If you want to learn something astonishing about American music and get all misty eyed at the same time, watch THIS VIDEO. In it, Elton John pays tribute to his hero Leon Russell as he helps induct the not-legendary-enough pianist, songwriter and musical instigator into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. It helped me put Russell into context, and it set me on a journey browsing through his albums and live recordings with a fresh ear. I realize that I didn’t adequately acknowledge Russell as one of the godfathers of Americana, but yes he is.
Ironically, Russell’s 1978 album Americana is not very Americana, with its dated keyboards and synth drums. However, pick up all four of his “Hank Wilson” albums (spread way apart in ’73, ’84,’98 and ‘01) and you’ll hear a life-long passion for deep country music and some of the best recordings you’ll ever hear of Nashville classics. Friend of the show John Cowan, who will be in Leon’s band as we kick off our Winter season this Wednesday night, recalls working on Vol. 4 of the Hank Wilson series with Sam Bush and other original members of New Grass Revival as an extraordinary experience. “His knowledge of country music is pretty staggering,” Cowan says. The session was a reprise of the vital years of 1980 and ’81 when NGR toured with Russell, opening the shows on their own and then being part of Leon’s band.
There’s no way to summarize Leon Russell’s accomplishments, but one has to try. He insinuated himself in the club scene of Tulsa in his native Oklahoma when he was just 14 and just a few years later moved to LA. He became arguably the most recorded and important studio musician in the city, playing on massive records by Ike and Tina Turner, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Glen Campbell and almost everyone you’ve ever heard of from the 60s. He wrote “Delta Lady” and “This Masquerade,” and his amazing “Song For You” has been covered widely. His swampy funky touches liken him to Dr. John and Professor Longhair, but he’s got a flair for pop loveliness as well, as you can hear on his own hit “Lady Blue.” Then there are the bands and events he’s spearheaded, from the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour with Joe Cocker to the Concert for Bangladesh, a favorite album of mine years ago. Recently, Elton John sought out Russell to re-connect and make 2010’s remarkable The Union album, which helped revitalize Russell. We are indeed lucky to have this lion of popular and roots music coming to play for us at the Loveless.
The other Russell of the night has the last name of Moore and a band that any bluegrass lover knows and reveres. They are IIIrd Tyme Out, and their new album of crafty cover tunes is one hook for their visit to Roots and several other big appearances this week. Moore’s a native of Pasadena, Texas, and his break in bluegrass came from a stint in the proud and polished Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. Moore became one of the first prominent DLQ alums to branch out and form his own band when IIIrd Tyme Out was born in 1991. Since then they’ve netted more than 50 industry awards, many of them honoring their vocal talents. Moore is one of the most commanding singers I’ve ever heard in any genre, and his clear, contoured voice is THE sound of contemporary mainline bluegrass music. The boys will be playing Timeless Hits from the Past Bluegrassed, the title of that new Cracker Barrel album. I’m hoping to hear “Mama Tried” and “My Window Faces The South,” just in case you guys are reading this.
And that’s not even half the bill on this five-act, season-opening night benefitting the Nature Conservancy. We’re being visited by emerging Memphis band Star & Micey, with their on-the-fly folky flair. Nashville’s Josh Farrow has been spotlighted by American Songwriter magazine among others as a talent to watch. And watch him we will. Newest to the night’s fun is the WTM Blues Band, a down-home juke-jointy band out of Chattanooga, TN. And we love all things Chattanooga.
So we hope you’ve enjoyed your break as much as we have, but the time has come for us to go back to work having so much fun. We’re sure to rustle up some good times this season, and it all gets going Wednesday at 7 pm.