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Sir Elton John Calls Leon Russell "My Idol," Revives Musician's Unsung Legacy

The story of singer/songwriter and accomplished pianist Leon Russell’s late-career revival is the stuff of film – literally.

It’s a truly compelling tale that begins with a fruitful career in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Russell started the legendary Shelter Records (along with producer Denny Cordell), the label responsible for introducing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to the world and fostering their early successes. Shelter also carried the torch for the Tulsa Sound of artists like J.J. Cale and provided a launching pad for myriad other notable artists. However, it was after his stint as label head that Russell’s life got really interesting.

As a sideman and songwriter, Russell had an illustrious career that included penning major hits for Joe Cocker and working with big names like Delaney & Bonnie and George Harrison. Russell would become an essential fixture among the A-list of rock and roots musicians of the ’70s. However, the years were not particularly kind to Leon Russell, and the man eventually fell into the obscurity that often plagues would-be legacy artists with similarly unsung legacies. 

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But one of his biggest fans happened to be a Sir Elton John, who sought to reignite Russell’s career by taking on the task (and privilege, no doubt) of creating an album of duets with him a few years ago – much the way that famed piano-bound songwriter Bruce Hornsby did by producing Russell in the early ’90s. The album also came with an excellent HBO-produced film documenting the process. John’s star power and the excellent album that resulted from their collaboration have delivered Leon Russell back into the public eye, where he stays with consistent touring and recording. 

Leon Russell
8 p.m., Saturday, December 19, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $17 plus fees via ticketmaster.com. Call 954-564-1074.

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