The Albuquerque BioPark & Zoo is a lovely place for a show, a small grassy patch of lawn shaded by towering cottonwoods. The spooky screams of the zoo’s tropical macaws, and the odd ducks who flew overhead and around the stage throughout the evening, added the sort of special effects that put the “quirky” in Albuquerque living.
I could have asked for better sound and sightlines, but I couldn’t have asked for better music, or a prettier moonlit night. And I felt completely at home in the laid-back crowd of 2,000-some hippies-turned-grandparents. Ah, them are my people. Russell himself turned 69 last month, making him a year younger than Eric Burdon, but a year older than Keith Richards, imagine that.
Leon opened with Delta Lady, and his set list hit all the sweet spots - Hummingbird, Back to the Island, Tight Rope, Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms and Stranger in a Strange Land – but dang, he left out Young Blood. So my favorites of the evening were A Song for You – of course, Leon’s singer-songwriter best – and his cover of Dylan’s A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall.
Between numbers Leon shared anecdotes that I didn’t mind hearing again: how at 14 he built a crystal radio set that picked up only one station out there in Oklahoma – blues & gospel. How at 17 he traveled to Los Angeles, intending to get a job in advertising (“That’s a bloody business”); instead, he became a session musician and “the hillbilly of the moment” in a place and time that “thought a lot of hillbilly music, for some reason.”
And perhaps my favorite story, how he got that green silk top hat from Gram Parsons (then with the Flying Burrito Brothers) just before he left for Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen 1970 tour. After road wear reduced the hat to near tatters, he discovered that it had originally belonged to Al Jolson, who wore it filming The Jazz Singer.
Introducing Hard Rain, Leon casually dropped a bombshell: he’s currently working out a set of 15 tour dates with Dylan this August. Looking at Leon’s already-scheduled 2011 tour dates, August will have him hopping between upstate New York, Montana, Idaho, Colorado and (one of my favorite Time & Places) Sturgis South Dakota for the 2011 Harley Rally.
He’s scheduled to play Sturgis on August 13 at the legendary Buffalo Chip as part of the American Thunder Music Festival Aug 6-13. Other festival acts include George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Jeff Bridges and friends, Lynyrd Skynyrd (that’ll be a riot), Toby Keith and Alice Cooper (performing separately, not together). Now, can you imagine if Dylan were added to the line-up? Whoa.
Here are some Leon links to brighten your day:
The Union by Elton John and Leon Russell, and produced by T Bone Burnett (“making of “video directed by Cameron Crowe)
Leon Russell-"Stranger In A Strange Land" (YouTube video)
A SONG FOR YOU - Leon Russell & Friends (1971) Excerpt from the Homewood Sessions
Joe Cocker: Mad Dogs & Englishment (tour movie)
Willie Nelson and Friends - Live & Kickin' Starring Ray Charles, Lyle Lovett, Leon Russell and Steven Tyler (no kidding)