Southern rock legend Leon Russell died in his sleep in Nashville last night, NPR reports. The news was confirmed by Russell’s family in a post on his official website. The musician has had many health problems over the past few years; most recently, he had heart bypass surgery in July. He was 74.
Leon Russell was born Claude Russell Bridges outside Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1941. He started performing at the city’s clubs when he was just 14, and when he graduated high school, Jerry Lee Lewis hired him to back him on tour for two months. Soon after, Russell moved to Los Angeles and quickly found work as a highly sought-after session musician, playing with artists like the Byrds, Herb Albert, Phil Spector, the Beach Boys, the Monkees, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, and Sam Cooke.
He released his first solo album in 1970, the same year he served as the bandleader for Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs And Englishmen tour. Over the course of the decade, he appeared in George Harrison’s Concert For Bangladesh, toured with the Rolling Stones, and wrote songs for the Carpenters, George Benson, and more.
In 2011, after making the duet album The Union with Elton John, he was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. He is survived by his wife Janet Lee Constantine and six children.