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The definitive biography of legendary musician, composer, and performer Leon Russell, a profound influence on countless artists, including George Harrison, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Willie Nelson, Tom Petty, and the world of music as a whole.
Leon Russell is an icon, but somehow is still an underappreciated artist. He is spoken of in tones reserved not just for the most talented musicians, but also for the most complex and fascinating. His career is like a roadmap of music history, often intersecting with rock royalty like Bob Dylan, the Stones, and the Beatles. He started in the Fifties as a teenager touring with Jerry Lee Lewis, going on to play piano on records by such giants as Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, and Phil Spector, and on hundreds of classic songs with major recording artists. Leon was Elton John’s idol, and Elton inducted him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. Leon also gets credit for altering Willie Nelson’s career, giving us the long-haired, pot-friendly Willie we all know and love today.
In his prime, Leon filled stadiums on solo tours, and was an organizer/performer on both Joe Cocker’s revolutionary Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour and George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh. Leon also founded Shelter Records in 1969 with producer Denny Cordell, discovering and releasing the debut albums of Tom Petty, the Gap Band, Phoebe Snow, and J.J. Cale. Leon always assembled wildly diverse bands and performances, fostering creative and free atmospheres for musicians to live and work together. He brazenly challenged musical and social barriers. However, Russell also struggled with his demons, including substance abuse, severe depression, and a crippling stage fright that wreaked havoc on his psyche over the long haul and at times seemed to will himself into obscurity. Now, acclaimed author and founding member of Buffalo Tom, Bill Janovitz shines the spotlight on one of the most important music makers of the twentieth century.
“Get ready to truly meet Leon Russell—one of music’s most unforgettable, colorful, and supremely gifted characters. Thanks to Bill Janovitz’s thoroughly captivating storytelling, here’s the definitive portrait as lively and essential as Russell himself.”—Cameron Crowe
“There is only one man ever called the Master of Space and Time, and for good reason. Alongside his own majestic music, Leon Russell’s otherworldly cosmic touch on the keyboards has enhanced the songs of countless rock gods and goddesses, lifting them to the stratosphere. I was fortunate to be in the studio the night he played piano on the Flying Burrito Brothers’ version of the Stones’ Wild Horses, and the purity of his playing made me weep. Bill Janovitz takes us on a deep dive through the swirling currents and down the rocky roads of a bonafide musical genius, capturing his huge heart in the process. Finally, a song for Leon.”—Pamela Des Barres, author of I’m with the Band“
An eccentric, contrary genius, Leon Russell is one of the most compelling, misunderstood, and neglected figures in rock history. Bill Janovitz has unraveled the riddle of the rock n’roll sphinx in this masterful, majestic book. His love and admiration for Russell bleeds from every paragraph, yet he pulls no punches when it comes to Leon’s life or his work. Janovitz brings the circus of characters surrounding Russell to life in vivid, sometimes hilarious detail. His research is impeccable, unerring; his deeply considered opinions of Russell’s music unimpeachable. This is a biography for the ages, as thrilling an inspired as any piano solo from Leon himself. You really want to know what it’s like to be a flawed superstar in the fabulous world of rock? Here it is, on a fiery platter.”—Jimmy McDonough, author of Shakey: Neil Young’s Biography
“Bill Janovitz has drawn back the curtain on this seminal yet incredibly complex and mysterious figure in American Music. After reading the book, I feel as though I’ve met the man, and certainly understand so much more about this singular musical genius. A detailed, absorbing read.”—Elliot Easton, The Cars
“Leon’s journey in music was vast and deep. It takes a researcher and author of great insight and clarity to make sense of it and provide a map for the rest of us. Here’s Bill doing exactly that.”—Mike Scott, The Waterboys
“Although I’ve read just about every music biography in existence, I do have some blind spots. Case in point: when I started reading this book, I thought Leon Russell was Leon Redbone. Janovitz has schooled me so thoroughly on this musical genius I’m certain I can teach a course on Leon at my local community college.”—Jon Wurster, writer/performer/drummer (Superchunk, Bob Mould, Mountain Goats)
“An ambitiously comprehensive biography of a musical supernova…. [Janovitz] succeeds in creating a full portrait of a ‘Stranger in a Strange Land….’ Definitive.”—Kirkus Reviews
Praise for Bill Janovitz:
“Janovitz is an extremely engaging companion…he is consistently illuminating, not only defending his songs well, but inspiring you to think more strenuously about the selections you would add or delete.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Rocks Off is an intense pleasure–a series of love letters plus a few notes of despair…Janovitz opened my mind.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Through loving and informed close readings of fifty pivotal Stones songs, Bill Janovitz finds a new way to tell the band’s story–and reminds even the biggest fans that for all the drama, gossip, and myth that has always surrounded the Rolling Stones, it is the music that will stand forever.”—Alan Light, author of Let’s Go Crazy and The Holy or the Broken
“Seasoned rock musician Bill Janovitz, co-founder of Buffalo Tom, evokes the gritty brilliance of the Rolling Stones in exactly the right way–by digging deep into their music. The 50 essays, each describing a key song in the band’s 50 year career, weave Janovitz’s fastidious research with his passion for music to make the Stones come alive on the page. By the time he’s done Janovitz proves that the Stones catalogue isn’t only rock ‘n’ roll, it’s five decades of cultural history set in rhythm, blues and serious bad-assery.”—Peter Ames Carlin, author of Sonic Boom and Homeward Bound