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A legend reborn

Leon Russell
Pabst Theater
Milwaukee, WI
June 19, 2013
Leon Russell Leon Russell

Story and photos by Jennifer Bronenkant

Coming from a time when Rock 'n Roll was growing organically enough to encompass many different styles and roots influences, Leon Russell, 71, is a true original. As a writer he has given the world songs that have been recorded many times through the years by artists from all genres including jazz musician George Benson with "This Masquerade," blues legend B.B. King with "Hummingbird" and "A Song For You" which was recorded by everyone from Willie Nelson to Whitney Houston.

Starting out playing in night clubs in Oklahoma at the young age of 14 and moving to L.A. by age 17, Russell quickly became one of the most in demand session musicians in the early rock and roll scene. Before the end of the heady 1960s he had gone on to found his own recording studio and record company from which he released his first solo album in 1970. After working with the biggest names in rock such as Joe Cocker, George Harrison and Eric Clapton as a session musician, writer and producer, Russell went on to become a rock star in his own right. His performance of The Stones "Jumping Jack Flash" at the Concert for Bangladesh is legendary. At the height of his fame in the early 70's Russell made the switch to Country and continued working into the 1980s with friends from a variety of genre's.

Eventually, he moved into a life of relative obscurity where he was mostly forgotten by the music business. He played smaller venues and occasional special occasions with friend Willie Nelson.

Fortunately, the world was reminded of Russell and his music when Elton John who was greatly influenced by Russell brought him back into the studio in 2010. They recorded "The Union" duets album together and followed up with a tour that put Russell back on big stages he hadn't been seen on in decades. He also finally got the long over due recognition of his contributions to music with his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 2011. Since that time Russell has continued touring and recording.

Russell opened the night in Milwaukee with "Out In The Woods" which with its theme of going down a hard road with no one to be trusted was a perfect introduction to what was to be a surprisingly intimate evening with the legend who shared many of his experiences on his Rock & Roll journey between songs. He told often amusing antidotes about times with his influencers and contemporaries including Jerry Reed, Joe Cocker, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Elton John and B.B. King.

His distinctive voice and song styling has stayed as true as ever as he performed his own hit songs such as "Tight Rope" and "Back To The Island" along with covers of Dylan's "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," The Stones' "Wild Horses" and Ray Charles' "Georgia On My Mind."

His tight four piece band included musicians well versed in a variety of instruments to complete the bluesy roots vibe including pedal steel, dulcimer and mandolins. His young grandson has joined the band on percussion for this tour. As good as the band was, the magic of the evening was while Russell had the stage to himself singing songs including "The Ballad of Mad Dogs and Englishmen," "Magic Mirror," and "A Song For You," The band returned for a "Jumping Jack Flash" medley after which Russell told the audience that he doesn't like to walk more that he has to so we'll just pretend he left the stage before the encore. He finished of the night with "Great Balls Of Fire" and "Roll Over Beethoven."

Related articles:

Leon Russell (Summerfest 2011) - Photo gallery - Milwaukee, WI July 2011

Milwaukee Set list:
Out In The Woods
Rollin' In My Sweet Baby's Arms
Baby What You Want Me To Do
Back To The Island
A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall
Wild Horses
Georgia On My Mind
I've Just Seen A Face
Tight Rope
Delta Lady
Sweet Emily
The Ballad of Mad Dogs and Englishmen
Magic Mirror
A Song For You
Jumping Jack Flash/Papa Was A Rolling Stone/Paint It Black/Kansas City

Great Balls of Fire
Roll Over Beethoven Setlist:

Leon Russell Leon Russell Leon Russell
Leon Russell Leon Russell

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