My Time with Leon Russell by Jimmy Hotz – One of the Greatest Musicians to ever live, has died.

Leon Russell Backstage Pass belonging to Jimmy Hotz
Leon Russell Backstage Pass- From the time era when Jimmy Hotz was Leon’s Front of House Engineer, mixing his concerts and also serving as his Road Manager.

Leon Russell was known as a Musician’s Musician and indeed he was (and I am sure, still is in the Heavenly realm). But I must say that he was capable of a level of greatest beyond that which is shown in any of his recordings and live performances. When Leon first invited me to his home to discuss working with him, he played and sang for me on a level, which was never captured on his records or any of his live performances, at least that I know of. Leon sensed this as well and we set about to change that.

We had a massive array of equipment in his home studio, which included an amazing sounding custom API console, a Harrison console, which we used as a sub-mixer, when we needed extra inputs, and 2 Stephens 40 track analog tape machines synced together (back when many people were still using 16 and 24 track recorders). Around this time, MIDI had come into existence and not long after that the Apple Mac was first released. We either bought (or acquired through endorsements), just about every piece of MIDI gear and computer software that came into existence.

But there were other demands on our schedules, as Leon still had to be on the road to support this effort, as well as keep up with his rather considerable overhead. So I also traveled with Leon and I was his Front of House Engineer, mixing Leon’s live concerts. Eventually I was both Leon’s Front of House Engineer, as well as his Road Manager. I must say there were some great moments, just not as great as the night I mentioned above. Many times we would have old friends of Leon’s sit in as guest performers, such as Eric Clapton, Edgar Winter, Gary Busey, Gregg Allman and Willie Nelson to name a few.

The Leon Russell entourage traveled in two buses, Leon and I were on the same bus and the rest of the band was on the other. So Leon and I set up a traveling MIDI studio with a Mac computer on our bus. Unfortunately, there was hardly anytime to use it, as there were almost always people that Leon wanted to meet with at every show and often the travel time between cities was about the only time we had a chance to sleep.

When we would get off the Road, we often had to work on a commercial for Walmart, Safeway or some other company before we had a moment to devote to Leon’s solo recordings. Finally, we had a window of opportunity arrive where we had several months, which would be dedicated to just recording!

Ed Silvers, who had been the CEO and President of Warner Brothers Music, proposed a Supergroup consisting of Leon Russell, Gary Wright and Dave Mason, with some guest appearances by some of their friends, such as George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

Supergroup project with Gary Wright, Dave Mason, Shamsi Sarumi, Leon Russell and Jimmy Hotz Co-Producing and Engineering.
Supergroup project with Gary Wright, Dave Mason, Shamsi Sarumi, Leon Russell and Jimmy Hotz Co-Producing and Engineering.

I was incredibly excited about the project and we all had high hopes for it. We rented a huge house in Hendersonville Tennessee, near Leon’s home, to accommodate all of the extra guests. Ed Silvers, Gary Wright and Dave Mason all came out and we started the recordings in earnest. Leon Russell, Gary Wright, Dave Mason and Mike Lawler, all played on these sessions. Mike had played with James Brown, the Allman Brothers, and later Steve Winwood.

We had most of the tracks completed for four songs and then some disagreements over the business side of things brought everything to a halt. I was seriously disappointed that this had happened.

Supergroup project - Ed Silvers, Mike Lawler, Jimmy Hotz, Dave Mason and Shamsi Sarumi. Other participants were Leon Russell and Gary Wright.
Supergroup project – Ed Silvers, Mike Lawler, Jimmy Hotz, Dave Mason and Shamsi Sarumi. Other participants were Leon Russell and Gary Wright.

Ed Silvers called me a few weeks later to say that he had a movie director who wanted to use the four songs we had recorded in the soundtrack for a movie, I just had to mix them and send them to Ed. He said it was basically a done deal and would provide some fairly decent compensation to all involved. I discussed this with Leon, but he clearly felt very hurt about how this project was derailed because of the business side of things and did not want to release the songs under these circumstances. Since we had recorded the songs at Leon’s studio and he seemed to feel so hurt over what had happened, I did not want to push it.

After the Super-Group project fell apart, Leon seemed far less motivated, and during his live shows he seemed to be sort of going through the motions. I told Leon months in advance that I still wanted to work with him, but that if we did not get back to working on some recordings soon that I would most likely accept some of my other offers. While working on the Supergroup project both Gary Wright and Dave Mason had independently asked me if I would work with them on their next records, and I had a number of other offers as well.

As the months rolled by, I tried over and over to get him as motivated as he was when going into the Supergroup project. At the time we were very close friends, and I wanted to get Leon’s most magic moments recorded so that the rest of the world could hear them. But after many months without seeing his renewed dedication to what we had set out to do in the beginning, I decided that I had to tell Leon that it was time for me to move on. He was very hurt and I felt quite wounded myself when I saw his reaction, but I felt I had given him enough notice and tried over and over to get back to what we had started off to do together in the beginning. I was glad to see him do the project with Elton John and God bless Elton for making that effort.

Just know that Leon had within him a Divine gift of Super Musicianship and a level of greatness beyond that which is shown in any of his recordings or live performances, at least that I am aware of.   Why would the world never get to hear his greatest moments? Perhaps those were meant as a communion between Leon and his Creator.

Our conversations about the deeper aspects of God and all that He has created, remain highlights of my times with Leon. I have unwavering faith that through our acceptance of the gift of God’s Love and mercy, which was manifest in His Son Jesus, we shall meet again and share grand adventures beyond the bonds of this world. May God comfort Leon’s Family and friends, as he is and will be, sorely missed.

Jimmy Hotz