By the Way

On Leon Russell, selfies with Anita Lee and the non-smoking section

Leon Russell plays at Golden Nugget Casino in Biloxi
JEFF CLARK/SUN HERALD Leon Russell plays at Golden Nugget Casino in Biloxi

This week’s casino fact: Most casinos have non-smoking areas. This is something you probably take for granted until you go to a casino with a smoker.

You will know this when  someone puts the slot arm down to curtly tell you and your friend, “Hey. This is the is the non-smoking area.”

Thanks, big timer. You keep putting those copper Lincolns in the penny slots. We got this.

Okay, back to business

Leon Russell, one of the most prolific singer/songwriters of popular music, put on a great show Friday night at the Nugget (Golden Nugget Casino in Biloxi). Russell, who cast quite the iconic image when he gets behind his baby grand piano with his cowboy hat and long, white hair and signature beard, played a set of songs he wrote (“Stranger in a Strange Land,” “A Song For You”) and some songs by the Stones, Bob Dylan and The Beatles.

The show was on point.

Several of my colleagues were also at the show. When you work with creatives, there tends to be a lot of love for the arts -- particularly music.

Music is also a great way to bond with people. As my pal Jason Scheff of the band Chicago once told me, “Music is like medicine for the soul.”

I agree with that. I was bonding with my mentors and friends Anita Lee and Margaret Baker. Of course, we already had a major bonding experience when we were at a party after the Pass Christian Mardi Gras parade and a deadly shooting happened a block or so away, and we had small children with us. You will know who your friends are immediately when something like this happens.

We were hanging out during and after the Leon Russell show. I was told that Mr. Russell didn’t do “meet and greets,” but he would sign autographs at his bus after the show.

How many opportunities do you get to meet the man that wrote “Delta Lady?” (Spoiler alert: the answer is none.)

Anita and I decided this is something we wanted to do, so we purchased a couple of items at the merch table - she bought a CD she had lost during Hurricane Katrina and I way overpaid for some vinyl. Rock n roll is good for the soul, but my hearing has suffered and I mistakenly thought the record was just overpriced. It was not. It was outrageously overpriced.

The merch people told us where the bus was and off we went. And went. The ballroom at the Nugg is a long way away from where the buses are parked. We found this out the hard way as we walked through rain and mud puddles on our journey. We walked the distance of about two football fields before we found the bus.

We had to find the bus. What kind of reporters would we be if we couldn't do a little on the spot investigating?

And we were going to meet Leon Russell, Except that we weren’t, actually.

We found a line of 20-30 outside the bus and we took our spots at the back of the line. After playing the hurry up and wait game, some guy ambled off the tour bus to our group, which was about seven people at this point. He took our items and said he would be back in a minute. I heard someone ask if they could get a photo.

He said, “Leon already has his hearing aid in and he’s watching TV.”

And that image was haunting. I immediately envisioned Leon Russell in a pair of light gray sweat pants that were too thin in spot wearing a dirty t-shirt and watching “Family Feud.”

This is nothing Anita nor I needed to see.

The person returned our items and we went on our way, posing to take some selfies in front of his bus.

It’s a shame that Leon Russell, who turned 74 on Saturday, did not get to meet Anita Lee. He would be a better person for it.

Epilogue: I told my son that I got him an album autographed by Leon Russell and I showed it to him. He had no response. I then told him that I had Santa Claus autograph an album for him. He gave me a big smile and offered me his paci'.