The man born as Russell Bridges had a career as varied and important as any, from his time as a musician in Jerry Lee Lewis’ band in the 1950s to his triumphant reprisal of Mad Dogs & Englishmen at the 2015 Lockn’ festival.

And while it takes a lot of ink to tell a story like Leon Russell’s, author Bill Janovitz can be accused of using a bit too much in writing his 592-page biography, “Leon Russell: The Master of Space and Time’s Journey through Rock & Roll History.” On the one hand, Janovitz takes care to ensure the reader comes away knowing virtually everything necessary to understand the the contours of Russell’s extraordinary life and career; on the other, he’s not above going into minute detail about what the musician is wearing in a grainy YouTube video shot in Europe in the 1970s. It’s at moments like this – and there are many – that the book lags. 

But in the spirit of too much information being preferable to too little information, “Journey” is still a trip worth taking.

And what a trip to take, with Russell’s cooperative family members and musical colleagues – Eric Clapton, Sam Bush, Rita Coolidge, Willie Nelson, Jim Keltner and Derek Trucks among others – serving as docents.  

Inspired by Lewis and Little Richard, Russell moved on from Jerry Lee Lewis and a stint with Gary Lewis and the Playboys to become a member of the famed Wrecking Crew, a group of long-anonymous musicians who played on many music lovers’ favorite songs and albums.

The so-called Master of Space and Time began his emergence in 1970 when, as Joe Cocker was balking at doing a tour to which he was contractually obligated, Russell put together Mad Dogs & Englishmen for a two-month tour that changed the lives of everyone involved and led to lifelong friction between Russell and Cocker, who believed the former had used the latter to advance his own career.

Regardless of whether that is true – and Russell maintained it was not and professed to be hurt by Cocker’s feelings – Russell did go on to become one of the biggest concert draws and producers of the early 1970s, playing sold-out arenas around the globe, discovering J.J. Cale, playing host to opening act Elton John and becoming the first musician to sign Willie Nelson’s famous guitar, Trigger.

Russell was also ahead of his time in realizing video would become a prime medium for promoting music. And while his many ventures in that area failed, his prescience dovetails with his visionary status in the early part of his career.

The book’s highlights often coincide with Russell’s highlights and detailed pages on Delaney & Bonnie, Mad Dogs, the Concert for Bangladesh and Russell’s long-standing collaboration with New Grass Revival are fairly books unto themselves. 

But it’s the story of Russell’s incredibly productive lean years – when he made and released albums on his eponymous label and toured incessantly playing to small audiences in clubs – that is the most revelatory about the music business’ fickle nature and Russell’s own personality. Though he was never diagnosed, those closest to him believe he was both bipolar and on the autism spectrum.  

Russell is at a low ebb when John returns in 2010. Then, he and Russell cut the Union; Russell gets inducted into the Rock and Roll and Songwriters halls of fame; the Mad Dogs reunion kills ’em at Lockn’; and Russell’s life does a 180 just before death comes in 2016. Alas, Russell and Cocker never reconciled. 

Call Janovitz’s book a flawed must-read. For despite the sometimes-excruciating level of detail, Russell’s story is one every music lover should familiarize themselves with.