Leon Russell, a hit-making musician and producer, has died at 74.


Russell died in Nashville following complications from a heart bypass surgery in July of this year, but his passing was just revealed today. He planned to return to touring in January, according to his wife.

Russell was known for his Santa-like appearance, with long, whispy, white hair down his back and a large white beard covering his face. He primarily played piano, and was featured in recording sessions with such famed acts as Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, Ike and Tina Turner, and many others. He wrote many hits, including Joe Cocker’s “Delta Lady,” and even helped produce Cocker’s “Mad Dog and Englishmen” tour in 1969.

Russell recorded some songs of his own, like “Tight Rope” and “Lady Blue,” and participated in “The Concert for Bangladesh.” On his first album, the self-titled Leon Russell, he had help from John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr.


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In 1973, Billboard Magazine declared him the top concert attraction in the world, during the same time he was headlining acts that included Willie Nelson and Elton John. In fact, Russell and Elton John released a duo album in 2010 called The Union, which received positive reviews.

Russell began his career as a night club piano player in Oklahoma at 14 years old, and he would back touring artists that came to town. Jerry Lee Lewis discovered Russell and hired him to tour with his band for two years.

“It’s cyclical, like fashion,” Russell said of music in a 1992 interview. “You keep your old clothes and they’ll be in style again sooner or later. There are new things like rap, but that’s a rebirth of poetry. It’s brought poetry to the public consciousness.”

Russell was inducted in the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2011, and was also honored with an Award for Music Excellence from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In 2000, Russell started his own record label, Leon Russell Records, which still exists today.

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