Remembering Ultra-American Musician Leon Russell

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Leon Russell in the early 70s

Leon Russell passed away last week — he was 74. During the 1970s, he forged a musical career unlike almost anyone else’s before or since: an ultra-American mix of country, blues, gospel, and rock n’ roll, collaborating with musicians from all those genres.

Kurt spoke with Russell in the summer of 2015 when a 40-year-old documentary about Russell’s musical career was finally released. Director Les Blank filmed Russell at the height of his stardom in the 70s, but Russell held the release of the film until after Blank’s death. “Les Blank is a wonderful documentarian, but I felt like it had a lot of coverage that didn’t have to do with me — you know, a lot of sunsets,” he explained.

Russell also told Kurt about how a childhood injury influenced his artistic development, the provenance of Mick Jagger’s famous dance, and his collaboration with Elton John.