Arthur Russell

NEW YORK, New York, US
Artist / Band / Musician
Experimental / Disco House / Pop
Charles Arthur Russell Jr. (1952 – April 4, 1992) was an American cellist, composer, singer, and disco artist. While he found the most success as a dance music artist, Russell's career bridged New York's downtown, rock, and dance music scenes; his collaborators ranged from Philip Glass to David Byrne to Nicky Siano. Relatively unknown during his life, a series of reissues and posthumous releases has raised his profile in recent years.

Russell was born and raised in Oskaloosa, Iowa, where he later studied the cello and began to write his own music. When he was 18 he moved to San Francisco, where he lived in a Buddhist commune and studied North Indian music at the Ali Akbar College of Music. He met Allen Ginsberg, with whom he began to work, accompanying him on the cello while Allen sang or read his poetry.

In 1973, Arthur Russell moved to New York and began study at the Manhattan School of Music, also working as The Kitchen's musical director. He formed a band from 1975–1979, The Flying Hearts, recorded by John Hammond, which consisted of Arthur (keyboards, vocals), ex-Modern Lovers member Ernie Brooks (bass, vocals), Larry Saltzman (guitar), and David Van Tieghem (drums, vocals), with a later incarnation in the 1980s that included Joyce Bowden (vocals) and Jesse Chamberlin (drums). He contributed to The Flying Hearts in studio work and, occasionally, in performance with David Byrne, Rhys Chatham, Jon Gibson, Peter Gordon, Jerry Harrison, Garret List, Andy Paley, Leni Pickett and Peter Zummo. From 1975 to 1979 this ensemble, together with Glenn Iamaro, Bill Ruyle and Jon Sholle, performed and recorded the orchestral composition of Instrumentals (Disques du Crepescule, 1984, Belgium).

In 1979, Arthur wrote and produced “Kiss Me Again” under the name Dinosaur. It was the first disco single to be released by Sire Records, and the first of many of Arthur's innovative dance tunes. This was followed by “Is It All Over My Face” by Loose Joints, released in 1980. In 1981, Arthur Russell and William Socolov founded Sleeping Bag Records and their first release was his 24-24 Music. The number “Go Bang”, which originated from this album, was re-mixed as a 12" single by Francois Kevorkian. These songs were all frequently played at Larry Levan's Paradise Garage; in particular, Levan's remix of "Is It All Over My Face" (one of his earliest remixes) has been recognized as a prototype of garage music.

In 1983, the album "Tower of Meaning" (Chatham Square) was released. This compelling and meditative recording, conducted by Julius Eastman, represents just a fragment of a much larger composition, which includes voices along with its instrumentation.

At the same time, Arthur continued to release dance singles such as “Tell You Today” (4th and Broadway, 1983) an upbeat dance groove featuring the vocals of Joyce Bowden. Additional dance tunes included Wax the Van (Jump Street, 1985) with vocals by Lola Blank, “Treehouse/Schoolbell” (Sleeping Bag, 1986) and “Let's Go Swimming” (Upside/Rough Trade, 1986).

During the mid 1980s, Arthur Russell gave many performances, either accompanying himself o with a myriad of effects, or working with a small ensemble consisting of Mustafa Ahmed, Steven Hall, Elodie Lauten and Peter Zummo.

1986 saw the release of "World of Echo” (Upside/Rough Trade, 1986), which incorporated many of his ideas for pop, dance and classical music for both solo and cello format. The album was well-reviewed in Britain and included in Melody Maker's "Top Thirty Releases of 1986".

Arthur also collaborated with a number of choreographers, including John Bernd, Diane Madden, Alison Salzinger and Stephanie Woodard.

Arthur Russell died of AIDS on April 4, 1992, at the age of 40. In an April 28 column, Kyle Gann of The Village Voice wrote: "His recent performances had been so infrequent due to illness, his songs were so personal, that it seems as though he simply vanished into his music."

Russell was prolific, but was also notorious for leaving songs unfinished and continually revising his music. Ernie Brooks said that Russell "never arrived at a completed version of anything," while Peter Gordon stated, "his quest wasn't really to do a finished product but more to do with exploring his different ways of working musically". He left behind more than 1,000 tapes when he died, 40 of them different mixes of one song.

In 2007, “This Is How We Walk On The Moon”, a song which appears on the 1994 album "Another Thought", was used in a UK television commercial for T-Mobile. Also in 2007 the artist Johanna Billing exhibited a video of the same title, which included a cover of the song, at Documenta 12 in Kassel and at a gallery in Edinburgh.

The documentary Wild Combination: A Portrait Of Arthur Russell by director Matt Wolf came out in 2008. The prize-winning film enjoyed great success at film festivals worldwide and had theatrical runs in Londpon, New York, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco. It is available on DVD worldwide.

A new record of unreleased recordings, "Love Is Overtaking Me" (Audika), was released in 2008.
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