Elton John and Leon Russell

Elton John and Leon Russell
November 3, 2010, Hollywood Palladium


Sometimes in rock music, it takes a while for things to come full circle. Four decades is an inordinately long time in the evanescent world of rock, but that is what will happen on November 3.  Elton John will join his hero Leon Russell on stage at the Palladium.  It was 40 years ago that Elton opened for Leon on the former’s explosive debut US tour.  (Portions of those shows appeared on Elton’s eponymous live album 11-17-70). 

Given the early infatuation Elton (and co-writer Bernie Taupin) had with all things American, it is not surprising the affinity Elton has had for Leon.  Leon has long delved deep into the soul/gospel/RnB vein, drawing from his Oklahoman upbringing. He developed a lucrative career as a reliable session player, performing gigs with everyone from Clapton, Sinatra, Dylan, The Byrds, The Beach Boys to half of The Beatles (Ringo and George) and the Rolling Stones. Phil Spector often hired Leon, “probably the last time anyone recorded with two pianos,” noted Elton.

A year ago, Bernie, Elton and Leon started writing songs and the result is a new album called The Union, produced by the eclectic T-Bone Burnett and set for release in mid-October.  Burnett was available after his gig fell through at the controls for the follow-up album from Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.

Joining the pianists on the 14 track album are notable guests Brian Wilson and Neil Young (no promises about either showing up at the Palladium).  Cameron (“Almost Famous”) Crowe shot the recording sessions. The first single “If It Wasn’t For Bad” is a somber tune, possibly reflective of Leon’s recent brain surgery. The bluesy melody opens with a gospel choir, and quickly finds its groove over a loping piano riff.  Leon takes the lead vocals, his rounded vowels as familiar as ever. The song evokes a pivotal album for Elton, the Stones’ Exile on Main Street. Neither Elton nor Leon expect any hit singles or radio airplay for The Union.

But the LA gig promises to be a sort of homecoming.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.