Last week, I drove over to the CompUSA in 100 Oaks so I could pick up a Vista upgrade. I had a few other things on my shopping list, including an outboard hard drive, which I figured I’d use to back up all my old data. So I walked into the store, took a right and headed straight for the hard drives.
And don’t you know, standing right there in the hard drive department, looking for his very own new hard drive, was Leon Russell—the Master of Space and Time, the most powerful engine in 1970s rock ’n’ roll, Joe Cocker’s band leader and the owner of the best screams and whoops of any singer not named James Brown.
Faithful readers might remember that some years back, I wrote about how I went through a spell when I saw Leon Russell about once a week, usually at a restaurant, sometimes in a parking lot and other times at a traffic light. In that column, I promised that the next time I saw him, I would walk up to him and sing the opening baritone line to his song “Out In The Woods.” My plan was for me to launch, “Well I’m goin’ down…” and see if Leon would respond with the tenor part, “Going down a hard road….”
With that promise in mind, I walked up to Russell while he was choosing a hard drive. “Leon Russell?” I said, in a half-statement-half-question kind of way. He then snuck a look at me, first with one eye, then with both. I’m pretty sure he was thinking, “Mark David Chapman? Or somebody like Mark David Chapman?”
Understand, the last thing in the world I wanted to do was freak him out, scare him, annoy him or piss him off. Heck, if it weren’t for him, I would’ve never learned to sing, I would’ve never learned how to put jazz chords into rock ’n’ roll songs and I would’ve never taken a band on the road. I’d be driving a backhoe right now.
So I couldn’t pass up the chance to speak to Leon Russell. To me, passing a few words with Leon Russell would be way better than having dinner with either of the two surviving Beatles—Ringo being the cooler of the two, if you ask me. Given that I’ve dug Leon’s work since I was in high school, you’d think I’d have some words of praise and adoration spring loaded in case I ever met him. But over at CompUSA, all I could come up with was, “I’m your biggest fan. I’ve enjoyed every note you’ve played since 1970.”
“Thank you,” he said. It came easy and natural for him, because he’s surely had a lot of practice thanking hundreds of his biggest fans.
Just then, I remembered my promise to my faithful readers. “Y’know,” I told him, “I wrote a column in the Scene a few years back, and I promised that if I ever crossed paths with you, I’d walk up and sing (and I did sing here): ‘Well I’m goin’ down…’ and see if you’d come back with the next line.”
Leon smiled graciously. “I’ll come back later,” he said.
“I’ll listen out for you,” I said. “Loved that medley of ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ and ‘Youngbood.’ ” I figured it was time to leave the man alone. So I rolled my cart over toward the software aisle so Leon could just buy his hard drive, and keep his sideburns too.
I rolled around CompUSA for a good long while, picked up some CDs and DVDs, a new graphics card and a few other essentials for my Vista upgrade. Then I remembered: I still needed a hard drive. I glanced back toward the hard drives and saw that my hero was still there, cogitating.
Well, there was no way I could go back over to the hard drives now. Leon would think I was stalking him. He might call security or have some kind of spell. Leon’s a powerful force, but he is 64. The last thing in the world I want is to have my name linked with any kind of badness happening to Leon Russell.
If I were going to give any ’70s rocker a spell, I’d want it to be Kansas’ Kerry Livgren, age 57, who wrote “Carry On My Wayward Son” and “Dust In the Wind,” the two most indulgent, overproduced and loved-by-nerds rock songs ever written or performed. If it couldn’t be Livgren, it would have to be Journey’s Steve Perry, also 57, who wrote the wretched power ballad “Lights.” If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a filthy-rich tenor frontman whining about how tough it is to be out on a stadium tour.
But back to my encounter with Leon. I walked up and down the aisles of CompUSA until he left, then I headed home. I walked in my house, started up the stairs, then spied my dog friend Rufus at the top of the stairs. “What’s up, Leon?” I called to Rufus.Apparently, my brain was still searching for something to say to Leon. How about this: Leon Russell, if you hear a baritone sing out, “Looky there, looky there, looky there, looky there,” could you please come back with just one enthusiastic, “Youngblood”? It would mean a whole lot to me.
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sorry i mean this