Leon Russell’s family has graciously provided an opportunity for Tulsans to say one last goodbye to the legionary master musician this Sunday at the Mabee Center, 7777 S. Lewis Ave. Doors open at 1 p.m. service begins at 2 p.m.
Russell’s former recording home, Church Studios, has spontaneously become a site for personal expression of remembrances as people continue to leave flowers and notes in chalk on the steps. The official memorial posted by the family with significant historic performance videos follow.
In 1960, Russell made the trek from Oklahoma to Los Angeles to try and make it in the thriving music business. Too young to join the musician’s union which was required to play the union recording sessions, Russell worked the clubs up and down Los Angeles, along with Tulsa bandmates David Gates, who later formed the group Bread, and drummer Chuck Blackwell. On occasion the three would play live shows on the weekends with various recording artists, including an occasional gig with Country Music Hall of Famer George Morgan, father of country music singer Lorrie Morgan. Russell eventually got into the local musician’s union, where as a Hollywood session player Russell played on dozens of hit records, including “Monster Mash” by Bobby Pickett, “Mr. Tambourine Man” by The Byrds, “Surf City” by Jan & Dean, “Birds & The Bees” by Jewel Akens, “Day After Day” by Badfinger, “Help Me Rhonda” by The Beach Boys, “This Diamond Ring” by Gary Lewis & The Playboys, “Danke Schoen” by Wayne Newton, “A Taste of Honey” by Herb Alpert, and scores of others. Russell branched out in the mid-Sixties into other areas, and began to arrange and produce for other recording artists, accumulating several gold records for his work.
In 1969, Russell hooked up with British producer Denny Cordell to form Shelter Records and ventured out on his own as a solo artist, and has been actively touring and recording ever since.
In 1970, Russell captured the public’s attention as the top-hat wearing pianist and bandleader on Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” tour. He earned the nickname “The Master of Space and Time” during this tour.
Russell went on to become a headliner throughout the Seventies, with his gospel-based good-timey piano style and unique singing voice. He wrote and performed hits like “Tightrope, “Delta Lady,” “Song For You” and “Superstar,” which have been covered by a host of artists, and are mainstays on singing shows like “American Idol” and “The Voice.”
With George Harrison and Bob Dylan, Russell was a prominent player in the 1971 “Concert For Bangladesh” at Madison Square Garden, which set the tone for future big charity concerts. The resulting recording won a Grammy for album of the year.
In 2011, Russell was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for his work as a musician, songwriter and producer.
Russell is survived by his wife of 38 years, Jan Bridges; daughters Tina Rose Bridges and her fiancé, Rod Schindler, Sugaree Taloa Noel Bridges and her fiancé, Gianny Muller, Honey Bridges, and Coco Bridges and grandchildren, Payton Goodner, China Rose Goodner, Tiger Lily Schindler and Russell’s oldest children Blue and Teddy Jack.
Funeral services, open to the public, will be conducted 1 p.m. CST Friday, November 18, 2016 at Victory Baptist Church, 1777 Tate Lane, Mt. Juliet, TN. Visitation will be private. Mr. Russell will then be transported to Tulsa, OK for public services there on Sunday, November 20, 2016 at 2 p.m. CST at the Oral Robert University Mabee Center. Doors open at 1 p.m. CST.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to PWNA (Partnership with Native Americans), Music Cares or ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals).