Leon Russell: ‘Going Back To Tulsa One More Time’

Leon_mural_flowers

Every once in a while, you get hit with something big that you never saw coming. Such is the case with my discovery of Leon Russell. As I’ve come to find out, Leon’s music has always been part of my life. I just didn’t know it. And I’m not alone. Each year, I’m fortunate to have the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day off, so I’d been planning a day trip to Tulsa, OK – about 120 miles west of my home in Bentonville, AR. I’m always thirsting for a deep dive into some facet of music history, and my original plan was to visit the Woody Guthrie Center and the new Bob Dylan Center I’ve heard so much about.

But, as the calendar flipped to December 2021 and it was time to actually circle a date, I realized Monday, Dec. 27 was the only day I had completely open. And, as luck would have it, both venues I had my eye on were closed. Bummed, I suddenly recalled reading something about the renovation of an old church just outside of downtown Tulsa that had served as a major recording studio in the 1970s and early 80s. So I did a little digging. Turns out, the Church Studio at 304 S. Trenton Ave. is a big piece of American music history – and the legacy of Leon Russell, who I knew next to nothing about. Set to reopen its legendary doors in the coming months, my adrenaline was already pumping. And I was thrilled when the staff at the venue not only emailed me a detailed driving tour of Leon’s old haunts of significance around Tulsa but offered to give me a personal tour of the studio and share stories while I was in town.

The Church Studio at 304 S. Trenton Ave. in Tulsa was recently renovated with the intention of once again serving as a recording studio and continuing the legacy of the great Leon Russell.

The Church Studio at 304 S. Trenton Ave. in Tulsa was recently renovated with the intention of once again serving as a recording studio and continuing the legacy of the great Leon Russell. The night before, I quickly did some Google research to create a giant Spotify playlist of songs that Leon had written or played on. At exactly 7 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 27, I rolled out of my driveway en route to Tulsa … and I hit play.

Whoa!

Right out of the gate, Freddie King’s Going Down from 1971 rattled my car windows. Leon enthusiastically banged away on the keys, like a match made in heaven alongside Freddie’s soulful guitar and vocals. And the audible butt-kicking continued in mighty and unexpected ways. Next, Eric Clapton’s rendition of After Midnight from his self-titled, solo album in 1970. You guessed it, that’s Leon on the piano. And, what’s more, his childhood friend from Tulsa, JJ Cale, penned the hit song, while Leon co-wrote a few other tracks on the same album. Then, Bob Dylan’s Watching The River Flow, which I’ve spun countless times without ever knowing who was putting down the perfect piano accompaniment. And Joe Cocker’s The Letter, which I’ve come to learn Leon not only played piano on but served as the ring leader of the entire 40+ member entourage of the first-of-its-kind Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour in 1970.

That, and a benefit concert collaboration with George Harrison, Dylan, Clapton and others in August 1971, propelled a solo career in which Leon was named the top major concert attraction in 1973 by Billboard Magazine. And that’s just the beginning. Willie Nelson, Sam Cooke, Bing Crosby, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, The Everly Brothers, Aretha Franklin, The Byrds, Nat King Cole and B.B. King – just a few of the others Leon wrote for, played with, toured with, arranged or produced. Heck, he’s even credited as a songwriter on the original A Star Is Born soundtrack.

Leon’s work appeared on thousands of albums, released by more than 100 labels, spanning multiple genres, including rock, country, gospel, bluegrass, rhythm & blues, southern rock, blues, folk and surf. His solo career alone earned six gold records, two Grammy awards from seven nominations, and induction into both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. His music inspired fans and fellow musicians alike for more than five decades, including the great Elton John:

“He was my idol. To meet him, I was shaking. He sang, he wrote and he played just how I wanted to do it … He could eat me for breakfast [playing piano].”

My playlist continued to kick out song after song, as the miles between Bentonville, AR, and Tulsa, OK rolled by outside my car window. I quickly realized this church-turned-recording-studio represents a HUGE window into one of the most prolific – yet, somehow, best-kept-secrets – in American music history.

Will Rogers High School at 3909 E. 5th Place in Tulsa, where Leon was a student from 1956-1959. The 1937 Baldwin grand piano Leon used to wow classmates with was recently restored and remains in the school auditorium.

Will Rogers High School at 3909 E. 5th Place in Tulsa, where Leon was a student from 1956-1959. The 1937 Baldwin grand piano Leon used to wow classmates with was recently restored and remains in the school auditorium.

Leon’s Early Days

Leon Russell was born Claude Russell Bridges on April 2, 1942, near Lawton, OK. Complications at birth damaged a few of his vertebrae, leaving him with cerebral palsy. As a result, the right side of his body developed slightly smaller but, according to William Sargent in his book Superhero In A Masquerade, that didn’t keep Leon from excelling at the piano at an early age. The story goes that his mother walked into the parlor in their home one day to find a four-year-old Leon playing a hymn he’d heard countless times. He’d simply learned to play by ear. By his early teens, Leon was hanging out in the back rooms of honky-tonks and other local music venues.

One popular tale is that, at just 14 years old, he lied about his age so he could play a Tulsa nightclub behind Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks. While attending Tulsa’s Will Rogers High School from 1956-59, Leon wowed classmates with his playing on the school’s 1937 Baldwin grand piano. There must have been something in the water in Tulsa, as Leon was in the same school band with David Gates, who went on to work as a successful session musician and formed the band Bread. And, as mentioned earlier in this story, Leon was friends with Tulsa-native guitarist JJ Cale. Together, the three are credited with hatching what has been coined “the Tulsa Sound.”

Breaking In

According to several accounts, when a traveling show featuring Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, and others came through Oklahoma in 1956, teenage Leon Russell was in the right place at the right time. Lewis, who was known for missing shows due to drinking and trouble with the law, was MIA … so young Leon not only filled the open slot but dazzled the audience. By the age of 17, Leon was on his way to Hollywood to try to make a career out of music.

There, he eventually hooked up as a studio musician with producer Phil Spector’s legendary Wall of Sound, also known as the Wrecking Crew. It was a rotating cast of 30+ amazingly talented musicians, like drummer Hal Blaine, bassist Carol Kaye, guitarists Glen Campbell and Tommy Tedesco, fellow keyboardist Don Randi and others. It’s suggested that Leon was a bit quiet and even shy at first, but that once he learned to embrace his Oklahoma roots and the melting pot of influences that gave him his unique sound, he really started to make his mark.

He and the Wrecking Crew played on so many of the hits of the 1960s, for household names like The Beach Boys, The Monkees, Simon & Garfunkel, Frank Sinatra, and The Mamas & The Papas. In 1969, while in the studio writing and recording songs for his self-titled, debut solo album with the likes of Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts, George Harrison and Ringo Star, Leon received the break that ultimately pushed him out of the shadows and into the spotlight- Joe Cocker’s 1970 Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour.

joecocker

 

Stepping Out Of The Shadows

Fresh off a performance at the 1969 Woodstock festival, Cocker found himself locked into a full U.S. tour, but without a band. The powers that be turned to Leon, and the Tulsa native not only took over on piano (and some guitar), but auditioned and assembled the entire entourage of 40-plus people behind Cocker. Leon served as ring leader for what became a wildly successful tour, resulting in a double-live album that soared to #2 on Billboard’s album sales chart and a documentary film.

The success of the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour, followed by his prominent role in the 1971 Concert For Bangladesh benefit with Harrison, Clapton, Bob Dylan, Billy Preston and others provided all the momentum and recognition Leon needed to skyrocket his solo career.

Trailer for the historic Concert for Bangladesh fundraiser show, featuring Leon Russell, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, and others in 1971.

Cover artwork of Leon Russell's early solo albums.

