No regrets for resurgent musician Leon Russell

Tue Jun 21, 2011 9:04am EDT
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By Mark Egan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Leon Russell toiled in obscurity for decades, until recording with Elton John brought him an unlikely hit, but says he was never bitter his fame disappeared because that's just what happens to aging rockers.

"I didn't start out to become famous, so when it disappeared I thought, well, that happens sometimes," Russell told Reuters in an interview in New York where he was inducted last week into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. "It does happen."

Wearing dark sunglasses with a long gray beard and hair, the musician known for his gravelly voice and blues-influenced piano playing admitted his distaste of the media was no help.

"I was avoiding the press, I really didn't like doing (interviews), so that more than anything is what it was," he said. "I didn't like to talk to people who didn't really know me and didn't care about me."

A session musician who throughout the 1960s played on countless records made by everyone from Frank Sinatra to The Beach Boys, Russell is best known as Joe Cocker's bandleader and won critical acclaim and commercial success for his early 1970s solo records.

"I have never been off stage for the past 50 years," said Russell, known for writing such rock classics as "Delta Lady" and "A Song For You."

At the height of his fame in the 1970s, Russell filled arenas. As his fame waned, he played small nightclubs.

"I was used to playing in front of 20,000 and then with only 300 seats, the audience was right up in my face," he said. "That took a bit of getting used to. It was different to what I was used to, but they all have their charms."   Continued...