[artist id="15484"]Leon Russell[/artist], the wispy keyboardist who guested with the [artist id="3096016"]Zac Brown Band[/artist] at the Grammy Awards on Sunday night (January 31), brought decades of experience and legendary performances to the stage.
Born Claude Russell Bridges in Oklahoma in 1942, the keyboardist began his career in the nightclubs of Tulsa in his early teens. After relocating to Los Angeles, he became a part of Phil Spector’s legendary team of session musicians, performing on many of Spector’s biggest hits, as well as songs by the Byrds, Herb Alpert and others.
His first hit as a songwriter was Joe Cocker’s take on “Delta Lady.” He then helmed Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour, at which many felt Russell stole the show. He also took the spotlight during George Harrison’s 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, singing a medley of the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and the ’50s hit “Young Blood” (he also played piano on the Stones’ 1969 album Let It Bleed).
Apart from his 1972 hit album Carney (featuring the hits “Tight Rope” and “This Masquerade”), Russell’s solo efforts have met with limited success, but he has written hit songs for others, including “Superstar,” co-written with Bonnie Bramlett, which was later rendered by the Carpenters, Luther Vandross and Sonic Youth; and especially “A Song for You,” which has been covered by Donny Hathaway, Christina Aguilera and many others. He also had a country hit in 1979, a cover of the Elvis Presley classic “Heartbreak Hotel” performed with Willie Nelson.
Throughout the ’80s, Russell continued to tour and pump out live and studio albums, including the country disc Hank Wilson Vol. II in 1984. The next decade, he teamed up with Bruce Hornsby for Anything Can Happen. In 2001, Russell won a Grammy for his collaboration with Earl Scruggs and friends on “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”
At Willie Nelson’s 70th birthday celebration at the Beacon Theatre in New York in 2003, Russell performed “A Song for You” with Nelson and Ray Charles. In the new millennium, Russell has continued to record music on his own label and has toured, even hitting Japan at one point during a three-year-long stint on the road.
During Sunday’s Grammy performance, Zac Brown opened with a rendition of “America the Beautiful” before bringing out Russell, who hammered away at the piano as Brown and his band busted through their hit song “Chicken Fried.”
Stick with MTV News for our coverage of the 2010 Grammy Awards! We’ll have reports on your favorite nominees, party photos, behind-the-scenes video and much more from the big show!