Born: August 26, 1949 Primary Instrument: Guitar, acoustic
Leon Redbone is a noted American guitarist and singer, known for his stylized performances of early jazz and blues songs.
Redbone usually performs old and often largely unknown songs from vaudeville and minstrel shows of the 1910s and '20s. He sings with a full, expressive baritone, often mumbling incoherently or yodelling. His guitar technique is excellent, with a quick, jaunty bounce.
Leon Redbone first became known as a performer in the early 1970s in the Toronto area, playing in clubs, and hanging around the university. After meeting Bob Dylan at the Mariposa Folk Festival, Dylan became impressed with Redbone's talent and mentioned him in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. Redbone himself was profiled in Rolling Stone before ever releasing an album.
One story has it that at this time Redbone was approached by the legendary producer John Hammond to record an album. According to rumour, he gave Hammond the number of a dial-a-joke service rather than give out his own number.
Redbone suddenly came upon the national scene with his first album, On The Track, and an appearance on Saturday Night Live, both in 1976. Leon Redbone immediately established a strong presence through his music. His style of performance appeared before the public in full bloom, and has remained remarkably consistent ever since.
Leon Redbone quickly settled into a comfortable medium level of fame. He managed to keep his career on the national radar through a combination of critically-acclaimed albums, continual live appearances, occasional interviews, and a few television appearances. He performed on Saturday Night Live a total of three times, and also on The Tonight Show on occasion. Also, he has been easily recognized by casual listeners in a handful of commercial jingles and television theme songs.
Redbone prefers performing live to recording. As his career has continued, he has left successively longer periods between albums. He has released only 14 albums in 25 years, three of them live albums. He has toured extensively, usually in the eastern US and England, often appearing at small venues and folk, jazz, or blues festivals.
Throughout his entire career, his music and style has changed little. His dedication to his specific type of music and his consistency in his choice of songs, and manner of performing, are remarkable and largely unheard-of in contemporary music. A listener will hear little difference in his voice, guitar- playing, or arrangements between his first album in 1976, and his 2001 album, Anytime.
Although Leon Redbone has written a handful of songs himself, his main strength is as an interpreter of other people's work. Redbone cites his biggest influences as Jelly Roll Morton, Emmett Miller, and Blind Blake. He often performs songs by Morton and Miller, and his guitar-playing is very reminiscent of, and obviously inspired by, Blake's playing. His knowledge of music seems to be encyclopaedic, however, and he selects his songs from a wide variety of sources. Apart from Morton and Miller, his usual sources, he plays anything from early show tunes, to contemporary songs by Bob Dylan, to Christmas songs.
On stage, Redbone often appears in a white suit, with a panama hat and dark glasses. While he is relatively sedate and unassuming, the shows are punctuated by his unusual sense of humour, and of course his excellent performances. He sometimes performs solo, but often has for accompaniment a pianist, a cornet player, and a tuba player. Between songs he usually charms the audience by blowing soap bubbles, performing with hand shadow puppets, and taking a photograph of the audience. After a show he often stays around to meet some audience members and sign autographs.
In appearance, Leon Redbone is a medium-sized man of medium build. He has dark features, a large nose, sideburns, and a large black moustache. He is usually well dressed, and sometimes carries a cane.
His clothing is an external reflection of his music, and the period his music comes from. With other performers this might seem like an act, but Redbone claims not to have an act, and reportedly performs even without a set list. Redbone sees his attire not as a costume or part of his stage show, but as a 'consistent way of thinking'.
He also admits to being talented in drawing and draughtsmanship, and has patented a device for levelling tables whose feet have become uneven. He is reportedly very kind and gracious when approached by fans, and is usually happy to give autographs or pose for photos.
Leon Redbone is personable, but also extremely private. He considers personal details to be irrelevant to his work and an invasion of his privacy. No biographical information has ever been released or confirmed by Redbone himself, or anyone affiliated with him. For this reason, any biographical information is based strictly on rumour.
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