Photo by David McClister
“I’m basically what is known as a talented illusionist.” So says piano wizard Leon Russell, but the Oklahoma native is being more than somewhat modest. His C.V. is as impressive as they come: First-call member of the legendary ’60s L.A. studio collective known as The Wrecking Crew, co-founder of Shelter Records in 1969 with Denny Cordell, spearhead of Joe Cocker’s infamous 1970 Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, and beneficiary of a revived recording career by teaming up with Elton John on 2010′s T Bone Burnett-produced The Union. On his just-released Life Journey (UMe), Russell comes full circle to show his mastery of the form on tasty covers like his piano-vamp stab at Robert Johnson’s “Come on in My Kitchen,” a slip-slidin’ romp through “Fever,” and a swing-sational full-orchestral take on Duke Ellington’s “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good.” Here, Russell, 72, and I discuss his ever-unique recording technique, what it’s like being “out on the edge,” and his time in the studio with Frank Sinatra. Face it, Brother Leon: You’re a one-man Wrecking Crew unto yourself.