The cover artwork of Leon Russell’s early solo albums. In 1970, 1971, and 1972, Leon put out his first three solo albums- Leon Russell, Leon Russell & The Shelter People, and Carney – all on the Shelter Records label he founded in California with English record producer Denny Cordell.

Master Of Space & Time

He became an enigmatic, larger-than-life persona – the image portrayed in the lead photo at the top of this story, with the wild hair, beard, and top hat adorned with flowers. One source described his sound as “gospel-infused Southern boogie piano rock, blended with blues and country music, fused with his nasal and gravelly voice.” Leon was now referred to as the Master of Space and Time, plucked from the lyrics of A Song For You, a Leon original that has since been covered by more than 200 artists, spanning multiple genres, including Andy Williams, Ray Charles, The Carpenters, Herbie Hancock, The Temptations, Willie Nelson and Amy Winehouse.

Leon performing “A Song For You”

At The Top

Leon originals like Tight Rope, Stranger In A Strange Land, Delta Lady (which Leon wrote but Joe Cocker made famous first in 1969), Out In The Woods, This Masquerade, Magic Mirror, and Alcatraz were drawing the masses. Within a matter of a few years, Leon was headlining shows with Boz Scaggs, Ike & Tina Turner, Bo Diddley, Elton John and Pink Floyd. And, in 1973, he was named the top concert draw in the U.S. by Billboard magazine.

Leon performing “Stranger In A Strange Land,” with accompanying video collage. This song has emerged as my favorite Leon original.
“He was completely unique, a deep soulful presence who had a groove and feel on the piano that was unmatched,” said fellow songwriter and pianist Bruce Hornsby. “He always wanted to write standards, songs that would become part of the Great American Songbook, and he did just that, writing such songs as ‘A Song For You’ and ‘This Masquerade’ that will be sung forever. But my favorite Leon was the wide open, incredibly joyous gospel-charged rockers that made his concerts so transformative and amazing.”
And … that’s where the Church Studio in Tulsa enters the picture. At the absolute height of his popularity, Leon Russell returned to Tulsa, put down roots and brought the music world home with him.

The old and the new coming together at the renovated Church Studio in Tulsa.

The old and the new coming together at the renovated Church Studio in Tulsa. Photo from inside the renovated session room at the Church Studio. The building also includes a room of historical Leon Russell, Shelter Records and Tulsa Sound artifacts, and several other interesting nooks and crannies the staff has plenty of interesting Leon-related stories about.

Photo from inside the renovated session room at the Church Studio. The building also includes a room of historical Leon Russell, Shelter Records, and Tulsa Sound artifacts, and several other interesting nooks and crannies the staff has plenty of interesting Leon-related stories about.

I'm all smiles to be sitting at the same board Bob Dylan is pictured at on his

I’m all smiles to be sitting at the same board Bob Dylan is pictured at on his “Time Out Of Mind” album. The board was recently installed in the sound booth at the Church Studio during the renovation of the building.

The Church Studio

In 1972, Leon was having lunch at the Ranch House Restaurant (now called the Freeway Cafe) at 1547 E. Third St. in Tulsa with his Shelter Records partner Denny Cordell and Carla Brown (the mother of Leon’s first born, Blue Bridges), when they noticed a for-sale sign in front of the abandoned, stone church across the street. According to the Church Studio’s driving tour of Leon Russell history, “While climbing up the steps, Leon realized that turning the church into a studio would accomplish his vision to do all genres of music and help musicians fulfill their dreams without all the Los Angeles record company restrictions and entanglements.”

Leon purchased the church, which had been constructed in 1915 as the Grace Methodist Episcopal Church, and converted it into a recording studio that served as the second home of Shelter Records. It served as a creative workshop for songwriters, musicians, engineers, and singers. In addition to Leon himself, artists who recorded there include JJ Cale, Jimmy Buffett, Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel, The GAP Band, Kansas, Mary McCreary, Freddie King, Jimmy Markham, Dwight Twilley, Phoebe Snow, Peter Tosh, David Teegarden, Wolfman Jack and others.

