Tulsa Icon Leon Russell has died. I’ll never forget him. He defined the line between genres of American music while at the same time producing in virtually every dimension–including disco with his production of and collaborations with the GAP Band.
I only saw Leon a few times performing live, both times in Nashville. When I was in Tulsa I was a kid and he was a recluse. My most vivid memories of meeting him were when he was married to Mary McReady and they used to sometimes come into the Spudder restaurant on Sundays, where I worked as a busboy (The Spudder was the only place open on Sunday that dared to sell booze in a dry town). He was quiet. Thankful, and completely unpretentious.
Leon meant a lot, and probably many things, to everyone who grew up in Oklahoma at that time. Going to a rock and roll concert often meant being confronted by mobs of redneck racists afterwards, and constant police harassment that didn’t apply to the country music fans with their Confederate flags. Leon Russell stood as a defiant image. Unquestionably Tulsa’s greatest musical talent, and Tulsa’s only serious direct connection to the global rock and roll scene (JJ Cale tried, but never made the break), Leon Russell didn’t have to say shit to let you know where he stood. He was among the first, if not the first, artist who acknowledged to importance of African American music for the development of Rock and Roll (and all of the blues….). His example was key for many stars like Eric Clapton and Elton John.
But I know where he came from. I’m from there, too. And, especially this week, as Oklahomans overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump, I feel like a stranger in a strange land…..
Cuts to Social Security and Medicare are now considered politically mainstream. Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin are just nudging out a guy whose name means a “frothy mix of lubricant and excrement” for the Republican nomination, and their great hopes are for the entry of a secessionist from Texas or a couple of guys who wear magic underwear. Children are being denied school breakfasts and lunches because plutocrats don’t want to concede tax credits for moving jobs to other countries, and fascists and members of the Military Industrial Complex don’t want to give up their multi-billion dollar contracts. My 90 year old, WW-II veteran uncle died in fear of having his social security and medicare cut. He hoarded food and refused to spend any money–thinking that nothing would be there for him. America is gone.