Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Full Service Music Man


George Russell, who died on the 21st at age ninety, was a music professional in a way that was most likely unprecedented in the record business. For he was probably one of the few music biz figures to've worked both sides of the street. . .not only as an active musician (guiarist, composer) but also a behind-the-scenes west coast promo man. He was highly regarded by his peers whichever hat he was wearing. Surely we will never see his likes again.
I became phone friends with George a while back and I would ring him up from time to time, just to let him talk. His stories were wonderful. I'm sorry I never met him in person.
His first job was with Mercury Records for West Coast promotions, from there he went to Capitol during the glory years of that label (Sinatra, Cole, Christy, Kenton, Shearing, Lee, Freshmen, et al!) then to Columbia around 1960. As such, it was not unusual to find recording artists somewhat uncomprehending upon discovering that the same person who'd played guitar on their sessions then showed up at sales meeting devoted to promoting the end result of those dates, i.e. "What are YOU doing here?" Singer Sue Raney confirmed to me that was exaactly what happened when, first, Russell played on and produced the session that secured for her a contract with Capitol Records. Then a few months later she went on a tour of radio starions with George to promote her first LP for that label. She had to blink her eyes a few times before all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place.
George told me that he was at a party recently with Johnny Mathis for whom he had worked as a record promoter for more than four decades. Suddenly caught up in the realization of just how very long the two men had been together, he turned to Mathis and mused, "Where are we going with all this?" To which the singer replied, "Staight ahead, George. Staight ahead." George loved that!
Russell was writing and recording music right up until the very end. Here is a 1972 track, "Run for the Sun," from George Russell: His Guitar and Music. It is produced by him, arranged and conducted by Johnny Keating, and mixed by George and musician---a very young---John Wood, who is also heard on vibes. Russell was also associated with John's dad, Randy Wood, who owned Dot Records.
Mathis' web site has long contained a fascinating bio of George. It has just now been updated to include mention of his death. Go here and scroll about three-quarters down the page.

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