Leon Russell recently talked to Billboard magazine about his new album, "Life Journey" (out April 1), and his friendship with Elton.
Though it's not a strictly collaborative effort like 2010's The Union, Elton still played a pivotal role.
Russell said that not long after The Union's ballyhooed release he was approached by label executives about a new record of his own.
"Elton was encouraging me to do that," the pianist remarked, "but he wanted me to have a producer, which was kind of odd for me, because I never really have had a producer. I've always made my own records."
Elton wasn't nominating himself, however; as noted earlier at this Web site, he serves as Life Journey's executive producer. He also paid for the recording before a deal with UMe was signed, while the highly credentialed Tommy LiPuma, who helmed Paul McCartney's 2012 standards set Kisses on the Bottom, produced Leon's 12-song set.
As its title indicates, Life Journey, the day before his 72nd birthday -- draws from personal influences and styles the performer has explored throughout his career, ranging from Billy Joel's New York State of Mind to Little Willie John's Fever.
"Tommy was like, 'What do you like?' " Russell recalled. "He played me some stuff I'd never heard, some stuff I'd be like, 'Oh yeah, I like that.' And I'd play him songs that I know that he really seemed to like. I played 'The Masquerade is Over' and sang it to him, and he got so excited he was running around playing it for a lot of his friends. And the Billy Joel tune, I only vaguely knew that song and he played it for me and said, 'I think you should sing this.' So I recorded it and I enjoyed doing it."
The musician is also pleased with the pre-release excitement for Life Journey, and he freely credits The Union for that attention.
"I saw all the interviews Elton did about it, and he just absolutely wouldn't shut up about how great I was and how he heard 70 other piano players and I influenced him more than all of them put together," Russell says. "And I had no idea. I mean, really, when he called me up and asked me if I'd like to do (the album), I hadn't spoken to him in 30 years. I really didn't have any idea I had that much impact on him. But I have to say I really appreciated it. It's had a huge impact on my profile, and him telling people about me, I think, has really changed my life."