Sunday, February 12, 2017

Lazy Sunday #457: Five Star

Television wants us to believe that football is over. 

The Super Bowl is over. The flurry of million dollar commercials is over. The Lady Gaga tour is almost sold out. It's done! Okay! Change the channel and go back to watching "The Walking Dead" where the serious head injuries will continue. Mostly to those still watching it.

But the reality is that the football season never ends. And it's not just guys like me trying to get over Super Bowl XLIX. 

Teams are already gearing up for next year. Stadiums are being refurbished. Coaches are being hired. Players are having injuries repaired, being released from contracts or negotiating their renewal. 

And in High Schools across America, 17 and 18 year old kids are deciding what college will best prepare them for a career in the NFL.

Can you remember what career decisions you were making when you were 17 or 18? If you were like me, you were pretty much consumed with buying a car and trying to get laid. Yeah, you might have an idea of what you might want to do (operative words "might"). But were you capable of navigating all the possible scenarios that might help or hinder reaching that goal?

Thinking back, I also remember some of the real stars of my high school. The young men and women everybody knew had a special talent and a golden future. We had the best basketball player in the city. A couple of singers as good as anybody on the radio. A guy so smart our "Reach For The Top" team won the Provincial championships.

After Grade 12, I never heard about a single one of them again.

We all make decisions that seem small and insignificant in the moment, not realizing until decades later how much they determined the ultimate pattern of our lives.

That's basically the theme of "Five Star", a sports doc by filmmakers Ryan Booth and Henry Proegler that follows a decisive few days in the life of a 17 year old kid in Nacogdoches, Texas, pressured to make a decision that will impact everything that follows in his future.

Whether you can't quite give up on the world of football just yet, are wondering what will happen to your kids as they enter their final semester of High School, or are simply a fan of wonderful documentaries -- "Five Star" is definitely worth a half hour of your time.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Five Star from Hank & Booth on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 456: Scorsese NYC

A couple of weeks ago, Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival, published what pretty much amounted to an open letter in the Globe and Mail newspaper entitled "Dear Canadian Filmmakers: It's not about you. It's about us" basically challenging homegrown cinema artists to do -- I don't know, maybe just something different.

I believe I speak for myself and many others either making or trying to make movies here when I say, "This gives us a laugh".

In his effete throwing down of some kind of gauntlet of self-interest, Bailey, like many in the business of supporting and promoting the Arts in Canada, reveals not only how little he knows about how the films he'd prefer to see get made; but of his own part in the annual regeneration of the kind of movies he doesn't much want to see anymore.

For it is Bailey's own TIFF that has devolved from an invigorating film festival that once championed up and coming Canadian talent to one striving to be seen as the first Studio stop for American Oscar contenders; while the majority of Canadian filmmakers are relegated to being second or third class citizens in their own country.

Indeed, it is film programmers such as Bailey who have gotten us where we are "creatively", eternally providing a pulpit for and thereby suggesting up-and-comers imitate either the dense vacuity of Atom Egoyan, the cheap patina of class inherent in the Robert Lantos imprimatur or the eternally ill conceived and unrefined first drafts or first edits that typify Paul Gross.

If Bailey really wanted better movies, he'd stop programming the annual failures of those who regularly account for the lion's share of government funding (the only real film financing in this part of the world) and get his movie scouts out to find people trying to do something better -- or at least more interesting.

Before I get all Greg Klimkiw on everybody's ass, the above rant was inspired by a short film on Martin Scorsese's work in this month's Filmmaker Magazine.

Included with the text is a Leigh Singer video essay offering a staggering insight into the Scorsese filmography, the city where half of his films are set and how both combined to give us not only endlessly original and re-watchable movie experiences but an undeniably clear and focused body of work.

It's also a reminder that the Scorsese Oeuvre was created not by Pauline Kael or the programmers of the New York Film Festival and Museum of Modern Art. 

They were made by a single artist given the freedom to follow his inspirations, surround himself with other independent artists and do the work that artists do. Uninfluenced by those given to navel gazing or striving to one day collect an indexed pension.

Singer's video is a reminder of what's possible when a filmmaker is not required to define or divine the goals of bureaucrats, but work his own magic.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 455: Killer In Red

Any liquor or liqueur is an acquired taste. And I've just never acquired a taste for Campari, a red concoction primarily designed as an aperitif, but pretty much combined with anything liquid if you're in Italy.

