Talk to Elton John and it's likely that sooner rather than later, he will tell you that Leon Russell is his idol. Which isn't an unexpected statement to make, considering that the next entry in John's discography without end is "The Union," a duet album with the 68-year-old Russell, produced by T Bone Burnett, to be released Oct. 19 by Decca.
But John doesn't have to swear on the family Bible that he's not just blowing celebrity smoke. "Leon Russell is my idol" is like a mantra John recited unprompted during interviews throughout his career. In 1970 and 1971, from Rolling Stone to Melody Maker to Georgia Straight, a weekly in Vancouver, British Columbia, it was always "my idol."
From the late 1960s through 1972, piano player, songwriter, singer, performer, producer and bandleader Russell seemed to be everywhere: Playing sessions with Delaney & Bonnie; writing classics like "A Song for You" and "Superstar"; putting together the large band, arrangements and songs for Joe Cocker's famed Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour. And on his own Shelter Records (formed with former partner Denny Cordell), Russell had a productive career as a solo artist, with hit singles ("Tight Rope") and albums ("Carney"), a deserving legend in his own time.