When Leon Russell collaborated with Elton John for the T-Bone Burnett produced The Union (2009), many across the music fan world finally gave credence to one of rock’s most overlooked giants. Having spent intermittent portions of his legendary and lengthy career near equally as a versatile sideman/session musician (George Harrison, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra), prolific songwriter (“A Song For You,” “Delta Lady”) and front man, Russell’s accomplishments were recognized in 2011 when he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
When Russell, also known as “The Master of Space and Time,” walked out onto the stage on a late September night in Virginia Beach, he did so while slightly leaning on his cane, ambling his way to his stage home, the keys. This would be the first of two times that he would be fully seen well for the duration of the evening, with the other being when he departed. The rest of the time would find him hidden behind his laptop that played the role of teleprompter and perhaps sheet music at times) and other equipment.
Regardless of a poor visual axis, that was perhaps intentional, when he sang and played, there was no mistaking who was seated behind the shroud. His playing was impeccable and his voice, strong; these elements, and in spite of zero crowd interaction, were plenty for the crowd of the few hundred gathered diehards.
Backed by Jackie Wessell, Russell’s bassist for 25 years, the downright amazing Chris Simmons on lead guitar, multi-instrumentalist Beau Charron and drummer, Brandon Holder, Russell managed to keep a tight band, that could let loose on their own, fully under his leading restraint.
If there was one complaint about the evening — illegitimate as it would be — it would have been in regards to the set’s length of 90 minutes. But for a man of Russell’s age (80) and status (legendary), he offered plenty and on this night, all in attendance simply considered themselves lucky to be witnessing what we did: an hour and a half of a catalogue spanning effort, with a few covers mixed in, that was capped with a “thank you” from one of rock’s greats.
Click the thumbnails to view photos from the show by Mark Robbins…
— Honest Tune Magazine (@HonestTuneMag) October 16, 2012