Mesmerizing rock ‘n’ roll
VAIL – Leon Russell, the “Master of Space and Time,” mesmerized the multitude of people at Street Beat on Wednesday, March 29, in Vail Village with his golden aura and charmingly raspy voice. Russell, a true living legend, ascended the stage with his lengthy, flowing white hair and beard, wearing his trademark sunglasses dressed in a white suit and Alpaca cap. Large snowflakes started swirling about, as Russell did not hesitate to take total command of the stage backed by his captivating band. Numerous hippy fans began shouting his name as their passage back to youth began.Russell’s eclectic range of music has helped create his own distinctive genre encompassing rock ‘n’ roll, bluegrass, folk, pop, blues, country, Gospel, and he began studying classical piano at age 3. Russell started performing professionally at age 14, and then he got a break when Jerry Lee Lewis asked him to go on tour.
Jerry Lee has had an enduring influence on Russell, who has been dubbed the musical “ChameLeon” because of his unique mix of melodies for nearly six decades. Russell is one of the most prolific studio musicians, songwriters and record producers in the world. In conjunction with his successful solo career he has collaborated with Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, John Lennon, Jerry Lee Lewis, Billy Preston, Ringo Starr, Tom Petty, Willie Nelson, Joe Cocker, B.B. King, Ray Charles, Dave Mason, Rita Coolidge, J.J. Cale, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Earl Scruggs, Frank Sinatra, The Carpenters, Marvin Gaye, Ike and Tina Turner, Sam Cooke, and a plethora of other artists making it difficult to find one whose music has not been influenced by Russell.In 1970 Russell established himself as a major live performer, and “Billboard Magazine” reported that he was the top concert attraction in the world by 1973. Opening for Russell during this period were the likes of Elton John, ZZ Top, Willie Nelson, and Charlie Daniels.Russell won a Grammy in 1972 for album of the year for “The Concert for Bangla Desh” with George Harrison, and he won asecond Grammy in 2001 for best country instrumental performance for “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” with Earl Scruggs. In 2006 “A Song for You” written by Leon, was nominated for a Grammy for best pop collaboration with vocals performed by Christina Aguilera and Herbie Hancock.Russell’s gifted band consists of Jaime Babbitt (backing vocals), Jackie Wessel (backing vocals and bassist), J. “Curly” Speegle (guitarist and backing vocals) and Grant Whitman (percussionist). Babbitt has the voice of an angel and sang superbly as she danced shaking her tambourine. Wessel’s voice and playing complimented the group with his consistently smooth strokes, and Speegle played a solo blues number on slide guitar as well as any “Delta Blues Man” could. Speegle is one of the most entertaining, energetic, soulful musicians around and brings an electrifying touch to Russell’s impeccable band.
The snow continued to plummet, the crowd was mounting, and Russell kept pleasuring his flock of fans until 8 p.m. Some of my favorites that Russell that were played: “A Song For You, Prince of Peace, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Hummingbird, Back to the Island, and Delta Lady.” He concluded with “Great Balls of Fire” and walked gracefully using a cane from the stage glowing with magnetic charm and positive energy. Usually Russell signs autographs after his concerts, but unfortunately his bus was broken so he and the band went directly back to their rooms at The Evergreen Lodge. A few people in the audience cheered for more, but my family and I left with a special, uplifting feeling that only Russell could divinely arouse.I saw Leon in Memphis, Tenn., in 1973 and never dreamed that I would be watching him again 33 years later with my husband, David, and daughters Maggie and Betsy. They shared a “front row seat” by my side absorbing this magical, dreamlike evening in beautiful Vail, looking directly into the eyes of pop music’s most anonymous big shot. Steady snow fell on a river of people with smiling faces and dancing feet of all ages from Checkpoint Charlie to Bridge Street. Laughter, delight, great music, spellbinding snow, and dancing gave one the feeling of poetry in motion.
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