Before Leon Russell went out on his own as a singer, he played with nearly everyone as a session musician—Bob Dylan, George Harrison, the Beach Boys, his wide-fingered two-fisted style of founded the piano keys so distinctive that Elton John claimed Russell as his mentor well before actually meeting him. (And decades later it would be John who arm twisted the arms of the right people to make sure that Russell was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.)
When Russell finally went out on his own, others often had bigger hits with the music he wrote. Joe Cocker made Delta Lady a hit. A Song For You was recorded by a list of nearly 100 artists that includes Cocker, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Russell’s friend, Willie Nelson. Yet, Russell was able to dazzlingly reinvent the songs written by far bigger stars, such as the Stones’ Wild Horses, and Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (which you can listen to here).
Leon Russell died in his sleep on Sunday in Nashville.