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Elton John collaboration led to new Leon Russell album

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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Leon Russell has no allusions about what led to a label deal for "Life Journey," his latest solo album.

After years below the mainstream radar, the veteran Oklahoma musician, songwriter and producer -- a member of Phil Spector's Wrecking Crew studio band and the musical director for Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen ensemble -- fund the spotlight again with "The Union," his Grammy Award-nominated 2010 collaboration with Elton John. Suddenly Russell was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and getting offers from record company executives to record a new album of his own.

"Elton was encouraging me to do that," says Russell, 72, an Oklahoma native who now lives in Nashville. "But he wanted me to have a producer, which was kind of odd for me, because I never really have had a producer. I've always made my own records."

Nevertheless, Russell made "The Union" with Tommy LiPuma, who helmed Paul McCartney's 2012 standards set "Kisses on the Bottom." Russell was skeptical because of LiPuma's jazz background but changed his tune after the two men met to discuss "Life Journey," which came out April 1.

"I've known (LiPuma) for 45 years, from back when I was working for Jackie DeShannon at Liberty records and Tommy was promotion man," says Russell. "I was afraid he might have serious jazz damage because he made a record of my song ('This Masquerade') with George Benson and he launched Diana Krall's career and Natalie Cole.

"But he's made all kinds of records. Mostly jazz records are the ones I'm aware of, but when I got with him I found out he was a blueshound like me, a very serious aficionado of blues music. So it was great. I enjoyed it. He's the best record producer that I've ever known in my life."

Leon Russell and Danny D & the Vagabonds

8 p.m. Friday, July 18

Rockin' on the Riverfront on the GM Riverfront Plaza behind the GM Renaissance Center, downtown Detroit

Admission is free

Visit www.gmrencen.com

Web Site: www.gmrencen.com

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