I don't know what put me off Campari. Maybe it's because it can't decide if it's bitter or sweet. Maybe because the color originally came from crushed insects. Maybe my palate, like my brain, just can't handle things that are too complicated.

And perhaps I'm not alone. Because Campari, more than most manufacturers of imbibable spirits, goes all out when it comes to finding creative new ways to promote itself.

For decades there have been iconic posters and calendars. Their classy magazine ads and sophisticated commercials, populated by A list stars and fashion models, appear with regularity. They even have a youtube channel offering famous bartenders inventing new ways to enjoy their product.

And now they have entered the world of short film with "Killer in Red" starring Clive Owen and directed by Paolo ("The Young Pope") Sorrentino. I'm not sure if it will change anybody's mind about trying Campari. But it will definitely alter how some companies approach advertising.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 454: Election Night

Well -- we're into it now...

And in the very near future, we'll all know whether our fears, hopes and expectations will be what we feared, hoped or expected.

The Chinese have a curse, "May you live in interesting times" and given what America's new president has said, particularly about them, you have to wonder if the times to come will be more interesting to the Chinese, or us, or both.

I lived in LA when Ronald Reagan was elected President and most of the showbiz community I interacted with were as concerned about his elevation to the Oval Office as today's stars and celebrities. But Reagan had been governor of California, as well as a one time movie star, so a chunk of the industry also liked him.

One day, a composer I was working with shrugged off the "sky is falling" predictions of some of the more progressive musicians we were working with, suggesting that in his experience Conservative governments are better for artists. And in the decade that followed, a lot of us worked a lot more than we had.

Will that happen again? Who knows. 

The only thing that's become crystal clear is just how quickly the world can turn on a dime.

I was in New York shortly after the 9/11 attacks and overheard two high school kids discussing what they had planned for the weekend. One of them, finding his buddy's plans fairly lame, responded with "Dude, that's so September 10th". 

Times change. We all have to adjust. Or dig in our heels and refuse to change our compass heading. Something that doesn't usually work out well.

It might be worth looking back at who we were on November 8th and decide how that person survives and prospers over the next four -- or maybe even eight -- years.

So here's filmmaker Ryan Scafuro's both objective and unflinching take on the night.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 453: The Blacklist

I've long believed that nobody calling themselves an artist has any right to tell another artist what they can or cannot do with their talents let alone where or for whom they can perform.

Recently, there's been a building brouhaha designed to convince entertainers of all stripes to either refuse the booking or withdraw from performing at this week's Presidential inauguration in Washington, DC.

Across the media, both traditional and social, pretty much anybody with a recognizable name in film, television or music has urged their peers to teach President-Elect Trump some kind of lesson by not showing up for the gig.

Now, I'm not a Trump fan -- and isn't it interesting that I have to issue that kind of disclaimer -- because otherwise a whole bunch of people would either just stop reading this or get busy calling me a racist, a misogynist and all sorts of other insults of the day. But where do any of you get off dictating the terms of somebody else's employment?

None of those people or what they have to say bothers me much, since most have a tighter grasp on ideology than actual talent. And few if any would ever get an invitation to perform at a Presidential Inauguration, no matter who was taking the oath of office.

Still, they go after everybody from the Radio City Rockettes to marching bands from Alabama, artists they'd probably never personally pay to see -- shaming, promising career disaster and uttering death threats.

Seriously. Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli withdrew this week because he'd been getting death threats. What kind of person sends death threats to a blind man?

Just how deep this hatred goes was illustrated this weekend when Nicole Kidman merely refused to take a shot at Trump and said she was adopting a wait-and-see attitude. Director Josh Whedon immediately issued the following tweet...

Good thing Mr. Whedon has gone out of his way to declare himself an avowed feminist. Otherwise, God knows what kind of venom he might've spewed.

All of this has reminded me of a rainy night in the mid-1990's, when I ducked into a Santa Monica bookstore and stumbled into a reading by one time movie director and the only Canadian member of the Hollywood Ten -- Edward Dmytryk.

At some point in Edward's youth, his family had moved from BC to Los Angeles and he landed a job as a messenger at Paramount Studios. From there he moved to film editing and then directing. Among his first features were the Film Noir classics "Murder, My Sweet" and "Crossfire" for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.

