3 Chart Hits Songwriter Leon Russell Had as an Artist

The late Leon Russell would’ve celebrated his 82nd birthday on April 2, 2024. The acclaimed Oklahoma-born songwriter and musician was one of the pioneers of the rootsy Tulsa Sound.

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Russell probably is best known for writing or co-writing popular songs that became hits for other artists, including “A Song for You,” “Superstar,” “Delta Lady,” and “This Masquerade.” However, he also enjoyed chart success with some of his own recordings.

[RELATED: Leon Russell’s “A Song for You” Gets Official Music Video from Archival Footage]

Here’s a look at three songs with which Russell had charting hits as an artist:

“Tight Rope” (1972)

Russell had his first pop hit with “Tight Rope,” the lead track from his 1972 album Carney. The tune, which reached No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, featured music hall and vaudeville influences showcasing Russell’s deft piano skills.

Carney became Russell’s highest-charting album, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. It was certified gold by the RIAA for sales of more than 500,000 in the U.S.

The “Tight Rope” single featured Russell’s own version of “This Masquerade” as its B-side. In 1976, George Benson’s rendition of “This Masquerade” reached No. 10 on the Hot 100, and won a Record of the Year Grammy in 1977.

“Lady Blue” (1975)

Russell had his second and last Top-40 hit on the Hot 100 with “Lady Blue,” a track from his 1975 album Will o’ the Wisp.

The song is a jazzy, R&B-flavored love ballad highlighted by Russell’s reedy, crooning vocals and a slinky sax solo.

Benson also covered “Lady Blue,” and his version reached No. 39 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1978.

“Heartbreak Hotel” – with Willie Nelson (1979)

In 1979, Russell teamed up with country legend Willie Nelson to record a duets album titled Willie and Leon: One for the Road. The double-disc set featured covers of a selection of well-known older country songs, pop tunes, and standards.

Among the songs was an upbeat, country-flavored rendition of Elvis Presley’s 1956 classic “Heartbreak Hotel.” Russell and Nelson’s version became a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot Country Songs tally in September 1979.

The One for the Road album peaked at No. 25 on the Billboard 200, and at No 3. on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart. It was certified gold for sales of more than 500,000 copies in the States.

More About Leon Russell

In 2011, Russell was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He passed away on November 13, 2016, at age 74 of complications from a heart attack.

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