Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Many Shades of Leon Russell: Lady Blue

Being that I’ve enjoyed featuring Leon Russell, I’m adding an extra day onto our Second Week Special: The Many Shades of Leon Russell. Today’s feature is Leon’s final Top-40 hit. During 1974, Shelter Records moved its distribution from Capitol Records to MCA. Our selection, “Lady Blue.” comes from Russell’s second album to be released through MCA – “Will O’ the Wisp.”

“Lady Blue” was the last cut on the album and was first of two single releases from the LP. While “Will O’ the Wisp” wasn’t Leon’s biggest seller, it peaked at #30 and stayed on the album charts for 40 weeks. It also was certified gold in 1976. As a single, “Lady Blue” had a respectable showing at #14 on the pop charts and #13 on the A/C charts.

Like “This Masquerade,” “Lady Blue” shows the ballad side of Leon Russell. Also like “This Masquerade,” George Benson covered “Lady Blue” and released it as single. Unlike Benson’s cover of “This Masquerade,” Benson’s rendition of “Lady Blue” failed to chart in the Hot 100 and had a poor showing at #39 on the R&B chart.

Leon’s original, however, features a very nice arrangement that is laden with major 7th and 11th chords. The memorable alto sax solo was provided by veteran musician Jim Horn who has played on countless recordings over the years. With the timing of the release in 1975 and its subject matter, I would venture to guess that “Lady Blue” was written for and about his new bride: Mary McCreary Russell.

For those like me are obsessed with record labels, there are some versions of the single that has a symbol that is obscured. When Shelter designed their new label for MCA distribution in 1974, the artist placed “(P) 1974 Shelter Records” along the bottom rim. The (P) symbol is the mark for the copyright of the actual recording. When the label blank was used in 1974, this was not problematic; however, when songs were released in subsequent years, the (P) would need to represent the year the recording was copyrighted.

On some issues of the single, the (P) was blacked out and replaced with the appropriate mark © for the copyright of the label’s artwork. In this case, the 1974 designation would be appropriate for as long as the label art was being used. Just a little bit of intellectual property law for those who may care. For those who don’t, just listen to Leon and forget about it.

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