Leon was one big bash
BY John Wooley World Entertainment Writer
Apr 5, 1999
1/16/13 at 2:18 AM
WHERE THERE'S A WILLS
Leon Russell's Cain's show was far more than a greatest-hits review, although there was that
Michael Wyke / Tulsa World
- Leon Russell gave the Cain's Ballroom crowd an `energized'
The 75th anniversary of the Cain's Ballroom, the 25th anniversary of radio station KMOD, and
the anniversary of Leon Russell's birth all flowed together Saturday night into one big
celebration. And it was a tossup as to who seemed more ready for it: the cheering masses that
crowded into the venerable hall, or Russell himself, who seemed renewed and energized
throughout the crisply paced, superbly played, hour and 45 minute show.
Understand that "renewed and energized" doesn't mean you'd have mistook Russell for, say,
fellow Tulsa music giant Garth Brooks. There was no working the crowd, no running back and
forth across the stage, no heartfelt monologues. In fact, the show looked pretty much like any
other Leon Russell show. He walked out, his four-person band be
hind him, sat down at one end of the stage in front of a keyboard and decks of electronic
equipment (including a computer screen atop the keyboard and foot pedals to change his sound)
and launched right into the show, doing one song right after the other. But he did say "thank
you" a couple of times, and "bless your hearts," and he even introduced his band members --
including son Teddy Jack on drums and daughter Sugaree playing percussion on a huge gourd --
which, for Leon, pretty much does amount to a monologue.
His energy, his passion, came out in his performing. Perhaps it's because he's got a good
new album out, with a couple of others on the way, or maybe it's the fact that he had an
excellent band to complement his playing and singing, including a knockout guitar player.
Whatever the reason, Leon was in great form.
It was far more than a greatest-hits show, although there was that element. He also played
plenty of tracks from his new, blues-oriented disc, "Face in the Crowd." In fact, he began the
show with one, the rocking 12-bar "So Hard to Say Goodbye," and peppered others through
out. And the country-music, "Hank Wilson," part of his persona surfaced in a number of
classics, reworked to good effect. Those included Patsy Cline's "Sweet Dreams," given a
near-shuffle backbeat, and a brisk reading of Buck Owens' "Love's Gonna Live Here Again." His
slow and eerie version of "Sixteen Tons" worked so well that it made you think writer Merle
Travis might have envisioned it that way, as a near-desperate working-man's moan rather than as
the gruffly comic version that was the huge hit for Tennessee Ernie Ford.
There were some surprise tunes, notably Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," which Leon
tore into as though it were a barrelhouse boogie, ripping out a great solo and reconfiguring
the song in a way that brought deafening applause.
Like Dylan is prone to do himself, Leon fooled around a bit with the timing and phrasing of
his own hits, sometimes shifting into them directly out of other songs. In a solo spot, for
instance, he led into "A Song for You" by first playing several bars of the evergreen "As Time
The encore, in which he and the group played an instrumental version of Paint It Black" before busting into a double-time "Kansas City," found him shouting and
screaming an ending that simply brought the house down. It made a perfect finale.
It would, of course, be fatuous to say that Leon Russell's back. He's never gone away. But
it'd be accurate to say that the musical spark he struck almost 30 years ago has flared up
again, blazing brightly, alive with fresh promise and renewed potential.
The acoustic duo of Barton & Sweeney opened, taking what could've been a tough spot and
winning the crowd. They scored especially well with some blackly humorous tunes, including an
ode to road rage called "Blow Him Away" and one of their signature songs, "If You Drink, You
Die," as well as with their only cover of the night, a slower, chunkier version of Del
Shannon's classic "Runaway," featuring several different styles of extended leads from Barton.
A new tune called "Any Bar, USA," was impressive, full of tempo and style changes and some
sharp observations about watering holes at closing time.
John Wooley can be reached at 581-8477.