5:02 PM GMT 17/05/2013
Elton John is gearing up for the release of a new album, The Union, recorded with his hero Leon Russell.
Speaking to the European press in London earlier this week, the Queen Mum of British pop told the story behind this latest collaboration with the Southern piano master - one that has been almost four decades in the making.
"I've been influenced by many great piano players throughout the years," said an energised Elton. "But there was something about the way Leon played and the way he looked. I remember first seeing him with Delaney & Bonnie and then with Joe Cocker. Then I toured with him. He had everything - country, gospel and folk; it was all there. There were so many great keyboard players around but Leon was the one I loved the most."
Russell cut his teeth as part of Phil Spector's studio group, playing on most of the producer's hit records. At the end of the 1960s, he embarked on a solo career that brought him to the attention of many of rock's superstars including George Harrison, Eric Clapton and the Beach Boys. He masterminded Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour in 1970 and spent the first part of the decade releasing a series of great, often overlooked albums - Leon Russell, Carney and Will O The Wisp among them. Now under the wing of Elton's management company, it's time for the man to get his due.
"I remember when Leon lost his publishing," recalls Elton. "I was so distraught at the time. That was in the '70s. Now his music is with EMI Records and we are hoping to relaunch his catalogue when this album comes out. There's no point in doing this record and not bringing all his great work to light at the same time. It's the old story; you sign your life away when you're young so when you hit 70 you've got nothing left. Look at Nina Simone. We're trying to repair that damage."
The Union was recorded at the end of 2009 with producer T-Bone Burnett. The record - a southern-fried mix of gospel, R&B and expansive ballads - features both Russell and Elton playing piano and singing, with a band made up of legendary drummer Jim Keltner, Tom Waits-connected guitar iconoclast Marc Ribot and assorted session hotshots. The record also features contributions from special guests including Neil Young, Booker T and incorrigible soul star The Mighty Hannibal. Elton plans to take Russell on the road with him in 2011.
"I've made 40 other albums," said John. "The world isn't screaming for another Elton John album and I'm not screaming to make a record unless it's special. Before this even came up my template was Bob Dylan's Modern Times because I thought, this is a man who has made so many albums, yet he's back with another incredible record that sounds modern and old at the same time. That's the kind of record I wanted to make. And to actually make a record with your idol... it's something that I'd never thought I'd do."
The Union is scheduled for release in the US on October 19 and the UK on October 25.
Leon Russell plays a London show at the Jazz Café on August 3. Buy tickets HERE
By Ross Bennett
Posted by Ross_Bennett at 12:17 PM GMT 07/07/2010