The Beatles, Bob Marley, Tom Petty & more

During my visit to Tulsa, I was told that every member of the Beatles visited the studio, and that Shelter Records released Duppy Conqueror, the first American single by Bob Marley. In fact, Leon and Denny signed Tom Petty to his first recording contract over lunch at the very same cafe where they’d first noticed the old church. To this day, longtime Tulsa residents tell stories about how exciting it was to spot Leon and other famous musicians around town on any given day.

“When (Leon) descended upon that church – when he descended upon Tulsa, Oklahoma – it really became this ecosystem – this musical ecosystem – that artists from across America wanted a part of. And that’s why so many artists and musicians came to Tulsa – to see what Leon was doing,” said Teresa Knox, owner of the Church Studio.

If you ever have a chance to visit the Church Studio (I highly recommend it), be sure to spend a moment looking at the big staircase outside the original front door. Those chips and nicks on the stairs – that’s from all of the gear that was hauled up and down for recording sessions and jams during the building’s Shelter Records years. Odds are, several of those sessions produced songs and albums that are forever etched in your brain, whether you realize it or not. Oh, if those walls could talk.

The view of the Church Studio from the doorway of the diner across the street, where Leon Russell and Denny Cordell signed Tom Petty to his first recording contract. And, yes, I ate lunch there during my visit to Tulsa in December 2021, just so I could look out the same window Leon, Denny and Tom once did.

The view of the Church Studio from the doorway of the diner across the street, where Leon Russell and Denny Cordell signed Tom Petty to his first recording contract. And, yes, I ate lunch there during my visit to Tulsa in December 2021, just so I could look out the same window Leon, Denny and Tom once did.

Falling Out

By 1976, however, Leon and Denny had a falling out that spelled the beginning of the end for Shelter Records. Leon separated himself completely from Denny and, eventually the company, going as far as to return to California to open his own label, Paradise Records. He continued to work with a variety of artists in the studio, and put out additional records of his own, including a few with his then-wife Mary McCreary, under the name Leon & Mary. In a settlement, Cordell became sole owner of Shelter Records, but the organization folded completely by 1981.

Willie & Leon

Along the way, Leon and his buddy Willie Nelson, who was at the height of his career, climbed the charts – together. The duo put out a double album, Willie & Leon: One For The Road, featuring covers of their favorite songs by Hank Williams, Elvis Presley and Hank Thompson, as well as a host of collaborative originals. They hit #1 with their remake of Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel, and Leon has shared the stage at several of Willie’s famous 4th of July picnics.

“Leon came down to the first Fourth of July picnic that I had,” Willie Nelson said. “And it was the first time that the rock n’ roll crowd had mixed in with the cowboy crowd – the hippies and the rednecks – we were called. So, thanks to Leon, all those wild things started happening.”

Leon continued to write and explore various genres, as was the case with his 1981 live album release, Leon Russell & New Grass Revival. It’s a fun dip into Leon’s take on yet another genre – and even offers a handful of bluegrassy covers of household favorites, like the Rolling Stones’ Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Wild Horses.

Out Of The Spotlight

For the majority of the late 1980s through the early 2000s, the venues Leon was playing shrunk. And, for long stretches, he would slip almost completely out of sight and mind. Leon admitted on several occasions that, while he had been known for his stage presence at the height of his career, he’d always struggled internally in front of large audiences. And he was dealing with other personal and health-related issues later in life that took him out of the limelight. That, and the fact that so much of his early work was in the studio -rather than being the name on the album or the stage – caused Leon to, in many cases, get lost in the shuffle or missed completely by more recent generations of music fans.

My girls and I outside the Troubadour in West Hollywood, where Leon Russell and Elton John first met.

My girls and I were outside the Troubadour in West Hollywood, where Leon Russell and Elton John first met.