He would go on to direct dozens of notable films including, "Back to Bataan", "The Caine Mutiny", "Raintree County", "The Young Lions", "Walk on the Wild Side", "The Carpetbaggers" and "Mirage".

But all that talent and the millions he'd earned for the studios didn't mean much when the House Un-American Activities Committee arrived to uproot Communists in Hollywood and discovered Edward had been a party member for a brief time in 1945. 

Like others of "The Hollywood Ten", Edward refused to testify before the committee and went to jail, his career destroyed. 

Later, HUAAC gave him a chance to redeem himself, so Edward named the guys he was already in the slammer with and they let him go.

While lining up to get my copy of his book autographed, I thumbed the pages, finding a photograph of Edward in Convict Blues leaning against a gas pump where he worked gassing up the the prison vehicles. During his reading, he'd referred to it as "The best job I ever had". 

I asked him to sign that photo instead of the title page. He laughed and we started a conversation that would go on for several weeks. Mostly about screenwriting, editing and directing. But also -- what happens when artists are turned against one another merely to suit someone's political agenda.

You can find Edward Dmytryk's exceptional work almost anywhere. But here's a taste of what Andrea Bocelli won't be doing on Inauguration Day but Country Star Toby Keith will. Part of me hopes Toby sings one of my personal faves. It might be quite fitting.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Lazy Sunday #452: Bill


Most of you know Bill Marshall, who passed away last week in Toronto, as the founder of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the largest public film festival in the world and the most influential festival in getting movies into theatres and in front of audiences around the world. But he was so much more than that.

Bill was one of those people who just made things happen. He got politicians elected, produced films and partied long and hard. The kind of outgoing, tenacious guy who never took "No" or "That's not possible" for an answer. To parrot one of his phrases, he was a guy who just went out  and "got shit done".

I was fortunate enough to have a film in the first festival in 1976, when the event went by its original name, "The Festival of Festivals". 

The film was "The Supreme Kid" by Vancouver filmmaker Peter Bryant and its presentation at the now long gone Toronto Dominion Theatre on a Friday morning might've been the only legitimate screening it got in the country in which it was made.

The Festival then was only a week long affair with nowhere near the publicity it now gets and featuring titles most people had never heard of, so I didn't expect much of a turnout. But the place was full and Bill and his festival founding partner Dusty Cohl were there with the express purpose of showing me off.

They'd promised a star studded week of movies but no big names actually came, so I guess being able to introduce somebody who was a star of a movie at least helped them prove they hadn't been snowing everybody.

And they were gracious hosts, later dragging my wife and I to party with Wilt Chamberlain, the only real celebrity who'd come to town.

At that time, Bill had only produced a low budget movie called "Flick" or "Frankenstein on Campus" depending on what poster or print was handy when somebody wanted to show it.

But a few months later he launched Dick Benner's "Outrageous" which became a huge success and set him on the path to producing another 18 features.

Either because I had attended that first festival or because I was among a handful of screenwriters in Toronto, I always ended up getting dragged into bars and bistros with Bill and a couple of years later was hired with three other scribes for a mini-series he'd sold to CBC.

For reasons too complicated to explain (and you'd only be getting my side of it anyway) the project eventually collapsed due to a combination of broadcaster, studio and guild acrimony and I headed off to Hollywood to seek my fortune there.

Barely a week later, at my first ever glittering party in the Hollywood hills, I flopped down on a couch with a glass of wine and found myself almost in the lap of Bill Marshall, who said…

“Geez, Henshaw! We can’t be seen together. We’re suing each other.” At which point we both cracked up.

The great thing about Bill in those days was he was exactly the sort of character the Canadian film industry desperately needed. A guy who understood how things must be seen to be done in an overly cautious and closely regulated nation –- and yet knew how the real world worked so they could actually get done.

He was one of my producer mentors long before I’d ever contemplated producing anything and he not only taught me a ton, but contributed to some of the defining moments of my life.

Much has been written, for example, about the earth-shaking argument he got into with Mordecai Richler on a TIFF panel about Canadian culture. The press, as usual, mostly took Richler’s side in reporting it. But everybody who was in that room, including me, knew that Bill had won the day and a lot of ugly truths about how culture is made and supported in this country were laid bare.

There are two things I feel deepest about the loss of Bill Marshall. One is the memory of nights of frivolity and story telling or intense discussions about craft and production and building an industry of which I'm now one of the sole survivors.

