What can you say about Leon Russell that hasn’t been said a thousand times before? At various times in his life, he has blown the roof off of Madison Square Garden in front of 20,000 fans and a few dozen movie cameras at George Harrison’s Concert For Bangladesh, he’s toured the world as a solo act and as a member of the groundbreaking Mad Dogs And Englishmen tour with the late great Joe Cocker, and he’s written arguably one of the greatest love songs of the 20th Century.
That’s not even mentioning his induction into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.
Along the way he has worked as a session musician as well as explored Gospel, Blues, Country, and Bluegrass finding ways to integrate them into his barrelhouse style of rock and roll.
The trademark long white hair is still tucked beneath his white cowboy hat, showing off his Oklahoma roots, the white beard is just short of Santa Claus length, and his mobility may not be what it once was, but there are few that have as strong of a fan base that have stayed with him every step of the way in his career.
Russell rolled into Richmond with four band members; multi-instrumentalist Beau Charron who played lead amd rhythm guitar, pedal steel guitar, some keyboard and mandolin; Jackie Wessell on electric and stand-up bass; Brandon Holder on drums; and the last member is the sound manager and tour manager Paul “The General” Lee. If you don’t think a sound manager is not an equal member of the band, try hooking up your own equipment and trying to find a good sound while playing.
Russell’s stage is dominated by his white baby grand piano and he is flanked on his left by the bass player, the right is for the guitar player and the back of the stage belongs to the drummer. With Russell’s health issues he came in using a cane, but once he parked himself in front of the piano, his playing and vocals dominated the 90-minute set.
He opened with Elvis’ version of I Got A Woman and then proceeded to tell the story of when he met Elvis. He quickly moved through some of his better known songs, and even launched into some covers punctuated with stories about some of his famous friends.
One set ran through Wild Horses, into Georgia On My Mind and ended with I’ve Just Seen A Face that had the audience in tears and finally exhilaration with many members of the audience members dancing in their chairs or the miniscule space beside them.
The Tin Pan does not have a dance floor. It’s designed to be a concert hall, but when people got to move, they’ve got to move.
As he neared the end of his concert, the three band members on stage took a small break and he played a few songs solo. He played a soulful version of His Eyes Are On the Sparrow and dedicated it to his late friend Reverend Andrae Crouch. I can’t speak for the others who were silenced by the beautiful rendition, but I wiped away more than a few tears.
After a couple of more songs including A Song For You, one of the greatest love songs of all time, the band was done except for one encore. Russell asked the audience to pretend that they all left and came back and they launched into Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven to send people out dancing and begging for more.
It was an amazing show and the sold out audience fell all over themselves to thank Russell and Company for tearing up the place.
The opening act was Jefferson Grizzard, a one-man band – a voice and a guitar who sat on a stool and played beautiful songs coupled with some artful lyrics. I wasn’t familiar with Grizzard prior to the show, and I wish he had stayed around after the show to sell CDs and meet his fans.
If you find yourself in Richmond, be sure to check out the Tin Pan to see who they have playing. Some of the acts coming in the future include John Mayall, Marshall Crenshaw, Roomful of Blues, and many others. Check them out at http://www.tinpanrva.com/.
(Photo of Beau Charron, Brandon Holder, and Leon Russell taken by Mrs. Professor. So, you can't make us take it down. More pictures may show up later...)