Marshall County musician plays opening act for rocker

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

COLUMBIA -- In a rare local appearance, venerable rocker Leon Russell raised money for Maury County's senior center during a Saturday night concert that opened with a band including a member of Marshall County's school board.

"It's awesome," school board member Mark Wilkerson said Monday of playing keyboard in Russell's opening act band, Don Morrow and Independence Blues Band, at the Cherry Theater on the main campus of Columbia State Community College.

"We're high energy and a lot of fun," Wilkerson said. "We had a standing ovation and an encore, so that was cool.

"We've been in venues for theater gigs in Louisville, with lights and stuff, and I've played in Pigeon Forge and Kentucky, but we haven't opened for an act like this," Wilkerson said.

A nearly full house of fans ranging in age from their 20s to their 70s sang along with Russell and his band on song after song, according to The Daily Herald of Columbia.

Russell was born in Oklahoma as Claude Russell Bridges. Now 67, he's a Maury County resident, according to musicians in this area.

His accomplishments weave through rock 'n' roll, country, the blues and gospel. He played with Joe Cocker at Woodstock, recorded with George Harrison and is a big part of he reason there is a style of music called the Tulsa Sound.

The singer, songwriter, performer and studio owner has made a name for himself, perhaps as notable as those he's worked with, including, according to Wikipedia, Willie Nelson, Glen Campbell, Ringo Starr, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Frank Sinatra, the Byrds, the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones.

His first touring experience was shortly after high school with Jerry Lee Lewis and he's been on the road ever since, performing about 100 dates a year, the Herald reported Monday.

"I guess I still love it," Russell told the Columbia newspaper. "I appreciate that so many people want to see me perform."

Russell and the Senior Center in Columbia have the same bookkeeper, Tamara Barnett, center director Mary K. Fleeman told the Herald. The concert raised money to continue programs including meals for low income seniors.

Russell is also the idol for Stan Marcy, lead guitarist for Independence Blues Band, Wilkerson said. Seeing Russell in concert was a life-changing experience for Marcy when he was in his early teens, Wilkerson said. Marcy bought a piano because of Russell.

Independence Blues Band played "Hound Dog" with a "swing beat blues feel," Wilkerson said of the Saturday night show. The opening act also included "Every Time I Roll the Dice" by Delbert McClinton, and "Working Man Blues," originally done by Merle Haggard, the school board member said.