Leon Redbone was an eccentric, much-loved performer of Jazz, Ragtime, Country and Tin Pan Alley songs. He left this world on Thursday, headed for the concert hall in the great beyond.
A cheeky statement on Redbone’s website read:
It is with heavy hearts we announce that early this morning, May 30th, 2019, Leon Redbone crossed the delta for that beautiful shore at the age of 127.
Redbone’s career lifted off the ground in the early 1970s when Bob Dylan championed his work. Dylan said that if he had ever started a label, he would have been the first to sign Redbone.
Redbone, with his ever-present Panama hat, dark sunglasses, and bushy mustache, was famously secretive with details of his personal life, although my research shows he had immigrated to Canada from Cyprus and that his birth name was Dickran Gobalian. For the last four decades, he lived in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In 1974, Dylan said:
I‘ve heard he’s anywhere from 25 to 60, and I can’t tell, but you’ve gotta see him.
He released his debut album, On The Track, in 1975, and dropped 16 albums throughout his career. The air of personal mystery that he cultivated matched his old-timey musical style, which drew on Blues, Vaudeville, and Minstrel traditions.
His commercial success peaked in 1977 when the album Double Time reached the Top 50 on the Billboard Pop chart. Yet, Redbone remained a cultural presence for decades, singing the theme song for 1980s sitcom Mr. Belvedere and appearing as “Leon the Snowman” in the much-loved Christmas film Elf (2003), and selling out concerts in small venues and symphony halls around the country.
An astonishingly talented guitarist, singer and musical archivist, I was a fan of his casually lovely and always wry voice after his two performances during Saturday Night Live‘s first season.