It’s not everyday a girl my age is privileged to stand 50 feet from a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, but last week I was privileged to step into a sold-out Granada Theater to hear Leon Russell grace Dallas with his presence. Earlier this month Capitol/EMI released a 16 – track CD called The Best Of Leon Russell, which includes his iconic live performance of Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Youngblood from The Concert For Bangladesh and the very special “If It Wasn’t For Bad” from Russell and Elton John’s 2010 duet album The Union.
After checking out the merch booth in the lobby I headed into the theater to hear opener Kirby Brown and his band warm up the space with their honest Americana sound. This was a big night for Kirby and his band members as Leon Russell is a notable icon not only in the rock world but in their personal evolution as musicians. “Looking back it’s hard to pick out parts of it that were the best,” Brown told me a few days after the show. An admittedly shaky start to his set gave way to his characteristic confidence a few numbers in which the seated crowd, comprised largely of concert goers in their early 50s, began to respond to. “I’ve played shows where it takes the crowd 40 minutes to get on board with you and being a younger band, sort of ‘looking the part,’ I’m sure, made people take a minute to decide if they liked what we were all about.” With their footing found Brown and his band finished solidly, laying the proverbial red carpet for Mr. Russell as the presence of legitimate Hell’s Angels continued to increase throughout the house. Upon further research this is a common occurrence at Leon Russell shows. I found their presence leant itself to the authenticity of the entire evening.
Born in Southwest Oklahoma in 1942 Leon Russell began playing in nightclubs at age 14. In his 50-year career he is perhaps the most accomplished and versatile musician in rock n’ roll history. His incredible success as a session musician, arranger, producer, singer, songwriter, pianist, guitarist, record company owner, bandleader, and touring musician is not limited to obscure but significant acts but rather the truly iconic artists of the rock world including George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, B.B. King, Ike & Tina Turner, Frank Sinatra and Aretha Franklin to name a very select few.
Leon Russell took the stage much like God seating himself upon a throne, long white hair and longer white beard saddled under an enormous white Stetson. After taking his place behind the raised piano he wasted no time getting to the music. The banter between tunes was, arguably, as enjoyable as the actual music itself. Stories including the who’s-who of rock and roll, old flames and jokes about Tulsa preceded inspired covers such as Bob Dylan’s renowned ‘A Hard Rain is Going to Fall,’ numerous Rolling Stones covers and a boogied out version of the peppy Beatles song ‘I’ve Just Seen A Face.’ During masterful deliveries of his more popular tunes such as ‘Tight Rope Wire’ and ‘A Song for You,’ the audience responded in frenzy and reverence, respectively.
“It was its own Sunday service,” Kirby Brown said. “Definitely a spiritual experience for me,” he continues after describing a brief meeting with Mr. Russell after the show. “I introduced myself and said, ‘Opening this show for you tonight is the honor of a lifetime.’ He looked me in the eyes and said, ‘Bless your heart.’ Not like a joke, but like your Grandma might say, like a blessing from him to me.”
If you were fortunate enough to catch Leon Russell andKirby Brown (or just enjoy either) the good folks at the Granada would like to invite you to see Steve Earl with The Mastersons on April 26th and Reckless Kelly with local favorite The King Bucks on April 28th. Both shows still have tickets available at www.granadatheater.com.