Stranger In a Strange Land ~ Leon Russell

leon-russellLeon Russell  is an American musician and songwriter, who has recorded as a session musician, sideman, and maintained a solo career in music.

Born in Lawton, Oklahoma, he began playing piano at the age of four. Russell attended Will Rogers High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At this time he was already performing at Tulsa nightclubs. After moving to Los Angeles, he became a session musician, working as a pianist on the recordings of many notable musical artists since the 1960s. By the late 1960s, Russell diversified, becoming successful as an arranger  and wrote and co-wrote songs. As a musician, he worked his way from gigs as a sideman to well known performers. By 1970 he had graduated to solo recording artist, although he never ended all his previous roles within the music industry.

Russell was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on Monday, March 14, 2011, at a black-tie dinner at The Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Manhattan.

Russell began his musical career at the age of 14 in the nightclubs of Tulsa, Oklahoma. He and his group The Starlighters, which included J.J. Cale, Leo Feathers, Chuck Blackwell and Johnny Williams,were instrumental in creating the style of music known as the Tulsa Sound. After settling in Los Angeles, he studied guitar with James Burton. Known mostly as a session musician early in his career, as a solo artist he has crossed genres to include rock and roll, blues, and gospel music, playing with artists as varied as Jan & Dean, Gary Lewis, George Harrison, Gram Parsons, Delaney Bramlett, Ringo Starr, Doris Day , Andre Beeka, Elton John, Ray Charles, Eric Clapton, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, The Ventures, Willie Nelson, Badfinger, Tijuana Brass, Frank Sinatra, The Band, Bob Dylan, BB King, Dave Mason, Glen Campbell, and The Rolling Stones.

As a first call studio musician in Los Angeles, Russell played on many of the most popular songs of the 1960s, including some by The Byrds, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Bobby “Boris” Pickett, and Herb Alpert. He can be seen in 1964′s “The T.A.M.I. Show”, playing piano with “The Wrecking Crew” (an informal name for the top L.A. session musicians of the 1960s), sporting short, dark, slicked-back hair, in contrast to his later look. Soon after, he was hired as Snuff Garrett’s assistant/creative developer, playing on numerous #1 singles, including “This Diamond Ring” by Gary Lewis and the Playboys. He wrote or co-wrote two hit songs for Gary Lewis and Playboys: “Everybody Loves a Clown” (which hit the Billboard Top 40 on October 9, 1965, remaining on the chart for 8 weeks and rising to number 4) and “She’s Just My Style” (which hit Billboard’s Top 40 on December 18, 1965 and rose to number 3). He played xylophone and bells on the 1966 single “The Joker Went Wild”, sung by Brian Hyland and penned by Bobby Russell (no relation to Leon). He also worked sessions with Dorsey Burnette and Glen Campbell on Campbell’s 1967 album Gentle on My Mind, where he was credited as “Russell Bridges” on piano.

Russell’s first commercial success as a songwriter came when Joe Cocker recorded the song “Delta Lady” for his 1969 album, Joe Cocker!  The album, produced and arranged by Russell, reached #11 on the Billboard 200. Russell went on to organize and perform in the tour supporting Cocker’s album, Mad Dogs and Englishmen. “Superstar”, co-written by Russell, Delaney Bramlett and Bonnie Bramlett, was sung by Rita Coolidge on that tour and later proved a success for The Carpenters, Luther Vandross, Sonic Youth and other performers.

Stranger In a Strange Land

One of Leon Russell’s tender, well-crafted ballads, “Stranger in a Strange Land” is a unique parable of a musician’s life and his sense of alienation from the rest of the world. The title, of course, was borrowed from a very influential science fiction book of the 1960s, and this lends weight to Russell’s lyrics. The melody is positively delicious, with some excellent minor-key gospel lines that intermingle around the piano and gospel choir.

How many days has it been
Since I was born
How many days until I die
Do I know any ways
That I can make you laugh
Or do I only know how to make you cry

When the baby looks around him
It’s such a sight to see
He shares a simple secret
With the wise man

He’s a stranger in a strange land
Just a stranger in a strange land
Tell me why
He’s a stranger in a strange land
Just a stranger in a strange land

How many miles will it take
To see the sun
And how many years until it’s done
Kiss my confusion away in the night
Lay by side when the morning comes

And the baby looks around him
And shares his bed of hay
With the burrow in the palace of the king

He’s a stranger in a strange land
Tell me why
He’s a stranger in a strange land
Just a stranger in a strange land

Well, I don’t exactly know
What’s going on in the world today
Don’t know what there is to say
About the way the people are treating
Each other, not like brothers

Leaders take us far away from ecology
With mythology and astrology
Has got some words to say
About the way we live today
Why can’t we learn to love each other
It’s time to turn a new face
To the whole world wide human race

Stop the money chase
Lay back, relax
Get back on the human track
Stop racing toward oblivion
Oh, such a sad, sad state we’re in
And that’s a thing

Do you recognize the bells of truth
When you hear them ring
Won’t you stop and listen
To the children sing
Won’t you come on and sing it children

He’s a stranger in a strange land
Just a stranger in a strange land

  • Audio from the 1971 album, Leon Russell and the Shelter People:
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About DJ Allyn

DJ Allyn is a burned out radio guy who went on to become a burned out sound engineer for a few Seattle area grunge bands in the 1980s and 1990s. Left the madness of worldwide tours with bands, cleaned up my act and went into the relative sanity of sound engineering for television series. Currently working as the Director of Sound for a television series being filmed in North Vancouver, British Columbia. I am always on the lookout for interesting videos, old music, and fun.

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