Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Many Shades of Leon Russell: I Believe To My Soul

For Bluesday Tuesday, here’s what seems like an unlikely pairing of Leon Russell and New Grass Revival. I procured this live album when it came into one of the radio stations where I worked in 1981 as it didn’t fit our format. Being a fan of both Russell and New Grass Revival, it was a perfect addition to my collection and the pairing of the two entities made perfect sense after one listen.

Recorded on May 15, 1980 at Perkins Palace in Pasadena, California, the number I’ve selected was their rendition of the Ray Charles classic “I Believe to My Soul.” Charles’ version of the song was released 20 years previous on the Atlantic Records’ compilation “The Genius Sings the Blues.”

This album features the third incarnation of New Grass Revival that featured Sam Bush (mandolin), Curtis Burch (guitar), Courtney Johnson (banjo), and John Cowan (bass).  Bush, Burch, and Cowan provided back-up vocals to Leon Russell’s lead on “I Believe to My Soul.” On this particular number, Bill Kenner joins the band onstage with acoustic mandolin as Sam Bush is playing a four-string Fender Electric Mandolin (commonly called a Mandocaster); he provides the guitar like leads.

The new Mando-Strat based on the original Fender Electric Mandolin
Fender produced the Fender Electric Mandolin, based on the Stratocaster guitar body, from 1956 to 1976. Beginning in 2013, Fender revived the instrument as the Mando-Strat and once made this classic instrument affordable, as original models of the Fender Electric Mandolin are priced in the $2000+ range. The newer models are available in both 4 and 8-string models while the original was only available as a 4-stringed instrument. Unlike its predecessor, the Mando-Strat, the new instrument is made in Indonesia and not in the good old USA.

This was not the only time Leon Russell and New Grass Revival have joined forces and they make a formidable team. Here’s a video of the same recording, but unfortunately the audio quality is not as good as the above version. However, it gives you a sense of the magic between Leon Russell and New Grass Revival.

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