But more important is the realization of how badly we need someone like Bill Marshall today. A guy who could convince or cajole the driest bureaucrats and most tight-fisted of investors to take a chance at trying something different -- of just ignoring what everybody accepts as an unchangeable  reality and going out and getting shit done.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Lazy Sunday # 451: Looking Back to Look Ahead

An interview with Martin Scorsese is making the rounds in advance of the release of "Silence", a passion project he's been trying to get made for decades. In it, perhaps our greatest living film director bemoans the loss of cinema as we've known it, declaring the art form is dead.

It's not hard to understand where Scorsese is coming from. Anybody trying to sell a script or project they love has shared the defeat and disappointment when other people just don't get it -- year after year after year. 

Recall the number of times in the past months when you wanted to go out and see a movie but the multiplex was showing nothing but cartoon superheroes and frat boy comedies. Or ask how often the films you did see rewarded you with an experience that affected you deeply.

If you're like me, those latter moments were few and far between. Or you got them from something you found on Netflix, which gave you the movie, but not the communal reward of sharing it with others. 

Quentin Tarantino once defined a great film as one where you had to go out and have pie afterward. And we all remember those late night cafe conversations with friends or film nerds as we relived the movie we'd just seen, unwilling to let go of either its content or the bond it had created among those with whom we'd seen it.

A friend reminded me this week of Nicholas Cage's performance in "Leaving Las Vegas" a movie so raw and harrowing in its examination of alcoholism that I literally NEEDED a drink when it was over. 

I'm sure that like Scorsese, few of us can remember the last time something like that happened.

But while there's a lot I can agree with in the great master's assessment -- the proliferation of images, our awareness that much of the spectacle is computer generated and not "real" or the ways we consume the art form on smaller and more private screens -- for me, Cinema is not dead.

While I probably attended hundreds of movies in movie in theatres when I was a kid, I was probably in my late teens before I truly experienced one. 

It was early one morning in university, a mostly empty theatre and a film appreciation class I'd booked for an easy credit. From the first frames of "Citizen Kane" I knew something out of the ordinary was happening.

Over the next weeks I saw "The Grapes of Wrath", "Seven Samurai", "Onibaba" and "Casablanca" without commercials. And I became aware that movies weren't just somewhere to go to eat popcorn or make out in the back row.

And unlike Scorsese, the young filmmakers I meet these days give me great hope for the future.  
Like him, they've seen it all. But unlike most people in Hollywood (or working in the bureaucratic maze of Canadian cinema), they're not beholden to a system that determines and ultimately controls their output.

What keeps cinema alive as 2017 dawns are the myriad ways a filmmaker can get around or simply ignore the barriers that have been placed in their way to protect those who currently control the marketplace.

Last week one of those new ways of reaching an audience, Vimeo, published their list of the best short films of 2016. Among them you'll find the Scorseses of the future, the Haskell Wexlers and enough talented writers and actors to replace those we lost in the celebrity massacre of 2016.

One of my current favorites on Vimeo is below, giving me faith in the fact that movies aren't even close to dead, they're evolving. Something you'd think a guy who once took a few friends and a camera onto the "Mean Streets" of New York to make a film would recognize and understand.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Strange Men from andrew fitzgerald on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 450: Merry Christmas

Christmas seems to have two speeds, incredibly fast or wonderfully slow. 

Some of us have a million things to do. Up at dawn to get the turkey stuffed and into the oven. Opening gifts then a quick shower before church or the trip to Grandma's house. Shuttling relatives. Making time for some quick wine and cheese with the neighbors. Never a quiet moment. By nightfall it isn't just the tryptophane from that second helping making you dozey.

For others, Christmas is just one delight served after another. You just stand back and let the waves of generosity and joy wash over you.

That top speed seems to be how my Christmases happen these days. But when I was a kid it was the other way around. Tripping down stairs in your PJs to see a tree sparkling brighter than you remember from the days before. An empty milk glass and crumb of cookie to prove that Santa had not only been but appreciated the snack you left.

Then opening presents and savoring homemade egg nog, sausage rolls and shortbread.

And then your parents disappeared for an hour to prepare for their high speed version of the day while you played with your new stuff and watched cartoons.

Back in my day, those Christmas cartoons were usually from Walt Disney and if you were lucky included one with a special Christmas message.

Whichever Christmas speed you're travelling at today, take a moment for this one.

