Sunday, November 13, 2016

Leon Russell remembered

I am so very sorry to hear the news that the world has lost Leon Russell. He died earlier today in his Nashville home; he was only 74. I only saw the legendary artist once, but it was a show I will long remember. Below is my review of his performance at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano in December 2010…You can also view the review on the Orange County Register Web site here. Photographer and good friend Bob Steshetz shot the photo here and was a long-time fan of the artist and thankfully encouraged me to see Russell back in 2010. He achieved fame as a session musician (with L.A.'s "Wrecking Crew"), as a songwriter and solo artist. He will be missed...

Leon Russell rousing in Coach House solo set

Dec. 16, 2010 

Updated Aug. 21, 2013 1:17 p.m.

Leon Russell performing at the Coach House.
Photo: Bob Steshetz
Fresh on the heels of Wednesday's announcement that he will be honored with the Award for Musical Excellence (previously known the Sideman category) at the next Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in March, singer, songwriter and piano virtuoso Leon Russell headlined a packed Coach House in San Juan Capistrano later that night.
Anyone hoping Elton John might swing by -- seeing as the pair's collaborative album The Union has been one of the year's most celebrated releases, earning a Grammy nomination for the track “If It Wasn't for Bad” -- might have been disappointed, but there seemed to be few sad faces in the San Juan Capistrano crowd as the Oklahoma native and his four-man troupe tore through more than 90 minutes of his time-honed blend of blues, gospel and good old-fashioned rock 'n' roll.
Looking a bit like Santa Claus -- that is, if jolly St. Nick donned a cowboy hat and Hawaiian shirt -- Russell's voice and keyboard work were solid throughout the roughly two dozen songs he played. The countless colorful Christmas lights dangling from the roof of the Coach House only added to the festive atmosphere.
Russell, 68, juggled original material and reworked remakes with his gift for storytelling. There is often an understandable desire to want to see our musical heroes do a bit less talking and a bit more rocking at concerts, but Russell was expert at finding the perfect mix here; his tales about meeting or working with the likes of Gram ParsonsBob DylanFreddie King and Willie Nelson were every bit as magical as the music he made.
And make no mistake: there were highlights aplenty.
For starters, Russell's band gets it: although these guys are a clearly rehearsed unit, they also revealed a loose and raucous quality enhancing Russell's approach. Bassist Jackie Wessel, guitarists Chris Simmons and Beau Charron (who also adds slide fretwork) and drummer Brandon Holder all had space to shine, though never at the expense of the show or the songs. The bouncing version of “Hummingbird,” with Russell's gruff vocals and the band's full vocal harmonies fused wonderfully, was one of many shining moments.
Russell's well-known knack for reinterpreting others' classics was showcased often. A fast, driving version of the Rolling Stones' “Wild Horses” (a tribute to Mick & Co. as much as Parsons) and a similarly high-octane version of the Beatles' “I've Just Seen a Face” were featured in the first half of the show, while a creatively melancholy take on “Georgia on My Mind” and a jazzy “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” surprised later on.
The show gained momentum as it went along. The last 30 minutes or so featured powerful versions of “Jumpin' Jack Flash” (his take was made famous via 1971's Concert for Bangladesh with George Harrison) rolled into a medley that included parts of “Paint It, Black” and a couple other oldies. His 1972 hit “Tight Rope” also came in a spirited performance, while the encore had many on their feet, as Russell and his band drove it home with Jerry Lee Lewis' “Great Balls of Fire” and Chuck Berry's “Roll Over, Beethoven.”
Through all of it, Russell tackled and tickled his keys with all of the characteristic fervor that made him a favorite session man to music's greatest names, from the Byrds and the Beach Boys way back when to an appearance with Zac Brown Band at the Grammys earlier this year.
Opener Shawn Jones didn't waste a second of his 45-minute appearance before a capacity crowd at the Coach House, fully unleashing his astounding combination of talents as a singer, songwriter and virtuoso guitarist.
Having been blown away when I saw him open for Jimmie Vaughan on this same stage in September, Jones proved yet again that he is one of Southern California's most talented unsigned artists. Throughout his seven-song set, folks around me -- even positioned less than ideally at the rear of the club, by the bar -- seemed immediately impressed by Jones' ability to perform original music and reworked rare blues in a way that makes unfamiliar listeners feel as though they're hearing well-known favorites.
Whether on the Eric Clapton-mining “Heaven's Daughter,” the confessional spiritual gem “Glorybound” or the soulful blues of “Runnin' Out of Time,” Jones and his excellent three-man band ensured the night was a winner even before Russell played a single note. To learn more about this amazing artist -- who next performs a full night of music on Saturday at Lucille's, 1639 Imperial Highway in Brea -- visit his website.
Photo by Bob Steshetz.

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