Arthur Russell (musician)

Arthur Russell (musician)

Charles Arthur Russell Jr. (1952 – April 4, 1992) was an American cellist, composer, singer, and disco artist. While he found the most success in dance music, 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 lifetime, a series of reissues and compilations have raised his profile in the 2000s.

Life and Career

Russell was born and raised in Oskaloosa, Iowa, where he 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, 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 Russell (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, Lenny 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 1980, Russell, who was gay, started a relationship with Tom Lee that lasted until Russell's death. Lee is the holder of Russell's estate.

In 1979, Russell 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 Russell's innovative dance tunes. This was followed by 'Is It All Over My Face' by Loose Joints, released in 1980. In 1981, Russell and the entrepreneur 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, Russell 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, wife of the notorious Bob, 'Treehouse/Schoolbell' (Sleeping Bag, 1986) and 'Let's Go Swimming' (Upside/Rough Trade, 1986).

During the mid 1980s, Russell gave many performances, either accompanying himself on cello 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."

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


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."

Cultural Significance and Influence

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. A tribute EP, Four Songs by Arthur Russell was also released in 2007. Tim Lawrence, an author and academic at the University of East London, is writing a biography of Russell, to be published in 2008. Filmmaker Matt Wolf completed a feature-length documentary on Russell called Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell. It premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival on February 13, 2008.



  • Dinosaur: "Kiss Me Again" (1979). Sire Records.
  • Loose Joints: "Is It All Over My Face" / "Pop Your Funk" (1980). West End Records.
  • Loose Joints: "Is It All Over My Face (Female version)" (1980). West End Records.
  • "Go Bang" (1982), from 24-24 Music. Sleeping Bag Records. Vocals by Lola Love.
  • "Tell You Today" (1983). 4th and Broadway. Vocals by Joyce Bowden.
  • "Wax the Van" (1985). Jump Street Records. Vocals by Lola Love. Produced by Bob and Lola Blank.
  • "Treehouse/Schoolbell" (1986). Sleeping Bag (US) / 4th and Broadway (UK)
  • "Let's Go Swimming" (1986). Logarythm (US) / Rough Trade (UK).
  • "Springfield" (2006). Audika Records. Includes a remix by The DFA.


  • 24-24 Music (1982). Sleeping Bag Records. With Will Socolov.
  • Tower of Meaning (1983). Chatham Square.
  • Instrumentals (1984). Crepsecule. Recorded with The Flying Lizards and Glenn Lamaro, Bill Ruyle, and Jon Sholle.
  • World of Echo (1986). Recorded by Phil Niblock. Re-issued 2004 Audika Records (US) / Rough Trade (UK).
  • Another Thought (1994). Point Music 438 891-2. Compiled with help from Mikel Rouse.
  • Calling Out of Context (2004). Audika Records. Compiled by Steve Knutson.
  • The World of Arthur Russell (2004). Soul Jazz Records.
  • First Thought Best Thought (2006). Audika Records. [Includes Instrumentals Volume 1 & 2, Reach One, Tower of Meaning, and Sketch for the Face of Helen].
  • Springfield EP (2006). Audika Records.
  • Another Thought (Re-released 2006). Orange Mountain Music.


External links

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