Song of the Week – Delta Lady, Leon Russell


If I told you that almost 45 years ago someone recorded an album that had appearances by 2 Beatles (Harrison and Starr), 3 Stones (Jagger, Wyman and Watts), 2 Blind Faith (Clapton and Winwood) a Domino (Jim Gordon – as in Derek & The…) Joe Cocker, Klaus Voormann and others – would you believe me?

Leon Russell released his first solo album in 1970 with that stellar cast of backing musicians. Of course, they didn’t all perform on every song. And I’ve scoured the internet trying to find the details of who played on which songs but thus far have come up empty. But one thing is for certain, Leon Russell is a great album.

Leon had a great career. Early on he made his way from Oklahoma to LA where he was a member of Phil Spector’s “Wrecking Crew” and played on many of the most important records in Rock history. In the mid 60s he was a member of the house band for the pop music TV series Shindig! that ran for two seasons on ABC.

By the late 60s/early 70s he hooked up with Delaney & Bonnie and then Joe Cocker – he was the musical director for Cocker’s famous Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour. He also did a great set at George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh. If you’re over 50 you’ve probably heard it. If not, you should check out his “Jumping Jack Flash/Youngblood Medley.”

Today’s SotW is “Delta Lady” from that debut solo album mentioned earlier. Here’s the album version.

But you should really check out this live version too. I have no idea where it was filmed. It seems to be on a soundstage somewhere. After a couple of false starts, Leon and the band really kick into gear. (Also check out the backing vocals by Cathy McDonald. Amazing!)

Many of you will recognize the song from the “more popular” Joe Cocker version. But Leon’s is much earthier. It is a prime example of Russell’s own brand of American roots music. It’s funky, bluesy, gospely (is that a word?) and sung with his trademark Southern drawl. (Rita Coolidge was his inspiration for the song.)

“Delta Lady” is one of Russell’s best known songs but others were even more popular. His single “Tightrope” almost cracked the Top 10 in 1972. Its flip side, This Masquerade” was the most popular song on George Benson’s hit album Breezin’ (1976). That song was also recorded by The Carpenters, who strangely (IMHO), had a strong connection with Russell’s songs. They hit with “Superstar” — co-written by Delaney Bramlett – (#2, 1971) and used “A Song for You” as the title song for their 1972 album.

In 2010, Elton John cited Russell as one of his biggest influences. He rescued Russell from near obscurity and they recorded an album together, The Union, that reached #3 in the US charts.

Enjoy… until next week.

9 thoughts on “Song of the Week – Delta Lady, Leon Russell

  1. Tom, the sound stage video clip you are referencing was a historic 1971 broadcast on KCET Channel 28 in Los Angeles called “Homewood” and the only reason it still exists is because a precious handful of Angeleno early adopters and techie heads had old U-Matic and BetaMax industrial VCR’s running to record it. It has survived all these years as a much sought after bootleg.
    The actual master tapes were destroyed in a huge fire that struck the KCET vault some time in the 1990’s.

    If you ever manage to connect with any “Leon Lifers” on social media, they will be more than happy to fill in the rest of the blanks. Anyway, thank you so much for remembering “The Master of Space and Time”, Leon Russell 🙂

  2. Great story about the umatic tapes. Thanks Jeffrey.

    I loved Leon Russell and the Shelter People albums, and remember being wowed that he played piano with Frank Sinatra. My hand is up on This Diamond Ring, both hands really. What I know is that my teenage head had no room until about this time for the idea of session players.

  3. Peter, for decades that Homewood bootleg was getting passed around in HORRIBLE condition because people would make copies off an old Beta onto VHS, then other fans would make copies of the VHS copies, then copies of the copy of the copy, etc…you know how that goes.

    And THEN, with the advent of modern digital desktop editing and DVD burning, nearly pristine copies started showing up! It was incredible to finally get to see the concert “almost as good as live”…except that the original broadcast was SIX HOURS long, and the bootleg was only maybe the best 90 minutes or so of those six wonderful hours.

    People started bugging KCET to re-release the show, and I am not sure but I believe that I heard that some movement in a positive direction was perhaps imminent.
    And then came the terrible fire at the KCET archives, and all was lost.
    What a TRAGEDY it was. Channel 28 lost almost 75 percent of everything they had in that blaze, it was enough to make you cry, and among them it was determined that the Homewood Sessions happened to be one of the crispy casualties.

    So it is by no small miracle that these Homewood tapes even exist at all.
    If anyone wants one, you’re on your own but chances are very good that you can purchase them by just starting with a simple Google search and some rummaging around on eBay using something like “Leon Russell Homewood” for a search string.
    I normally am not a fan of unauthorized bootlegs but as there is absolutely NO other way to see this performance, it’s this or nothing, and all Leon fans are eager to have Homewood on their shelf.

    Another interesting note: I am ALSO told that Homewood is THE very first time a TV station did a simulcast with a stereo FM radio station. Stereo TV didn’t exist and the three inch speaker was an indication of the sad state of affairs in TV audio at the time so the truly lucky were able to tune to “????-FM” (I don’t remember the call letters) and HEAR the Leon Russell Homewood Sessions in high quality stereo as they watched on Channel 28. So this was a technical “first” in many ways, in keeping with Leon’s LOVE of doing cutting edge tech in both the music and visual arts.

    The show was introduced that night by none other than celebrated Los Angeles movie critic Charles Champlin, and everyone was pleasantly surprised because he clearly was a fan of Leon Russell.

    Oh what I wouldn’t have given to be in the studio audience as Miss Claudia Lennear and her talented gal pal vocalists shook the tailfeather and Sweet Emily baked an actual apple pie while Leon jammed with the best and brightest for the benefit of a TV audience of millions.

    Good times 🙂

  4. When I moved to LA in 1974, to go to college, I respected Charles Champlin because he was the Vincent Canby of the LA Times, but he clearly didn’t know shit compared to Kevin Thomas, the b-list critic. But lots of props to him for being on the Leon Russell train.

    Love the miracle of the Homewood tapes, though perhaps not as much as the miracle of the morning wood. But that’s a different type of Umatic.


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