By Doug Draper
Posted November 20th, 2016 on Niagara At Large
Way back when, during what some musicologists now consider to be ‘the golden age’ of rock and Top 40 pop, he introduced us to his ‘Delta Lady’ through the voice of legendary companion Joe Cocker.
He also taught us about how complicated love relationships can be through the lyrics of one of his most beautiful songs, ‘This Masquerade’ (elevated to pop classic status by singer/guitarist George Benson) and had a huge hit single of his own for years earlier in 1972 with a song called ‘Tight Rope’ and his own version of ‘This Masquerade’ on the flip side.
Following all of the understable tributes to legendary songwriter, poet Leonard Cohen, who slipped away earlier this November after releasing, a few weeks earlier, of one more extraordinary set of music, ‘You Want It Darker’, the passing of Leon Russell, days later on November 13th at age 74, did not receive the attention it otherwise deserved.
Leon Russell might best be remembered as the architect and lead musician (given the prominence of his piano playing) of Joe Cocker’s ‘Mad Dogs & Englishmen’ tour that spawned the best-selling live album and film documentary by the same name in 1970, along with a couple of hit singles, including Cocker’s own ‘High Time We Went’ and a cover of the Box Top’s hit ‘The Letter’ where Russell’s piano playing is almost as much of a highlight as Cocker’s trademark voice.
Russell also played on George Harrison’s famed ‘Concert of Bangladesh’, played with Bob Dylan (his tell-taled keyboard work particularly stands out on Dylan’s ‘Watching the River Flow’, and wrote music and played on records for artists as diverse as Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra, The Monkees and The Carpenters, co-writing ‘Superstar’, one of The Carpenters’ hugest hits.
He was a session musician at the famed Muscle Shoals Studios and recorded his earliest solo albums there, and he played on what Rolling Stone magazine continues to rank as one of the best albums of all time, Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’.
Quite a stellar career, spanning more than half a century and capped off a few years ago, while heart disease and other ailments were beginning to take a toll, with a critically acclaimed duet album with Elton John titled ‘The Union’.
If news of the passing of Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell where not enough in a month that isn’t over yet, there was the sad news that Brooklyn, New York-based soul singer Sharon Jones lost her battle with pancreatic cancer this past November 18th at age 60.
Sharon Jones may not be a household name for many of you and that is understandable since it is really only over the past decade and a half that her singing career began taking off after years of doing other jobs while performing in bars.
Fortunately, she was finally discovered by members of a R&B band called ‘The Dap-Kings’ who, 10 years ago, backed up the Amy Winehouse on her Grammy Award-winning album ‘Back to Black’, and her career caught fire with loves of soul music across the United States and Canada.
Earlier this year, when a documentary about her late-blooming career, called ‘Miss Sharon Jones’, was screening in theatres after she was back to touring following a downturn in her battle with pancreatic cancer, she and her music were featured on CBC television and radio, winning her growing numbers of Canadian fans.
Sadly, her return to performing was not to last and a greater singer on the rise, even while celebrating soul sounds reminiscent of Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and Gladys Knight from 40 or 50 years ago, was cut short – so unfair after all the years of slugging it out in the blues bars.
When she was young and starting out, a November 20th New York Times obituary on Jones quoted her saying, record companies didn’t sign her because they didn’t consider her to be attractive enough. Later on, many of them wrote her off as “too short, too fat, too black and too old.”
In the end though, a fabulous voice for R&B and an exciting stage show prevailed behind one of the last of the best soul bands left in the world.
To view and hear Sharon Jones performing Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land is Your Land’ click here –
.Finally, for all of you who love music and believe in supporting what we have left of those great independent record stores from the golden age of rock, soul, blues and other musical genres, Record Theatre in Buffalo, New York is celebrating its 40th anniversary and has several sales and events going on starting this November 21st and going into December.
Please help keep independent record stores alive by checking Record Theature out. You can start by clicking on the following link to learn more about the store, its locations in the Buffalo area, and the dates and times of sales and special events – http://www.recordtheatre.com/ .
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