Leon Russell, the 74-year-old piano man and southern rock icon, passed away last night in Tennessee.
The manager of his Facebook page delivered the news with a sobering tone earlier this morning: “Musician Leon Russell has died in Nashville at the age of 74. His wife said he died in his sleep.”
According to The New York Times, Russell had experienced several serious health scares over the past five years including a brain fluid leak and a heart attack. He had been scheduled for additional heart surgery in the coming months.
Russell first began performing live as a teenager in Tulsa, Oklahoma with his band the Starlighters. The group (which included JJ Cale) is credited with developing The Tulsa Sound, a mix of rockabilly, blues and country music.
In the late 1950s, Russell moved out west to Los Angeles where he became a session musician. His studio resume is long, storied and unbeatable as he performed with the likes of Sam Cooke, the Byrds, the Beach Boys, George Harrison, Frank Sinatra, Glen Campbell and many others. By 1970, Russell released his eponymous debut album which features “A Song For You.” The tune has since been covered by Carpenters, the Temptations, and Ray Charles (who won a Grammy for his rendition in 1993).
In 1979, Russell and Willie Nelson released One for the Road, a collection of country and pop standards. Russell’s popularity faded throughout the ’80s and ’90s, but he continued to put out new material while still considered a coveted session musician.
In 2009, Sir Elton John collaborated with Russell on a new record, The Union, which inspired the Americana musician to return to a career on the road.
Leon Russell is survived by his wife Janet Lee Constantine and their six children.