Merry Christmas and...

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 449: The Spirit of Giving Back

This time of year, corporations big and small populate our TV screens and online streams with commercials eschewing the spirit of the season. 

They make us laugh, feel nostalgic or otherwise kindle the spirit of the season -- that Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All thing. 

But at their base, the silent message of most is -- "Now that you feel all warm and fuzzy, come buy something from us".

But there's one that seems to take the sentiments of its Christmas commercials to heart.

I've been posting the annual Christmas commercials from Canadian airline Westjet for several years now as they've taken the spirit of giving back to ever greater heights. Granting Christmas wishes to passengers in flight. Bringing gifts to tropical destinations that have never seen snow. And last year providing a Christmas miracle on behalf of each one of their 12,000 employees.

This year was a tough one for the residents of Westjet's home province of Alberta, ravaged by unemployment and devastating forest fires. So they went to the heart of that devastation to bring a little bit of light and hope.

What follows is a reminder that giving back to those most in need is at the heart of Christmas. What follows is the Westjet Christmas ad and the background of two of the families they helped.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 448: Augie Wren's Christmas Story

At the core of the sentiments of the Christmas Season are stories. The original account of the babe in the manger may have started that because it contained all the elements that run through every Christmas story that has followed it.

The compassion of an innkeeper with no rooms for tired travelers and only a humble stable to offer. A child imbued with all our hopes of the future. Magical occurrences. Ordinary people touched by something special. The spirit of giving, of sharing, of kindness.

Every Christian culture has a special story only told at Christmas. A good king helping a poor man in the snow. A wealthy miser reminded of the redemption in caring for others. A kid who only wants a BB gun.

And then there's Rudolph and Frosty and Honky the Christmas Goose...

The magic that is Christmas almost always comes from characters you'd last expect to embody it, and yet, in doing so, remind each of us that we can be part of the magic too.

One of the oddest Christmas tales can be found in Wayne Wang and Paul Auster's 1995 Independent film "Smoke", which follows the interwoven lives of the customers and staff of a small New York tobacco store. 

It's a charming little film about the smallest things and how they can alter our lives or the way we see the world forever.

Connected to all of these stories in one way or another is the smoke shop's owner, Augie Wren, played by Harvey Keitel.

As Christmas approaches, one of his customers, a writer, is in desperate need of a Christmas story and Augie commiserates and ultimately shares his own.

It's unexpected -- and special. May it's message touch you this season.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 447: A Christmas Story's Story

It's that time of year again. Lights sparkle from rooftops. Carols are the soundtrack at the mall. And television begins unspooling the films of the season.

This month's issue of "Vanity Fair" features an article on the making of one of those Christmas films -- my personal favorite -- "A Christmas Story".

But while the VF story about "Story" is filled with wonderful anecdotes from the production and initial release of the movie in 1983, there's nothing quite like hearing the broadcast that inspired it from the screenwriter and narrator of "A Christmas Story" -- Jean Shepherd.

During the 1950's, 60's and 70's, Shepherd hosted a nightly show on WOR radio in New York, where he spun semi-autobiographical tales that spawned a rabid fan base who made bootleg reel to reel tapes of them to share with friends around the country.

Originally a chapter of Shepherd's 1966 book, "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash".  its first title was, "Duel in the Snow, Or, Red Ryder Nails The Cleveland Street Kid". It was immediately excerpted in "Playboy", winning Shepherd a National Magazine Award for humor. 

After that, every year at Christmas, Shepherd would tell the story on his radio show. And on one of those nights, director Bob Clark heard it while driving to a dinner date. Clark reached his destination and then circled the block repeatedly, unable to stop until he'd heard how it ended. He decided then and there it had to be a movie.

And thanks to one of those original bootlegs, now you too can hear the broadcast that inspired one of the most beloved movies of the season...

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 446: Johanna Under The Ice

It's cold here today. That kind of damp cold that just pierces you to the core. 

So I decide to stay inside and surf the net, finding a spectacular book of photographs entitled "The Last Days of the Arctic" by photographer Ragnar Axelsson. Sampled above and available from Amazon here which chills me even further.

I hate cold weather. 

I grew up in one of the coldest inhabited places on the planet (Saskatchewan) where you can go 40 or 50 days in Winter where the temperature doesn't get above minus 40 or 50. 

