That Bearded Guy

by Jon Frazier

When you first looked at the cover of The Union, did you think, ”Who’s that creepy bearded man with Elton?!?”

OK, well, I did. I was a little wary of it, even. I wanted pure Elton. I couldn’t get into the combination of the British Queen of Pop and a B list, honky-tonk American southerner. I worried that the old guy with the creepy yet somehow badass beard would skew Elton’s sound. And I was right, in a way — The Union is more “Honky Cat” than, say, “Rocket Man,” but that’s beside the point. I tried to remember the awesomeness of whenever Elton and Billy Joel get together, and checked out The Union.

But it’s old news that The Union was totally awesome. That’s not what I’m here to talk about.

What I’m here to tell you about is that I overcame my Pogonophobia (Fear of beards) and took the next step and checked out Leon Russell. I picked up Retrospective, an 18 song compilation issued in 1997. It was quite worth it.

Leon was a young success who never really reached the mainstream (I blame it on the beard) but played backup for some of the greats: Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan George Harrison, and The Rolling Stones, to name a few. Russell himself sounds like a gritty Willie Nelson, but similarities to Elton’s work can be heard in his piano solos. Also, the level of respect that Elton shows for Leon Russell in the introduction to The Union (yes, I read the pamphlet) is impressive.

OK, I’m going to stop saying what I think of Leon Russell and just say to trust me and go listen to him. And then come back here and comment.