Johnette Napolitano credits Leon Russell for career success
BY JENNIFER CHANCELLOR World Scene Writer
Sunday, January 20, 2013
1/20/13 at 4:29 AM
An honest artist's expression isn't bound by notions of "industry." Johnette Napolitano creates. That's what she does.
When her band, Concrete Blonde, feels like it, they play dates together. Occasionally, they'll write songs together - the band recently released a limited-edition white-vinyl single "Rosalie."
More often, though, Napolitano is out in the desert of southeastern California, following her own muse. Paintings, jewelry, music, film, books, tattoos, songs.
She's bringing a whole lot of it to an exclusive show Sunday at IDL Ballroom.
She knows what art is, she said, because she learned from one of the best in the business: Tulsa Sound icon Leon Russell.
"Why Tulsa?" she asked. "Things come full circle, and I just felt this was the place I needed to play right now."
It's not really that simple, but it is.
A local fan and promoter reached out to her, and she decided she couldn't say no. She felt the pull.
"It's sort of unreal the way things come around in life," she said. "I was invited to play in Tulsa, and I have so many friends and ties to the city."
Those ties that bind are strongest with Russell, who whet her musical passion.
"He taught me that creation is a way of life. It's a lifestyle, not something you do to sell records," she said.
Napolitano was a studio assistant to Russell at his Paradise Studios in Burbank, Calif., in the late '70s and early 1980s, she said during a recent telephone interview.
"I was very fortunate to be there for some profound and painful genius. It's hard to believe I was there, especially for the Leon and Willie record."
The "Leon and Willie record" became the top-selling "One for the Road," a hit outlaw country album of reinvented covers, including the No. 1 Billboard hit "Heartbreak Hotel."
Napolitano has been a Leon Russell fan as far back as she can remember.
She calls him a man of principal.
"Anybody who worked for him was changed. You can't pay for that kind of education," she said. "He channels the universe."
She's not being nutty. Most musicians who have worked with Russell through the years (and that includes members of The Beatles, Eric Clapton, The Beach Boys, Elton John, the Rolling Stones) have said the same thing.
"To credit Leon as an influence on my music isn't a complete picture," Napolitano said. "Leon inspired a way of life.
"I knew I wanted to be a musician, but I was young, and it was really hard to find the support from my family. I was looking for a way, and Leon showed it to me."
From there, she became an influential bassist and iconic, sultry lead vocalist for Concrete Blonde. The band released hits including "Joey," "God Is a Bullet," "Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)," "Caroline," "Everybody Knows," "Someday?," "Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man" and "Heal It Up" through the early '90s.
She also formed Pretty & Twisted with Marc More-land of Wall of Voodoo and drummer Danny Montgomery, and released several solo albums and a "Sketchbook" spoken word series, books (including "Rough Mix," written after the death of her father) and learned to edit video, paint, tattoo and make jewelry.
And, while Concrete Blonde recently finished several live shows together and a single, she isn't tied to the idea of a band. Quite the contrary.
"We have no plans for an album or a tour," she said of Concrete Blonde. "That's not how we work. This (single) felt right, and it happened - that's how we work."
The band has "been through enough" over the years and "deserves to be its own thing, to progress and move on, as we all deserve."
There's not a wisp of hostility there, no trace of conflict. It's a statement of fact. For Napolitano, life is about creating what's right, not about what sells records.
She thanks Russell for her happiness.
"He's a good guy and a great human being - barely," she said, then laughed.
"He's more than human. He really is the Master of Space and Time," she said, referring to his nickname.
"He worked with one of the biggest names in music in his day. He worked with Phil Spector and was one of the first to walk out on him. It was unheard of. He was sitting at a piano one day and just got up and walked out and said, 'I can't do this any more; you're crazy.' "
The notoriously mercurial Spector eventually took a spectacular career dive and decades later was convicted of murder.
In the meantime, Russell built himself an unparalleled career - one that a young Napolitano briefly cocooned herself in before taking flight on her own.
of Concrete Blonde
When: Doors open 7 p.m., showtime 8 p.m. Sunday
Where: IDL Ballroom, 230 E. First St.
Tickets: Must be 18. Tickets start at $18 in advance, $23 day of show, available at tulsaword.com/okkle and at Starship Records & Tapes and at the door
Note: No cameras will be allowed at this event.
Original Print Headline: Johnette Napolitano tips hat to Russell
Jennifer Chancellor 918-581-8346
Johnette Napolitano (center) of Concrete Blonde. Courtesy