Leon Russell went to the big piano bench in the sky last night. When Zippy told me the news, I felt deflated. But I didn’t realize how hard his death had hit me until I put on “A Song for You.” I couldn’t finish listening because the grief was too intense.
Leon Russell was a singer-songwriter who created music I was ALWAYS thrilled to hear whether it came on the radio, popped up on an iPod shuffle, or was background music in a shopping mall. I never wanted to tune him out. Leon Russell’s music made me smile, made me feel, and inspired me to sing along. His voice was unusual, his phrasing could trip me up, and his piano playing made me want to dance.
These two albums reside in my record cabinet. I don’t remember when I bought the Best Of, but have a very clear memory of buying Looking Back. I’d spent the day at the beach and was in the neighborhood supermarket in West Los Angeles when I passed a bin of deeply discounted albums. (I remembered this being a cut-out, but when I pulled it out of my cabinet just now, I was surprised to see there are no notches in the cardboard). This particular Leon Russell record was being sold for about $2, and I snatched it up. Any Leon Russell is great Leon Russell, right? He could sing the phone book and I’d listen.
Well, I got home and discovered that Looking Back was purely instrumental. Leon didn’t even sing! Not only that, Leon didn’t play the piano! On Looking Back, Leon played the harpsichord!
I have to admit I didn’t listen to that album a whole lot over the years (and I doubt any radio stations ever played cuts from it), but I’m still glad I bought it. That record represents an enduring memory from my time in LA. Also? It’s fun to think of Leon now playing in that super-band in the sky, shredding on his harpsichord while Leonard Cohen plays piano.
Thank you for all the music, Leon.
Rest in peace.