Elton John Brings Leon Russell Back to Center Stage
It was only a few short months ago that Elton John announced plans to do a collaborative album with the man he refers to as his musical idol, Leon Russell. The 14-song CD, 'The Union,' which was produced by T-Bone Burnett, will hit shelves next week. And as Elton admits, the entire project was solely to pay homage to his hero.
"I want to make sure he has a great career ahead of him," Elton tells Billboard magazine of the country legend. "I don't want him driving around the country doing five shows a week in his bus any more. I just want him to be comfortable, have a new publishing deal, get him back into public consciousness and keep him there."
Leon, who started his climb to fame the same time as Elton more than 50 years ago, is seemingly unaffected by Elton's worldwide star power, and is just grateful to make a living doing what he loves. "I'm happy to have a job," Leon says. "Between he and his manager, Johnny Barbis, they treat me like a king."
The legendary musician, who has played with everyone from Frank Sinatra to The Rolling Stones, adds that he has spent most of his life on the road, but says his current tour with Elton is a definite upgrade from his own bus. "I'm always home," he adds. "It's just that every day when I wake up I'm in a different location. I appreciate Elton trying to raise my [travel] class, though."
Elton, who decided to do the duets project as a way to bring Leon back to the limelight, says using T-Bone to produce the project was a natural choice. "It's hard to do a duets record that doesn't sound forced," John says. "I wanted it to be like Robert Plant and Alison Krauss' 'Raising Sand,'" which was also produced by T-Bone.
Thankfully, T-Bone, who won an Academy Award for his musical contributions to the Oscar-winning film, 'Crazy Heart' is a fan of both Leon and Elton, and was happy to jump on board. "Leon's career in recent years has been like 'Crazy Heart' without the drugs and booze," Elton recognizes. "Not bitter, not the slightest bit bitter, but maybe he lost his confidence."
Elton and Leon will kick off their tour October 19, the same day as 'The Union' hits shelves, performing in both the U.S. and London, as well as making plans to tour together in 2011. But if Elton has his way, this is just the beginning of their professional relationship. "I want to make a record of 1950s songs, recording live with an orchestra, having Leon play piano and me just sing," Elton reveals. "I should have gotten in touch with him, maybe years before, but I'm a great believer that everything happens at the time it's supposed to. This is just such a joyous thing. I want to see his smile when he sees his name on the charts again."