And it's supposed to make you hardy and resourceful and resilient and all those other positive character traits, which I'm sure it does. But it also left me feeling like, "Okay, I've done that. Can we move on? Maybe to somewhere warmer?".

So now I live where it doesn't snow, you only scrape the car windows a couple of times during the dark months and wait for Global warming to finally live up to David Suzuki's dire predictions.

But then guys such as Axelsson come along to remind you of just how freaking pretty frigid can be. 

So, like one of those guys who's afraid of heights but still has to lean over the roof railing of a tall building and look down, I went in search of a cold related video and found what follows...

Not long ago, Finish bicycle racer Johanna Nordblad crashed, badly breaking her leg. Her recovery regimen included cold water therapy which led her to a new sport, cold water free-diving, for which she holds the world record. And that led her to British Filmmaker Ian Derry and a truly remarkable film.

It's cold. And not a dry cold. But it's worth it.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Johanna Under The Ice - NOWNESS from NOWNESS on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 445: The First Men

Last night somebody on my block turned on their Christmas lights for the first time. Despite the fact that Costco has been selling Christmas stuff for more than a month and all week the nice man from Canada Post has been dropping off Christmas catalogs and flyers, it still seemed too soon.

But it's not. So once again I have to suck it up and do one of the things I most don't enjoy doing -- shopping.

Don't misunderstand. I'm not opposed to commerce, spending money or even having to cope with crowds. I just don't enjoy malls that much.

Something about them just -- unsettles -- me. I'm not exactly sure why.

Maybe it's that the bookstores are getting fewer and smaller and with way more books about Cats.

Maybe it's that the record store doesn't have listening stations anymore but they have lots of movie loot like "Superman" Cookie Jars and "Star Wars" Alarm Clocks. How did the people who used to sell music decide that the same people looking for tunes by "Aerosmith" or "21 Pilots" would be suckers for "Ghostbusters" T-shirts?

Come to think of it -- maybe that's what unsettles me. That you're no longer a customer with needs and desires, you're just somebody who buys stuff. Any stuff. Even stuff at places like "Lids". Somebody who'll buy whatever they put on the shelf because -- well, because what else are you going to do with your time and money...?

Food courts particularly unsettle me. Food courts are where you always meet people you know. You'll engage in 2 minutes of small talk and then they'll invariably say, "So, you're at the mall" -- pointedly observing that you clearly don't have anything better to do with your time and money -- or perhaps your life.

Filmmaker Ben Keegan perfectly captures my dread of malls in a terrific short film, "The First Men", based on an even darker short story by Stacey Richter which you can read here.

It might even convince you to avoid the mall.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

The First Men from Benjamin Kegan on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 444: Leon Russell

I first became aware of Leon Russell sometime in 1970 or 71 by way of one of the best Rock documentaries ever made, "Mad Dogs & Englishmen". Only later did I learn I'd been listening to him for more than a decade.

The story behind the film is that Cocker, fresh off the success of "Woodstock" and his first two Platinum albums, had just completed a gruelling months long tour of the United States. Arriving in LA, thoroughly burned out and intending to rest through the Summer and maybe recruit a new band for his next LP, Cocker dropped by his agent's office.

There he learned that said agent had booked him on a 52 city tour slated to depart the next week. When Cocker balked, he was told the Musician's Union, Immigration Officers and Concert Promoters would not reacte kindly to his desire to get some rest and he might not be allowed back into the country.

Luckily his friend, well-known session musician Leon Russell, came to his aid; quickly rounding up an assemblage of talent that could not only make Cocker sound better than he ever had before, but offer enough of their own material so the worn out bill topper wouldn't have to carry the load alone.

The result made Rock 'n Roll history and brought Russell to the forefront of American music.

A laid back, easy going and soft-spoken Oklahoman, Leon Russell had begun his career playing nightclubs at age 14 and had played on virtually every Top 40 single recorded in LA through the 50's and 60's, 

Over the years, even repeated bouts of Pneumonia, Brain surgery and a heart attack could not slow his astonishing musical output.

Leon Russell died this morning at the age of 74 leaving an award winning legacy of music across the genres of Rock, Country, Jazz, Bluegrass, Gospel and Blues not to mention a more important one of kindness and concern for his friends.

Here's a taste of "Mad Dogs", Russell's induction into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame and his biggest hit single.

Enjoy Your Sunday.