The Union

But an old friend who was inspired by and even embraced by Leon when he, himself, was an aspiring young musician, hadn’t forgotten. Elton John remembers spotting his hero, Leon, in the audience while making his U.S. debut with a string of shows at The Troubadour in Los Angeles in August 1970. Elton has often talked about how nervous he was on stage the moment he’d noticed Leon in the crowd – but that nervousness quickly turned to confidence and opportunity.

“I’d just come in from England and being a huge fan of someone like Leon, I froze,” Elton John recalled in an interview from 2010. “So when I met him after the show – to have him accept me and kind of take me under his wing and be really fantastic to me the whole time – it meant the whole world to me. The fact that someone I admired so much could show me that generosity and even take me on tour … It helped validate me by saying, ‘Well, if he thinks I’m alright, then I must be alright because he’s my hero.'”

Four decades later, in a gesture of thanks – and in an effort to bring Leon back into the spotlight one more time – Elton made a phone call. He asked Leon if he’d be interested in making an album together and quickly enlisted the help of producer T-Bone Burnett to help make it happen.

Leon agreed and, one year later, the result was the full-length LP, Elton John & Leon Russell: The Union.

Hearing this story while researching Leon – and then dropping the needle onto my turntable to listen to The Union for the very first time just a month ago – gave me chills. I’ll never forget the feeling when the very first track, If It Wasn’t For Bad, kicked in. The sound of a gospel choir giving way to Leon and Elton’s fingers dancing over the keys, and Leon’s signature voice immediately moving to the forefront. The Master of Space and Time still had some magic left in the tank. The Union set the stage for Leon’s long-overdue induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The following video of Elton John’s induction speech for Leon absolutely says it all:

Video of Elton John inducting Leon Russell into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

R.I.P.

Leon’s time on this planet came to an end on Nov. 13, 2016, and a memorial was erected two years later at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Tulsa. I’d been told about the memorial, but I got chills searching for it on a recent visit to the cemetery, as the piano-shaped headstone came into view. And it did my heart good to see the many bouquets of flowers, beads and other knick knacks fans continue to leave at the foot of his final resting place.

leonmemorial

I don’t claim to be an expert on Leon Russell’s life story or legacy. But I’ve tried as best I can to capture what I’ve learned and, more importantly, what I’ve felt via the words above. In the span of just over a month, I’ve gone from not really knowing who he was, to having traveled to the Church Studio and his former haunts in Tulsa, read an 800-plus-page book about him, and immersed myself in documentaries, stories, interviews, his albums and anything else I can find. And that’s what makes me even more excited about the soon-to-be reopening of the legendary Church Studio.

This is just a sliver of the Mural of Space and Time, located in the shadows of the Church Studio. In November of 2020, Brian Lewis replicated eight Leon Russell-inspired oil paintings by Patrick Gordon, commissioned by Teresa Knox. The entire mural is on 190 feet of the Mac's Electric building wall just east of the studio.

This is just a sliver of the Mural of Space and Time, located in the shadows of the Church Studio. In November of 2020, Brian Lewis replicated eight Leon Russell-inspired oil paintings by Patrick Gordon, commissioned by Teresa Knox. The entire mural is on 190 feet of the Mac’s Electric building wall just east of the studio.

View from the control room at the Church Studio.

View from the control room at the Church Studio.

Keeping The Legacy Alive

The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2017, in recognition of its significance to American music culture and as the heart of the Tulsa Sound. But I see the Church Studio renovation as much more than that. It’s a reopening of a window into Leon’s amazing legacy and the mark he left on American music, regardless of genre. And that legacy came through Tulsa. To be able to experience spaces, places, people, stories and things where they happened – those are the “real” connections that bring history to life. It’s what lifts the history from the pages of a book and forever plants it in our souls.

A 14-minute documentary on the creation of the Mural Of Space And Time artwork – a tribute to Leon Russell – by Patrick Gordon and Brian Lewis on display across the street from the Church Studio in Tulsa. This documentary was screened as part of the Sundance Film Festival in 2021.

