The Many Talents of Leon Russell and Leonard Cohen, RIP

Posted on November 16, 2016 by Martin Oaks under Community, Memorial
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Our mission at Martin Oaks Crematory & Cemetery is to help families meaningfully celebrate life of a lost loved one. Through the funeral directors who work with us, we attempt to provide services that are affordable and tailored to each individual family needs. In this blog, we also attempt to celebrate some of the lives of those whom we have not serviced, but whose lives have touched us. Here are some thoughts about two vital people who recently passed away.

Do you remember the vibing, jamming piano that fed the melody on the Beach Boys single, Help Me Rhonda? How about the mesmerizing, elegiac lyrics in the song, Hallelujah? You may not know the names of the talent behind these works, but the pieces themselves, along with many other standards, will never be forgotten. Sadly, the two multi-talented individuals we are speaking of passed away within the last two weeks.

Native Oklahoman, Leon Russell, whose piano playing, arranging and singing graced some of the most popular music of our time, died at the age of 74 in Nashville, Tennessee on November 13th.

Singer/songwriter, Leonard Cohen, 82, who hailed from Quebec, Canada, died the week before on November 7th in Los Angeles, California.

Culturally speaking, the world is a much emptier place because of their absence.

It is impossible to forget the flamboyant fusion of soul, blues, gospel and classical music that Leon Russell brought to the table. Many people do not realize, however, that he started his career as one of the most talented studio musicians of all time. He played for artists as diverse as Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, Rolling Stones, and Gary Lewis and the Playboys (he actually co-wrote one of their hits, She’s Just My Style).

Frank Sinatra used him on Strangers in the Night, a ballad so completely different than anything you might associate with Russell. In the mid-1970’s I heard Frank Sinatra crack a Leon Russell joke after he sang Strangers in the Night: “Leon Russell might be playing piano on this song tonight, except that he refuses to shave and wear a tuxedo.”

Out of the 31 albums Leon Russell recorded, 6 of them went gold. The wide range of his catalog is stunning – country (Hank Wilson’s Back Volume 1), to semi-jazz (This Masquerade).

He faded into partial obscurity until 2010, when he recorded a duet album with Elton John, The Union.

As much a poet as a songwriter, Leonard Cohen also had a unique journey. My first exposure to his work came when I heard Judy Collins sing his haunting song, “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye.” She also did a knockout version of Suzanne. Below is a YouTube version of Collins and Cohen teaming up on “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye.”

To review Cohen’s prolific output of quality material would require a lot more space than we have here. Feel free to share with us any of your favorites.

Two achievements of his that it would be a shame not to mention are – the series of songs he wrote for Robert Altman’s classic film, “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” and the iconic, Hallelujah, one of the most oft preformed, poetic numbers ever composed. Below are two YouTube videos of Hallelujah: KD Lang’s rendition at the Montreal Olympics; and a performance on The X Factor, a version one of our staff members prefers. Honestly, there are so many memorable covers, we would love to hear from you about your own favorites.



If you have any questions about burials or cremations in DFW, please call us at (469) 605-7215, 24/7. Martin Oaks Crematory has been serving North Central Texas for over 30 years. Our historic cemetery dates back to pre-Civil War days; there are many plots still available. Thank you for taking the time to read our blog.

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