Leon Russell is currently touring the country with none other than Bob Dylan, riding the wave of adulation he’s received for 2010’s high-profile Elton John collaboration The Union, as well as an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On August 9, the Omnivore label will remind listeners of just why Russell is so revered today. On that date, Omnivore will release Live in Japan, restoring to a print a 1974 Japan-only LP documenting Russell’s November 8, 1973 stand at Tokyo’s Budokan Hall. But wait, there’s more! Reissue producer, Omnivore co-founder and Rhino alumnus Cheryl Pawelski has added seven more tracks, all taken from a Houston, Texas show at the Sam Houston Coliseum recorded November 22, 1971. The Houston performance was the first show of his 1971 U.S. tour, after he and the newly formed Shelter People band had taken to the road in late 1970, occasionally teaming with then-newcomer Elton John. The nine Live in Japan tracks are all new to CD, while the 1971 gig has never appeared on LP or CD.
A native of Oklahoma, the former Claude Russell Bridges honed his craft first as a pianist on the local club circuit and then as one of the top-flight session men of Los Angeles’ so-called “Wrecking Crew.” You can hear Russell tickling the ivories on recordings by Phil Spector, The Beach Boys and even Frank Sinatra. It wasn’t long before he allied himself with producer Snuff Garrett, for whom he not only arranged Gary Lewis and the Playboys’ “This Diamond Ring” but co-wrote the group’s hits “Everybody Loves a Clown” and “She’s Just My Style.” These pop classics gave little indication, though, of where Russell would take his career next. After recording as the leader of the “Midnight String Quartet” and the Asylum Choir (with Marc Benno), Russell began his proper solo career with 1970’s Leon Russell, released on Shelter Records, a joint venture of Russell and Englishman Denny Cordell. That album was just the first to demonstrate his mastery of rock, soul, gospel, country, blues and even psychedelia during his long, distinguished career.
What can you expect from this heaping helping of Leon Russell? Hit the jump!
Omnivore’s expanded Live in Japan offers some of Russell’s greatest songs, among them “Tight Rope,” “Roll Away the Stone,” “A Song for You” and “Groupie (Superstar),” immortalized by Bonnie Bramlett, Rita Coolidge, Bette Midler and of course, Karen Carpenter. Russell offers his smoking rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” which he also performed at The Concert for Bangladesh, plus other covers in the form of “Roll Over Beethoven” and even The Wizard of Oz’s “Over the Rainbow,” joined with Russell’s own “God Put a Rainbow” performed with his Black Grass background singers. These sixteen tracks prove why Russell’s live show was considered one of the most electric and combustible in the annals of rock.
Liner notes for Live in Japan were penned by Leon Russell historian Steve Todoroff, author of the upcoming book Longhair Music: The Songs And Sessions Of Leon Russell, and by Rev. Patrick Henderson, a member of the touring band for the 1973 Japan tour and the composer of “Heaven,” which opens the album. This is the latest of a line of fine new releases from Omnivore, founded in 2010 by Pawelski, Greg Allen, and Brad Rosenberger. Leon Russell’s Live in Japan hits stores on August 9.
Leon Russell, Live in Japan (Shelter Records RJ-5117, 1974 – reissued Omnivore OVCD-4, 2011)
- Over The Rainbow / God Put A Rainbow
- Queen Of The Roller Derby
- Roll Away The Stone
- Tight Rope
- Sweet Emily
- You Don’t Have To Go
- A Song For You / Of Thee I Sing / Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms
- Stranger In A Strange Land
- Roll Over Beethoven
- Blues Power / Shoot Out On The Plantation / As The Years Go By / The Woman I Love
- Jumpin’ Jack Flash
- Of Thee I Sing / Yes I Am
Tracks 1-9 recorded live at the Budokan Hall, Tokyo on November 8, 1973. Originally issued as Live In Japan, Shelter RJ-5117, 1974
Tracks 10-16 are previously unreleased. Recorded live at the Sam Houston Coliseum, Houston, Texas on April 22, 1971