Russell’s collaborations with Elton John, Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, J.J. Cale are the stuff of rock legend. A little less known is his session with Hoboken’s native son.
Frank Sinatra recorded the song “Forget Domani” on May 6, 1965 at United Western Recorders in Hollywood, The session was produced by Jimmy Bowen and arranged by Ernie Freeman, with the orchestra conducted by Donnie Lanier.
On piano for that session was a Russell Bridges, a.k.a. “Leon Russell”—the very same long-haired, scraggly rock icon who will be anchoring the Hoboken Arts and Music Festival this Sunday.
Russell spoke of his experience with Sinatra in a 2014 interview for Sound & Vision:
“Frankly, I didn’t get him. I was pretty prejudiced in my youth; I had a certain thing I expected from singers. He was too close to the middle of the road for me then, but I understood him much later. That just shows you what kind of idiocy you’re capable of. [chuckles] I remember being late for one of his sessions. Back then, I had one of those haircuts that you had to spray all down, but I didn’t have a chance to do it that day. So it was hanging down and looking pretty weird when I got to the studio. Frank was staring at me and ran right into a pole in the studio, and I kind of thought that was my contribution to music. It was a different time.”
Russell skyrocketed into rock legend in the years that followed, as both a performer and a songwriter. Meanwhile, he came to appreciate Frank a lot more as he matured.
“I understood it all more when I saw him on the television with George Strait [dueting on ‘Fly Me to the Moon,’ a song cut in October 1993 and left off of Sinatra’s Duets album; it later appeared on Strait’s 1995 Strait Out of the Box box set], and it was solid. Then I kind of got it all of a sudden. I mean, I’m waaaay out on the edge, and George Strait and Frank Sinatra are in the middle of the road. It’s much easier for a huge number of audiences to relate to that.”
Russell will be in the middle of the road on Sunday, as he takes the stage on Washington Street. We won’t be expecting him to break out “Forget Domani,” but when it comes to a man with a repertoire like Russell’s, nothing would be a surprise.
See you Sunday!