Leon Russell is one of the most influential figures in American music today. Born in Lawton, Oklahoma in 1941, Russell has worked with many of the greatest names in music today, influencing such musical names as Joe Cocker, Delaney & Bonnie and B.B. King; while also lending his talents to the likes of The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and former Beatles George Harrison and Ringo Starr. On Thursday night, Leon Russell brought his elegant style and massive talent to the Star Bar in Fridley, Minnesota where he performed for a very appreciative and enthusiastic audience.
The evening's entertainment opened with 90 minute set by Molly Nova and The Hawk, featuring an interesting variation on blues rock with Nova pouring out some fantastic solos on the electric violin. The band did a nice job of combining elements of blues, rock, jazz and soul in their performance that included original material, as well as interesting covers of great songs like The Allman Brothers, "Whipping Post" and the often covered classic, "Baby, Please Don't Go."
After a short break for a set change, Leon Russell and his five piece band took the stage at promptly 11:00 p.m. Russell's band was very well rehearsed and provided excellent backing. The band members included Russell's daughter Sugaree Noel on rhythm (beaded gourd), John Giles (guitar), Jackie Wessel (bass) and Grant Whitman (drums). Giles and Wessel provided nice harmonies as backing vocalists, while Giles guitar played well off of Russell's keyboards and Wessel's driving bass.
In a very crisp 75 minute set without a break or comment, Russell blazed through a fantastic combination of classic covers such as "Jumpin' Jack Flash" by The Rolling Stones and the Willie Nelson nugget, "Nightlife." Of course, the masterful set included many of his most memorable original songs, including "Hummingbird," "A Song For You," "Delta Lady" and "Dixie Lullaby, in versions that provided some nice variation on the originals. Most of the set included the full band, except for a short section featuring Russell performing solo on the piano in a medley that revolved around his memorable piece, "A Song For You."
After running through a high energy version of the classic, "Kansas City," Russell and company left the stage for the evening. Interestingly, after jamming a two hour set worth of music into 75 minutes, no one left the Star Bar dissatisfied with the evening. It was an exceptional show by an exceptional showman and one that won't soon be forgotten by those in attendance.
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