PERFORMING ARTS

Leon Russell: The Master of Space and Time’s Journey Through Rock & Roll History

Hachette Mar. 2023. 592p. ISBN 9780306924774. $31. MUSIC
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Janovitz (Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of the Rolling Stones) takes a deep dive into the life of underappreciated rock icon Leon Russell (1942–2016). Russell moved from Tulsa to L.A. and shot to fame in the ’60s and ’70s as a solo artist and bandleader/arranger/producer. He collaborated with Joe Cocker, George Harrison, and Bob Dylan; he went on to influence many artists whose fame surpassed his, such as Elton John and Tom Petty. Russell epitomized the 1970s hippie ethos, living in a commune-like house and traveling with enormous entourages. The many (many) people Janovitz quotes from primary and secondary sources describe drug-fueled parties, casual sex, tour hijinks, and the inevitable rifts and feuds. They discuss his musical wizardry, dark moods, and self-destructive behavior. Family members discuss Russell’s later years. Janovitz intersperses his own observations and critiques, along with exhaustive lists of musicians who played with Russell, and occasional technical descriptions of his music.
VERDICT With so many overlapping narratives and meanderings, this crowdsourced mélange lacks a throughline to the main man. However, it will send Russell’s fans to their hi-fis to give his music another listen.
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