If pop music had a Forrest Gump, it was Leon Russell. The Oklahoma-born piano prodigy, who died on Nov. 13 at 74, generated an infectious groove that was heard on hundreds of recording sessions for artists as varied as Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson and Joe Cocker. He wrote hits for the Carpenters (“Superstar”) and George Benson (“This Masquerade”) while dozens more covered his signature “A Song for You.”
Wearing sunglasses and a voluminous beard, Russell called his solo-artist billing the Master of Space and Time, scoring hits with a sound steeped in gospel and Southern boogie. In 2010, he collaborated on a final, soulful smash with Elton John, who considered him a mentor and inspiration. “Thank God we caught up with each other and made The Union,” John wrote on Instagram. “He got his reputation back and felt fulfilled.”
This appears in the November 28, 2016 issue of TIME.