I first saw Leon Russell in 1970 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. It was the Joe Cocker, Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour and I wasn’t yet thirteen years old. The counselors for the “youth group” my parents had sent me to with the intention of pointing me in the direction of growing up to be an obedient civil servant (until I got married), had planned the trip to a real concert for all the kids ages 12 and up. In retrospect, I feel confident none of them knew what they signed up for by their reactions once the concert was underway.
Once the concert started, I was mesmerized. I had found my people, my tribe. There on stage was Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Rita Coolidge, a row of what I can only at the time describe as hippies lining the back of the stage, a woman holding a baby and a dog sleeping on the stage.
Leon Russell played piano, Billy Preston played a Hammond Organ. I had never in my short suburban life seen or heard people who had long hair, patches, long skirts, just total freaks! If I took anything away from that night besides recreating in 3D, the “muscle arm” image on the album cover, in my junior high ceramics class, it was that as soon as I was able I had to find “those people.” I did find those people a little later in Topanga Canyon, which is the beginning of another chapter.
Russell was such a talent, playing with many musicians and bands including Badfinger, “A song for you” also released in 1970 has been recorded by over 40 artists, he produced tracks for Bob Dylan. His honky-tonk southern blues piano style, songs, and music live on. What a sad election week with the loss of Russell and Leonard Cohen.