While only rarely gaining the attention of the mainstream pop music world, singer/songwriter, studio musician and producer Leon Russell quietly influenced the world of rock and pop in the 1960s and '70s, working with some of the biggest names in music. A prodigious talent even at a young age, Russell began piano lessons at four and was playing nightclubs in his hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma by 14. His band The Starlighters toured with Jerry Lee Lewis as soon as Russell graduated high school. By 17, Russell had moved to Los Angeles, where he became part of The Wrecking Crew, an extremely talented group of studio session players who recorded with everyone from The Byrds to Herb Alpert. A popular musician across the L.A. music scene Russell released his first album under the project name The Asylum Choir (a collaboration with Marc Benno) in 1968, and by 1969 had set up Shelter Records with producer Denny Cordell. His first big commercial success was writing the hit single "Delta Lady" for Joe Cocker. Russell also produced and arranged Cocker's eponymous 1970 LP and went on to tour with Cocker's band; he can be seen in the concert film "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" (1971) that was filmed during that tour. Cocker was the first to record the haunting ballad "Superstar," co-written by Russell, that would go onto be a massive chart hit for The Carpenters. Meanwhile, Russell released his self-titled debut solo album in 1970, which included the single "A Song For You" (later covered by The Carpenters, Ray Charles, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse and many more) while 1971's Leon Russell and the Shelter People went to number 17 on the Billboard album chart. By now Russell was in high demand, performing and recording with George Harrison, B.B. King, Bob Dylan, and Eric Clapton among others. Russell dabbled in movies, producing "A Poem is a Naked Person" (1974), a documentary about his Oklahoma recording studios, and making a brief appearance in the horror comedy "Son of Dracula" (1974), starring Ringo Starr and Harry Nilsson. Although his chart popularity faded following the '70s, Russell continued working steadily as both a singer/songwriter and a sideman. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 2006 and played with The Zac Brown Band at the Grammys ceremony in 2010. That same year, he recorded The Union, a duet album with longtime friend and fan Elton John. Russell was inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters' Hall of Fame in 2011, and then composed his first film score for the Japanese documentary "Tightrope" (2013). Russell's final album, Life Journey, was released in 2014. Having battled health issues for a number of years, Russell suffered a major heart attack in July 2016 and underwent heart surgery shortly thereafter. Leon Russell died at his home in Nashville on November 13, 2016. He was 74.
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Debut album as The Asylum Choir with Marc Benno
Wrote "Delta Lady" for Joe Cocker
Debut solo album
Appeared in tour documentary "Mad Dogs and Englishmen"
Played with George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, and Ravi Shankar at the Concert for Bangladesh
Produced documentary "A Poem is a Naked Person"
Wrote the theme tune to "Flesh 'n' Blood" (NBC)
Inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame
Recorded "The Union" with Elton John
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Inducted into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame