Leon Russell Has Come Home – but is it permanent?
BY Ellis Widner
Oct 30, 1979
1/16/13 at 2:24 AM
Leon Russell has come home again.
But is it permanent?
“I’ve decided I like Tulsa a lot,” Russell said in an interview. “I’ve come here many times – sometimes under less than favorable circumstances. But at its best, California is less than favorable circumstances.
“I’ve got a lot more friends in Tulsa than I do in California. So, I’ll be spending a lot more time here.”
The former Tulsan, who has not given a newspaper interview in several years, also held out the possibility he might re-open a recording studio in Tulsa.
“I might do it. I’m thinking about moving some mobile recording equipment from California to Tulsa.”
He said he will perform his first Tulsa concert in more than two years at the Old Lady of Brady Nov. 24. Tickets are available at Carson Attractions.
RUSSELL SAYS his main interest now is working with New Grass Revival – a progressive bluegrass act from Tennessee. Russell and the group performed at radio station KMOD Monday evening, then left for Los Angeles this morning and plan to complete work on an album started in Nashville.
The silver-haired, bearded singer-songwriter sees video as his main emphasis for the future.
“I’m getting too old to be rocking and rolling so I’m going to become a big television tycoon,” he laughed.
“We’re still building on the video studio in Los Angeles. We’ll be filming some of the sessions with New Grass Revival. Shortly all Paradise artists will be recorded and released on video.”
Paradise is Russell’s Los Angeles-based recording studio, video and record company.
“The Paradise Show” is the working title for a series of programs Russell said will be marketed to television networks and cable television. Some will be syndicated, he said, and other may become movies.
“We filmed the Willie (Nelson) and Leon recording sessions. It will be one of our first projects.”
The duet of Russell and Nelson was nominated for the Country Music Association’s album of the year, although it was not the winner. But Russell is not one to pay much attention to that sort of hoopla.
“I don’t pay any attention to awards stuff, so I don’t think I was surprised that the album was nominated. It wasn’t because I thought it was going to be nominated, I just don’t think about awards.
WORKING WITH Nelson was “smooth…he’s like a Zen Buddhist…nothing bothers him too much.”
The teaming of Nelson and Russell came about during recording sessions for Russell’s “Hank Wilson’s Back” album.
“Hank Wilson” was the name Russell adopted to draw upon his two primary country music influences – Hank Williams and Hank Thompson.
We sang some duets then, but Willie felt we ought to save them for a duet album.”
Russell said he still has some 26 unreleased tracks from the ‘Hank Wilson’ session and may release another album.
BUT IS THE Tulsa native shifting his career to country music?
“I never plan that far ahead. I enjoy playing with New Grass Revival. It’s a lot of fun to go out on the road with them.”
The album will be what Russell describes as “American music. New Grass Revival is a mixture…a hybrid….a mongrel…sort of like me,” he grinned.
“We try to whip audiences into a revivalist hysteria.
One of the music industry’s most respected songwriters, Russell describes his work as an arduous experience.
“It’s worse than jogging. It’s hard on me. It takes a lot of energy to figure out how I feel, plus making certain I express it right.
“I quit thinking about hits. ‘Lady Blue’ surprised me. I thought the other side of the record was the hit.
“MY SONGS are funny. I never know what’s going to happen. ‘A Song for You’ was something that was written with Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra in mind. Sinatra did cut the song. Charles didn’t. But Aretha Franklin did, so that made up for it.”
Russell, who engineered Joe Cocker’s legendary Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, describes the experience as “one of the great times of my life.”
The tour, in early 1970s, was pivotal to Russell’s breakthrough as a solo artist.
Although he frequently jokes about his music, Russell takes criticism very seriously. “Most of the critics blasted the Han, Wilson country music album,” he says, “yet when I meet and talk to people, it’s mentioned as a favorite by the fans more than any other album I’ve done.”
During his several-week stay in Tulsa, Russell has made unannounced appearances at local night clubs and at Roy Clark’s Star Night. He mentions Jim Sweeny’s band as one he “likes a lot.”
But in conversation with Russell, the topic inevitably comes back to television.
“It’s electronic painting. I think there’s a lot we can do with television.