It had been nearly 30 years since Leon Russell, performing Nov. 12 at Infinity Hall, had a presence on the charts when he teamed with Elton John for the 2010 album “The Union.” The release made it all the way to No. 3 on the Billboard 200 albums chart — 184 places higher than Russell’s previous entry, “The Live Album” with New Grass Revival, which made it to No. 187 in 1981.
That’s not to say Russell wasn’t busy in the meantime — just underappreciated. In fact, the singer, songwriter and pianist released 25 albums in the intervening years, exploring the blues, folk, country and a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll besides. He’s had a low-key career dating back to when he began playing nightclubs in his native Tulsa when he was just 14. In the ’60s, Russell was part of the famed session ensemble known as the Wrecking Crew before beginning a solo career in 1966 that saw him collaborate with the likes of Eric Clapton, George Harrison, the Beach Boys, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Glen Campbell and Willie Nelson, among others.
Though Russell was releasing albums, he was also frequently working behind the scenes as a songwriter and producer: he co-wrote hits for Gary Lewis & the Playboys, for example, and helmed Joe Cocker’s breakthrough “Mad Dogs and Englishmen.”
He wasn’t forgotten, exactly, by the time Elton John came calling for “The Union,” though he wasn’t particularly remembered, either. Russell’s was a name from the past, but when John brought him on stage as a surprise guest at a Connecticut concert just two days before his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, Russell got the biggest ovation of the night.
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