Leon Russell: The Rolling Stone Interview
There’s where the interview was first scheduled. But when the Emerson-Loew photography team and I got there, he wasn’t ready. There was a new album and another tour ahead, he said. After that, we’d have something to talk about. Russell doesn’t much care to recite his credentials and his biography (that’s why we’ve done it here). So we met again on the first leg of his most recent tour, in Denver, Colorado; by then, he’d pretty well completed the new album, most of it done in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and he was ready to talk.
It was a good time to find out all about Leon. He was in town a couple of days before the concert, resting up in a city he’d conquered twice before – once with Cocker; once with the stage/plantation all to his own band. His upcoming concert at the old Mammoth Gardens (formerly a roller skating rink) was in doubt – a hassle over the promoter not getting the ventilation fixed, you know. But that night, everyone went ahead, the Gardens was filled, and Russell, the image flashing out by way of a Malcolm X shirt, violet jeans, and a feathered cap provided backstage by a lady fan, Tinker Bell, was on top of it, talking soft and playing tough, a lot of the songs sounding alike and echoing back and forth to each other – one, two, three, four – amid the smoke and muggy unventilated air, the act and the audience very close to each other.
Sort of like the way it was back home on Skyhill Road.
Why were you here two, three days before the concert?
Well, we just came from Phoenix, and we really had a nice time the last time we were here. Not that we’ve had really a bad time this time, but it was just sort of weird, going through my first restaurant discrimination the other day. They refused to serve me and Don Nix at “Mr. Steaks,” and it really surprised me, because the people here seem to be not really into that stuff.
I’ve never been refused service in a restaurant before, even in the South.
Have you ever been attacked or shouted at?
Oh, yeah. We used to have a point system from one to ten. If they actually came up and hit you it was “ten,” and if it was just a double-take, it might be a “one.” I got a lot of “nines” in Dallas and places like that. They come up and stare you right in the face and say, “What’re you doin’! Why do you look the way you look? What’s your scene? Communist!” Yell, and chase you down the airport corridors and shit.
Chasing would scare me, because people can join in on chases very fast. Snowball . . .
Dallas is a weird community, at best. Here, I think it’s just fear. Like the lady that threw me out of the restaurant was obviously afraid of me. So I didn’t – I just left as quick as I could . . .
Did she give a reason for not serving you?
No. I said, “Why?” and she said, “We won’t serve you.” And I said, “Why?” And she said, “Because we don’t want to.”
It’s a funny thing, because people who can’t understand long hair ask, “Why?” And we basically say, “Because we want to; we enjoy it.” You know, “it’s my choice.”
Yeah, I can really understand that, though, because right before my hair was long I used to see some of my freaky friends running around, and I’d say, “What’s it all about? What’re you doing?” All of a sudden I had a Frank Sinatra session, and I had my ducktail, my Sebring, Elvis Presley haircut, and I just didn’t have time to go through the do, you know, so I just said hang it. There was so many people that I considered to be my friends who came up to me and just coerced me. Said all kinds of weird things. And so I thought: “Well, this is very strange.” Sinatra, as a matter of fact, did a double-take; I was the only one like that in the session. And I thought: “Well, that’s at least an ‘eight’.” It was weird because it all looked the same to me and from my point of view, everything was exactly the same. People just seemed to be bringing in these hostilities. So I decided to see how far it goes, and I’m still the same. The hair was pretty long . . .
And you lacquered and sprayed it?
Consumed those products . . .
Deadly chemicals . . .
But I’m not an ecology freak . . . nor Women’s Liberation. I’m almost totally politically inactive.
As Dick Cavett says, “Politics bores my ass off.” But would you play free concerts?
If everybody’d agree to quit using money, I’d be happy to play for free every day for awhile. But I don’t play benefits or any kind of fund-raisers. I prefer to play at hospitals, for people who otherwise can’t see us. But I can’t see playing for causes, whatever the cause may be.
What if the cause is one you deeply believe in, and you can be a key point in its success?
I’m not so much of a person for causes, unless I specifically – for instance, if it’s my cause, or some poor people’s, I’ll try to help. But you won’t find me playing for any peace candidates – or any candidates.
I just played for a mentally retarded children’s hospital in Oklahoma – just before we went to Muscle Shoals – and it was one of the most profound experiences of my life. It was all I could do to keep from crying long enough to sing the songs. I finally quit singing and just said the words . . .
Kanye West Says Jonah Hill in '21 Jump Street' 'Made Me Like Jewish People Again'
- 'Thank You Jonah Hill'