Leon Russell has built a career on being an enigmatic figure. It worked pretty well for him onstage, but dealing with the self-styled "Master of Space and Time" on a daily basis could be a bit much, as Russell's former road manager Jack Jordan can attest. Jordan, now a realtor in Hillsborough, was on the road with Russell from 1980-82. "I would be backstage and he would want me to be watching for him in case he needed something," Jordan says. "He'd always wear these big sunglasses when he played." During one show, Russell was having mike problems. "It wasn't broke, but it wasn't just right and you couldn't tell exactly what he wanted, it wasn't that obvious." After the show, Russell told his road manager just what he expected of him. "Dammit, when I look at you, I want you to know what I'm thinking."
Leon Russell was a very big deal in the early '70s--a composer and arranger as well as an in-demand session pianist, playing with Dylan, Clapton, B.B. King and the Stones. His arranging credits include the Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man." He wrote Joe Cocker's first big hit, "Delta Lady," and arranged the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour that made Cocker a star. He became a star himself with '72's Carny, which spawned his biggest hit, "Tight Rope." Russell also took on country with '73's Hank Wilson's Back, covering classic country from Lester Flatt to Hank Williams.
Jordan worked for Russell when Newgrass Revival was touring with him for the second time. The band had opened for Russell once before in '73, after he had heard them playing one of his songs at a sound check in a bar in Europe. This time around, Russell wanted to play with them. "That went good for a couple of years until Newgrass was getting a better response," Jordan says. Russell started wanting to do all their best songs in his set. But when he wanted to do Newgrass' signature tune, "A Good Woman's Love," Curtis Burch and Courtney Johnson said no. The disagreement broke up the band.
Eventually, Russell's star began to fade. "I remember one time he told me, 'I feel like I started at the top and I'm working my way down,'" Jordan says.
Russell dropped out of music in '85, resurfacing in '92 with a Bruce Hornsby-produced record.
Lately, he's been touring with a five-piece band and playing around 200 dates a year. He's got a barrel full of material and still plays a mean piano. But Jordan probably won't be going to the show. "I think the world of him but there ain't no love lost there," he says.
Leon Russell plays The Pour House Friday, Oct. 15 at 9 p.m. Tickets are $18 in advance, $20 at the door.