A 1-minute backgrounder on the Church Studio, past and present.

Leon’s Oklahoma roots are such a huge part of what made him unique – what gave him a voice and a sound – in the landscape of American music. And I love that he recognized the power of coming home at the height of it all, as he so eloquently penned in the lyrics of his song Home Sweet Oklahoma. And how the sound of the piano starts to dance beneath his fingers the second he belts out the line, “But I’m goin’ on back to Tulsa just one more time.”

When I was a young man, barely seventeen I went on out to Hollywood, chasing my dream And dusty Oklahoma was all I’d ever seen And, I was getting older The memories of the greyhound Fade and quickly pass In the lonely restaurant windows And the empty hourglass Reflect the human hunger For the questions never asked And I only had my time for spending But I’m goin’ on back to Tulsa just one more time Yes, I’m goin’ on back to Tulsa just one more time Yes, I’m goin’ on back to Tulsa just one more time I’ve got home sweet Oklahoma on my mind

Audio of Leon’s “Home Sweet Oklahoma.”

This wall mural of Leon Russell, titled Hail Factor, is located at 1016 E. 4th St. Tulsa's Jason Sales commissioned local artist Josh Butts to paint it.

This wall mural of Leon Russell, titled Hail Factor, is located at 1016 E. 4th St. Tulsa’s Jason Sales commissioned local artist Josh Butts to paint it.

Snapshot from my visit to the Church Studio in December 2021.

Jeff Mores

Jeff Mores is equal parts professional storyteller, music history junkie, backyard BBQ enthusiast, college sports nut, and proud dad. He worked as a reporter in the Northwest Arkansas, Minneapolis, and Chicago areas, and has made a living wordsmithing for a quarter-century. He makes his home in Bentonville, AR, and is fascinated by Tulsa’s deep roots in American music.

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26 Comments

  1. Linda wolf on February 2, 2022 at 9:16 pm

    Wow. Someone does a lovely job copying the photo I made of leon at the Anaheim stadium

    I wonder who it was! http://www.lindawolf.net/new-products/leon-russell-anaheim-stadium-june-1970

  2. Patti Johnson on February 2, 2022 at 10:03 pm

    Great story! I’ve loved & been thrilled by Leon’s music since the early 70’s, but always love to hear that someone new has learned about Leon, gotten drawn in by his music, & is appreciating his genius.

  3. William Harrison on February 3, 2022 at 5:10 am

    You did a great job telling the story of the master of space and time Jeff! From beginning to end, and I loved the videos included too! Thanks so much for sharing your story, and the story of Leon on your adventures 🎹🌹🌅❣️

  4. Donna Leming on February 3, 2022 at 7:34 am

    What a great compilation of the history, times and life of Tulsa’s very own Leon by you, Jeff.

    I was fortunate to gain friendship with Emily Smith – “Sweet Emily” – and through her spent a few times in the personal presence of Leon. I have several friends who knew him on a much deeper level.

    It was a bit mind-blowing as I remembered going to the drive-in movie in my hometown, Bartlesville, OK, to see the Mad Dogs tour documentary in 1971 at the age of 13.
    Then to be sitting across the dinner table with Leon at the age of 45 was, to say the least, surreal.

    Music has always been an integral part of my life and as you’ve realized on your Leon journey, his magnitude in that arena is quite amazing.
    I enjoyed all of the clips you integrated through your story.

    Thanks for your dedicated research and words for the “Master of Space and Time”!

