Friday, March 21, 2014

Leon Russell Wants to Record with Elton Again

Russell, 71, is in the midst of a career Indian summer. While it may not rival his 1970s heyday, Russell scored a Billboard number-three and Grammy nomination in 2010 with The Union, his collaboration with uber-fan Elton John, and releases Life Journey, helmed by famed jazz producer Tommy LiPuma, who helped break Diana Krall as a star and recently produced Paul McCartney's Grammy-winning Kisses on the Bottom, April 1 on Universal Music Enterprises.

Both albums are different from what longtime fans might expect, but they're no less satisfying.

"Elton really pushed me to do a solo album," Russell says. "We talked to some labels and they wanted me to have a producer. I usually make my own records, but we considered a few people. But I ran into Tommy over at the Montreaux Jazz Festival and asked if he had time — because I've known Tommy for almost as long as I've been in this business — and he said, 'I'll make time!' I was really happy he was interested because I trusted him and I'm really pleased with the results. He works with some amazing players and he has a wonderful production style."

Russell continued to tour throughout the '90s, but the crowds got smaller. Then Elton John called.

"I go on a yearly safari and David [Furnish, John's husband] had Leon on his iPhone," John said in 2010. "It brought me to tears, how much I loved this man's music and how much he had inspired me in my early career. I'd opened for Leon Russell when I first came to the States. It struck me as tragic that I was playing arenas and he was playing little clubs."

John reached out to Russell and the two struck up a collaboration.

"I work fast, but I watched Elton there in the studio just reel off these amazing tunes," Russell says of the experience. "Bernie [Taupin, John's longtime lyricist] told me that no one ever watches Elton write — that in 25 years or whatever, he'd never seen him write — but there it was. Something was happening."

For an album released in the days when the format is sputtering, The Union was an artistic and commercial success and created renewed interest in Russell, among old fans who'd perhaps forgotten about him and new fans who were curious to find out why all their heroes were in Russell's thrall all those years ago. A career retrospective, The Best of Leon Russell, followed in 2011, then induction into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, and now Life Journey.

"I think Elton basically insisted they put me in the Hall of Fame," Russell says, chuckling at the thought. In his characteristically modest way he goes on, "I was honored to be in there with all those other names. It was really an honor."

As for the future? "I'd like to thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt that I know what I'm doing, and it's up to him, but I'd love to do an album with Elton and Tommy producing," Russell says. "Denny and I had tried to get Elton for Shelter so to work with him now is great. But I think working with Elton and Tommy would be great. They're both the real thing. And I've always thought Elton and I were great rock 'n' roll singers, so I think that'd be really interesting to do a real rock 'n' roll record. And as far as Tommy is concerned, he's for anything that has to do with making records."

- Esquire

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