I was looking up something entirely different on YouTube and came across a posting of Leon Russell’s A Song For You, one of my favourite songs and a love song which, for me at least, knocks several hundred other love songs into a cocked hat. I have previously featured it and various cover versions in a post (and here it is) in I which moaned about how a great song can be massacred in the wrong hands, but this isn’t another burst of self-publicity. But that isn’t the point: while on YouTube I noticed in a comment on Your Song a cryptic ‘RIP Leon’ and variations thereof (you know how inventive people get when they are sincere). ‘Leon Russell dead’, I thought, ‘can’t be.’
Well, yes it can. A quick Google confirmed that he died at home in his sleep ten or eleven days ago on Nov 13. Well, that's Leonard Cohen up the swannee, and there were others this year I am sure, but to be honest I can’t be arsed trawling through the net looking for examples, and I have to say Lenny Cohen popping his clogs wasn’t for me the Upset of The Decade.
But Leon Russell is - well, was now - different for me. For one thing he kind of operated in the shadows: no star, no ‘celeb’ he, but a highly respected and always interesting musician, songwriter and singer. Here are three of my favourites for you Leon if up there your rapping with God and want to be reminded of what you did and hofw some of us liked it a lot.
First of all here is A Song For You: if it doesn’t persuade you that it is purely from the heart and sung for just one person (presumably the woman who was or became his wife), I shall be astounded.
His singing might not be to everyone’s taste and his voice (like that of Ray Davies, Donald Fagen and Bob Dylan, and I’m sure others you could tell me about) is distinctive. Well, better distinctive than to sound like bloody everyone else. Here’s another great song:
And a third, which might be a little more familiar. It’s been often covered, not least by George Benson and, sadly inevitably it seems, by The Carpenters who good ruin the fucking Second Coming, I’m sure. It has also been pretty much murdered by David Sanborn - too, too schmaltzy - and Kenny Rogers. One version I’ve come across by Nile Landgren - who I have never heard of - gets a little closer to doing the song justice. (PS Just looked him up: he is a trombone player. Well! Christ, they are everywhere. But at least he can sing and has taste.)
Leon Russell was special. He was never a ‘big name’, but he was highly respected by other musicians and singers and the rest of his industry.
I first came across Leon Rusell when he organised the famous Mad Dogs And Englishmen tour, but I didn’t take much interest. His was just a name I heard associated with it, I have to say one of many names I heard at the time and never gave a second thought to. Then later, again I can’t remember how, I came across his LP (as we called them then, and a damn sight easier they were to use for rolling a joint than a sodding CD, and as for trying to roll one on an MP3...) Carney, and I was hooked and have been buying his stuff ever since. Not all of it but a lot of it.
Anyway, as far as I am concerned Mr Russell was a one-off. There will be others of course, I always insist that there always will be greats many of them no yet born. But that doesn’t mean we can’t tip our hats to Mr Russell and that bloody strange voice.