  5. Robert Rector on February 3, 2022 at 1:13 pm

    I have listened to Leon Russell since I was in High School. I really enjoyed your article and introduction to The Church Recording Studio. I will be going there when spring comes thank you.
    Two great early albums you didn’t mention are well worth your attention. Asylum Choir 1 and Asylum Choir 2 with Mark Benno. In my opinion some of his great early piano work.
    I’ve seen Leon Russell on several occasions and bought most of his LPs. Check out Tedeschi Trucks Band. They brought Leon back out in your doing a lot of the Mad Dogs and Englishmen material as well as many of their original members. They are doing a week long stint at the Rhyman Auditorium in Nashville in mid February with tribute to Leon and Mad Dogs and Englishmen with some of original members of that entourage. Thanks again for your taking the time to honor Leon Russell in your article.
    Best Wishes, Robert Rector

  6. paul bryden on February 3, 2022 at 1:26 pm

    Well written sir, come back anytime, will buy lunch at freeway cafe. Love Leon”s music, he was truly a member of the” Tulsa Sound.”

  7. Baz Golin on February 3, 2022 at 3:16 pm

    I graduated high school in 1973 wearing a green Leon Russell t-shirt under my cap & gown. I played guitar but Leon’s honky tonk piano and southern twang were 2 of the sweetest sounds I’d ever heard. Got to see him once with Freddy King opening. That show remains in my all-time top 10. Still love his music to pieces. You’re article and links captured so much – I’m having flashbacks! Thanks for keeping the legend of Leon alive. He deserves it!

  8. Lila Muzik on February 3, 2022 at 3:43 pm

    Leon Russell is and always will be a groundbreaking musician, singer. I have seen him in person in small venues several times. My brother and sister, long deceased loved him so much. Thank you Elton John for not forgetting this wonderful man. He belonged in the R&R HOF for a long long time. Thank God he was still alive to see it. So many aren’t. I Thank you Elton forever. And thank you sir for digging deep and exposing new information about this icon. I may take the same sentimental journey myself.

  9. Terry Gates on February 3, 2022 at 9:41 pm

    Great story! Thanks for helping to keep Leon’s memory and music alive. I’m a native Oklahoman and am so proud of all the talented men and women from our state that help weave the treads of our lives with their talent through words, poems, songs, music, talent!
    Thank you,
    Terry Gates

  10. Scott sewell on February 6, 2022 at 6:00 pm

    Was happy to have seen him play a few times over the years.lots of great shows.

  11. Eileen Lane Boyle on February 7, 2022 at 3:04 am

    I was raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma and am amazed what the general public imagines Tulsa to be. How it is really very cosmopolitan! So many people I have talked to have never heard of Leon Russell or the Tulsa Sound. I loved your story and all of the clips about Leon. Thank you so very much. I live in Sarasota, Florida, but still have a lot of family in Tulsa, Jenks, Bixby and Skiatook. I cannot wait to make another trip to Tulsa to see the Church. Leon’s Church, his grave, etc. Thank you is simply not enough to you!!

  12. Cathy Filgas Carter on February 7, 2022 at 4:48 am

    Enjoyed this whole article so much. It was excellent. I grew up in Tulsa. Have lived here all of my 70 years, though I have been fortunate to travel when younger.

    It really made me appreciate the rich history that makes up Tulsa. Especially the music and art scene.

    Thank you for writing this.

  13. Carla Jones on February 7, 2022 at 10:20 am

    Great article…..wish I could have been around during the recording days at the Church

  14. Jen Grove on February 8, 2022 at 12:56 am

    Excellent article! As a lifelong Tulsa girl I’m very excited for The Church reopening! Cool story – a guy I grew up with, Brandon Holder, was Leon’s touring and recording drummer from the early 90’s until the end.

  15. Deb Davus on February 8, 2022 at 6:45 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story! In the 70’s, Leon had a huge house in the Maple Ridge neighborhood of Tulsa. I went there with a friend but Leon wasn’t home. We met Emmylou Harris who was spending the night on her way to somewhere. I wish I could’ve met Leon.
    He also owned real estate on Grand Lake in NE Oklahoma & I heard about parties & concerts held there.
    My husband and I got to see Elton & Leon in concert about a year before he died. It was fantastic!

