and Dean’s ‘Surf City.’ He also played guitar and bass. Russell produced and played on recording sessions for Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Ike and Tina Turner, the Rolling Stones and many others. He recorded hit songs himself like ‘Tight Rope’ and ‘Lady Blue’ and participated in ‘The Concert for Bangladesh.’ John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison played on his first album, ‘Leon Russell.’ His concerts often ended with a rousing version of ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash.’ In 1973, Billboard magazine listed Russell as the top concert attraction in the world. About this time, he was the headline act on billings that included Elton John and at other times Willie Nelson.
Janus Films recently released A Poem Is a Naked Person, which looks at the beloved Rock and Roll Hall of Famer through the eyes of documentarian Les Blank, shot between 1972 and 1974.