Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Union Tour - Elton John and Leon Russell

Their new joint album, "The Union"

Senior rockers Elton John and Leon Russell performed together Friday night, October 22, 2010 at the BOK Center.  They jointly released a new album, "The Union" on October 19, 2010 which contains songs they wrote together  along with lyricist Bernie Taupin.   Sue and I attended and were blown away.  Elton John is a very big name in popular music and the crowd loved him.  But Leon Russell is Tulsa’s own and the ovation he received when he walked off stage was long and deafening.  The tickets were pricey but they definitely gave us our money’s worth.  I purchased the CD several weeks ago when it first came out.  I suspected that the security people would not let me bring my big Canon SX20 into the center but had my new Iphone 4G in my pocket and got a few useable snaps

Tulsa's BOK Center

The concert started promptly at 8:00 PM with a solo set by Elton John, Then he introduced Leon Russell who did a solo set of his music.  Elton John came back onstage and the two of them did a set together, essentially all the tracks from their recent duo album “The Union”.  Following this Elton came back on and did a very long set of his music.  The total performance went three and one half hours but seemed much shorter.  Elton John is a tireless performer and looked to be thoroughly enjoying himself, feeding off the enormous energy of the crowd.  While John and Russell each could catch a breath while the other performed, the large stage band performed non-stop as there was no real intermission.

British Rocker Elton John

In Elton John’s four-decade career he has sold more than 250 million records, making him one of the most successful artists in music history.  Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight on 25 March 1947  in Pinner, Middlesex, England, he learned to play the piano when he was very young.  In 1962 at the age of 15 he became a weekend pianist at a nearby pub.  In 1964, Dwight and his friends formed a band called Bluesology.  By the mid-1960s, they were backing touring American soul and R&B musicians.  In 1966, the band became musician Long John Baldry's supporting band.  Soon Dwight was going by the name "Elton John", in homage to Bluesology saxophonist Elton Dean and Long John Baldry.  In 1967, Elton teamed up with Bernie Taupin to write lyrics for Elton’s tunes and what would become the first Elton John/Bernie Taupin song, "Scarecrow", was recorded.

Tulsa's Own, Leon Russell

Leon Russell is a native Oklahoma Musician. He was born April 2, 1942 in Lawton, Oklahoma, grew up in Tulsa and went to Will Rogers High School.  At the early age of 14, Leon was already playing Tulsa nightclubs. His first band "The Starlighters" which included J.J. Cale, Chuck Blackwell and Johnny Williams were instrumental in creating the style of music known as the Tulsa Sound.  Leon worked extensively as a session musician and has played with numerous artists like Jerry Lee Lewis, Eric Clapton,  B. B. King, Bob Dylan and Frank Sinatra just to name a few.  In 1970 he was the supporting band for Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” tour.    During the summer of 1971, Russell was asked by George Harrison to participate in the Concert For Bangladesh, organized by Harrison and Ravi Shankar, at which Russell performed a medley of his songs.  Also during 1971 Russell  released two studio albums by his own name that year (Leon Russell And The Shelter People and Asylum Choir II with Marc Benno). Further, Russell helped Freddie King to revive his career by collaborating with him on three of his albums for Shelter during the early 1970s.  Leon has spent a good part of his career supporting other more well known musicians.

Elton and Leon together

Elton John and Leon Russell's paths seemed fated to cross: Both grew up at the piano, learning to play as little boys. Both played piano in bars while in their teens, and both started their careers as piano players for hire. But, according to John, there's one important difference.  "He is a better piano player than I am," John says. "As far as gospel and stuff like that, that's why I wanted to make this album. He is my idol."  The Union is a collaboration Elton John thought up to pay tribute to Russell, an artist he'd feared might be forgotten.  There was a time when Leon Russell was a sensation. Russell wrote songs recorded by Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Rita Coolidge and Sonic Youth, to name a few. As a session player, he was much in demand.  Elton John and Leon Russell's history stretches back four decades, to the night they first met at a legendary club in West Hollywood: the Troubadour. That's where John gave his first-ever concert in the U.S. For an upstart 23-year-old with a soulful voice and piano skills, those performances were like being shot out of a cannon.  John says  "The second night I was confident, because the first night was out of my way, and then halfway through 'Burn Down the Mission,' I'm playing the piano solo, and I glanced right and I see Leon, with the silver hair and the Ray-Ban glasses. I temporarily froze, I kind of semi-panicked because this was the man I really idolized.  Soon after that night, John went on the road as the opening act for Russell, but their careers took them on different paths. They wouldn't meet again until John hatched the idea of a collaboration.

John says singing with Russell now is different from when they sang together years ago. "We're older and wiser," John says. "If we're not wiser now, we damn well should be; both of us are in the last third of our lives. How many times do you get the chance to make a record with your idol? And someone who is your peer?  That's all I can say. It's just one of the greatest things that's ever happened to me personally, and definitely musically."

It's a gift that both artists seem to cherish. Russell wrote and sang the last song on the album, "The Hands of Angels," and dedicated it to Elton John.  "I wanted to give him something, for doing this for me," Russell says. "I've thought this was a pretty magnificent gift he was giving me. What do you give to a guy who's got six fully staffed houses and 10 of everything else in the world?  I thought I could give him a song. And he liked it. I was very thankful for that."

(And now I am finally able to post about this fine concert Sue and I attended over a month ago.  Since then I have had internet problems, a crashed computer and some family excitement that have seriously damaged my long string of consecutive posts.  But it has ended well with a lovely new computer and a pair of external hard drives that should keep me on an even keel for a long time.  I hope you have had a happy Thanksgiving and I wish you all the best for the holiday season.)


Francisca said... [Reply to comment]

This is a magnificent post, Bill! Well done! It must have been an awesome performance. It's so refreshing to read inspiring news about people supporting each other and looking up to each other (sort of like the portrait of my hero post earlier this week, hey?).

Glad your PC woes are over. My fixed PC is beside me, waiting for me to reinstall everything, but I am procrastinating, knowing it will suck up hours that I prefer to spend working or playing on this old dinosaur... :-D

Jan n Jer said... [Reply to comment]

Wow, how exciting. Love them both. caught a little bit of their concert on PBS the other night. great shots.

DrillerAA said... [Reply to comment]

What an incredible evening. I saw the album last night in Walmart. Now I have to go back and get it.
Elton John has always been one of my favorite artists, and who doesn't think of Leon when they hear "Delta Lady".
I am truly sorry that I missed this event, but thank you very much for sharing your wonderful evening with us.

Yogi♪♪♪ said... [Reply to comment]

Great post Bill. Your love for these guys' music shines through.

Glad you got your computer problems straightened out. That can be aggravating.

I feel free to miss a day every now and then.

Sharon's Mum Anne said... [Reply to comment]

I was going to write that I hadn't heard of Leon Russell but somebody wrote about "Delta Lady" - now THAT I have heard of and am humming the tune as I write.

You sound as though you had a wonderful evening, brilliant post Bill.

lizziviggi said... [Reply to comment]

Sounds like a great show! I just discovered Leon Russell recently, and was surprised he isn't better known by my generation. He's a talented guy!

'Tsuki said... [Reply to comment]

Lovely reflection of concert ! I hope you had a good time there...

James said... [Reply to comment]

It sounds like a wonderful time! You did a great job with this post! It reminds me that I haven't been to a concert since I saw Willie Nelson in Dallas a couple of years ago.