  16. M. Hawksworth on February 8, 2022 at 7:37 pm

    Really miss this gentleman. I left Tulsa in ’76 but have always lived with his music and was fortunate to see him many times in both large and small venues during his tours. I am looking forward to someday visiting the Church Studio.

  17. Johnny Mcdonnell on February 10, 2022 at 7:17 pm

    Fantastic Blog…well Done Jeff..!😎🎩🎹🎸

  18. Johnny mcdonnell on February 10, 2022 at 7:26 pm

    Fantastic Blog…well done Jeff…😎🎩🎹🎸

  19. Deborah Ohlsson on February 11, 2022 at 6:13 am

    I grew up in Oklahoma, Seminole Ok. I’ve played the piano since I was 5. At 21 I married a San Francisco drummer and we packed up our crazy little family and headed back out to California. I’ve always felt Leon to be a kindred spirit. I only just discovered The Church Studio and was thinking about a road trip back to Oklahoma. After a little research and reading this article I’m definitely heading to Tulsa this year. Thanks for sharing this story!

  20. Cynthia Angell on February 11, 2022 at 11:29 pm

    Thank you for this great telling of the back story of this legend. I was blessed to know Leon briefly in 78-79 and still think of him often. A beautiful soul.

  21. Ron Veit on February 13, 2022 at 9:32 am

    What a wonderful article from a “new” fan of the MOSAT. I grew up near Tulsa and I have been enjoying his talents from the beginning of Leons career. Looking forward to the future and sharing Leon with others like Jeff describes in this article. Love you Leon!

  22. Lisa Stearns on February 13, 2022 at 9:46 am

    Grew up in Tulsa…loved Leon. Saw him many, many times in concert. Saw him with Mary also. Had all his albums including a bootleg one where he performed the jumpin jack flash medley live. I took driver’s Ed at Will Roger’s High School. I live in Saint Louis now and went to see him at “The Ready Room” just before he passed. Planning to visit Tulsa in May (PGA championship) will stop by the church studio and cemetery. Loved my Leon MOSAT.

  23. Sam on February 19, 2022 at 8:36 pm

    Loved your blog about Leon. I’m going back to Tulsa one more time to celebrate Leon’s 80th. There’s going to be a lot going on April 1st 2nd and 3rd.

  24. George DeLeo on March 5, 2022 at 2:01 pm

    Hello,This is an EXCELLENT ARTICLE,About LEON’S MUSIC 🎶 And His LIFE! I am from New York, I am 68,I was at the FILLMORE EAST,For 2 Shows of (MAD DOGS And ENGLISHMEN)The Early and Late Shows, On the Second Night!I Have Seen LEON 4 Different Times,In His Career,The Last Time was at LAKE TAHOE,Nevada, In a Small Casino Lounge,He Signed a WATERCOLOR PAINTING I did of Him in 1974,(I am a Professional Artist)With His Top Hat 🎩 on and Long Silver Hair/Beard,He Passed Away Shortly After the TAHOE Show!😢I am Planning a Trip to TULSA,Next Year to See That CHURCH Studio,And Other Leon Landmarks.Then on to GEORGIA to the Big House,Where the ALLMAN BROTHERS,Recorded and Hung Out!They are One of My Very Favorite Bands,I Saw Them at THE FILLMORE,Also in March of 1971,I was at the Famous(LIVE AT THE FILLMORE)Album! Thank You Very Much,For Your BEAUTIFUL LEON RUSSELL STORY! George DeLeo.

    • LeRoy Mondier on March 23, 2022 at 3:55 pm

      Beautiful story of Leon, I met him thru Leo Feathers guitar player and Danny McBride early to mid 70s at the church, Strangely my father n law built the studio for Leon either there or at his house, if you get my email address and email me I can tell you a lot of good times,after hours, nothing bad, and there is a musician who lives by Springdale who was part of the Tulsa sound in 50s. Give me a shout.

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