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Originally Published November 31, 2000
Leon Russell and Lonnie Brooks Rock the Val Air Ballroom
Don “T-Bone” Erickson
Story And Photos
Have you been wondering what Leon Russell has been up to? He may look like Old Father Time, with his once young face now shrouded within a mane and beard of white hair, but ol’ Leon still has some life in him. At a recent concert at the historic Val Air Ballroom in West Des Moines, it took Mr. Russell a while to generate much excitement, but Leon and band finished up the night’s festivities with some real, good ol’ Rock & Roll fervor.
This eclectic artist not only injects a whole lotta Roll into his Rock, he also mixes in a generous helping of Gospel, a bit of Country, a hint of Jazz, and all of this rides on a healthy foundation of the Blues.
Leon’s career was at a peak almost 30 years ago, back when the album, Carney, came out in 1972 with the hit “Tightrope”. He didn’t waste much time before airing out that particular chestnut, but the early part of the show failed to impress all of the concert-goers. I felt that, ironically enough, things began to turn around when his band left the stage, and Leon did a series of songs with just his keyboard wizardry as accompaniment. His fabled and obvious songwriting skills came to the forefront with two remarkable tunes, “This Masquerade” (a huge hit for George Benson), and “A Song For You”, quite possibly my favorite song ever sung by Willie Nelson. When the band came back out, the energy level rose to a crescendo, the crowd going along for a magical ride with some of Russell’s rowdier offerings. An extended medley that included the obligatory “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Delta Lady”, showed that Leon and company still pack quite the entertaining wallop.
It was somewhat of a family affair, as the band included both Leon’s son and daughter. His son played drums, while his daughter, the exquisitely beautiful Sugaree Noel Bridges, worked her bead-covered electronic African gourd. She was quite mesmerizing, while adding a percussive-sounding rhythm throughout.
Perhaps one of the reasons that Leon sounded somewhat lethargic at first, was the fact that the opening act was so exciting. The always dependably entertaining Lonnie Brooks Band warmed things up for the Val Air crowd. One of Lonnie’s very talented sons, Wayne Baker Brooks, got things started first. Aided by Biscuit on bass, and Wailin’ Walter on rhythm guitar, Wayne showed that he is a force to be reckoned with. He just gets more impressive every time I see him. A great guy, you should look him up when he plays your area with his own band, too. After a brief, but charged mini-set, Lonnie came onto the stage, and proceeded to do his thang, which is to give it his best shot, each and every night. The camaraderie and showmanship between the musicians is always something special to see.
All in all, another fine concert package brought to the Metropolitan Des Moines area by Belkin/Music Circuit Presentations, along with the Central Iowa Blues Society.
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