May 31, 2019

"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."

Read the official statement at his webiste, quoted in "Singer Leon Redbone Dies at 69/In a nod to how Redbone sought to exist outside of time, much less current musical styles, his death announcement gave his age as 127" (Variety).
Although Redbone’s pop-defying predilection for seemingly antiquated musical styles of the ’20s and ’30s made him the unlikeliest of stars, he became one anyway, appearing several times as the musical guest on “Saturday Night Live” — including two spots in the inaugural 1975-76 season alone — and landing frequent appearances with Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show” into the 1980s....
Enough of that, more from the official website:
He departed our world with his guitar, his trusty companion Rover, and a simple tip of his hat. He’s interested to see what Blind Blake, Emmett, and Jelly Roll have been up to in his absence, and has plans for a rousing sing along number with Sári Barabás. An eternity of pouring [sic] through texts in the Library of Ashurbanipal will be a welcome repose, perhaps followed by a shot or two of whiskey with Lee Morse, and some long overdue discussions with his favorite Uncle, Suppiluliuma I of the Hittites. To his fans, friends, and loving family who have already been missing him so in this realm he says, "Oh behave yourselves. Thank you…. and good evening everybody."
And here's what Bob Dylan said (in 1974):
“Leon interests me. I’ve heard he’s anywhere from 25 to 60, I’ve been [a foot and a half from him] and I can’t tell, but you gotta see him. He does old Jimmie Rodgers, then turns around and does a Robert Johnson.”
I saw Leon Redbone at least once, somewhere in the 1970s, maybe at The Ark in Ann Arbor. Here's how he looked and acted back then, maintaining his mysterious comic character:



I'm writing "mysterious," but I see he said, "I don’t do anything mysterious on purpose. I’m less than forthcoming, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m mysterious. It just means I’m not inclined to go there." And: "Very little of my life goes into my music.... I’ve never considered myself the proper focus of attention. I’m just a vehicle … not so much for the particular kind of music I prefer, music from an earlier time, as for a mood that music conveys."

40 comments:

Lost My Cookies said...

At least Ray J Johnson still survives.

Ann Althouse said...

I edited this post to take out the reference to a song that I don't want to discuss here (the thing he sand with Zooey Deschanel in the movie "Elf"). I will delete comments that talk about the familiar controversy about that song, because it would be a very undesirable sidetrack. Go one step down to Little Bug's Café if you need to say anything about that (including anything about this comment of mine).

TerriW said...

My dad used to listen to Leon Redbone when I was growing up, so this is hitting all of my nostalgia buttons. I think the first album cover I remember seeing was the one with Michigan J. Frog on it. Big Chief Buffalo Nickel, Dancing on Daddy's Shoes.

Glad I missed whatever controversy bubbled up about him and get to keep my memory as-is.


(Or maybe it was K-Tel's Magic of Abba with the four year-book style headshots on a black background.)

tim maguire said...

Time to pull out the old albums.

Temujin said...

When I read about Leon Redbone this morning, I knew you'd be all over this. Not only Redbone, but you got in a mention of The Ark in Ann Arbor. Both great memories.

He was all about the mood. And it worked then. Not so sure it would today.

Darrell said...

I'm always interested to hear what Dylan says.
In some reality.

stevew said...

Great pipes and great style, that's what attracted me to his music. Likewise Leon Russell and Dr. John.

RIP.

Wilbur said...

He was maybe my favorite artist, behind only Bob Wills, for the last 40+ years.

I only saw him live once, 20+ years ago at the Music Exchange in Ft. Lauderdale. He behaved and sounded like he'd just ingested something strong, although that was never suggested as part of his lifestyle to my knowledge. A lot of mumbling and slurring.

Ann Althouse said...

When Dylan said he was "anywhere from 25 to 60," Redbone was, in fact, 25.

Jeff Gee said...

He played at NYU’s Loeb Student Center not long after his first album broke big. I was ushering. Redbone was unaware that he was the opening act for Aztec Two-Step, and was not happy about it. He had a point, since he had a top ten album and they did not (and never would). Somebody (his agent?) suggested he bag it. He shook his head and said okay, he’d be the opening act, but he wouldn’t do an encore. He did an encore.

Annie C. said...

I saw him at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor in the late seventies. My Dad actually came up from Ohio to see him with me. Maybe because of Dad I always thought he would work really well with Dean Martin, Sammy Davis and the gang.

daskol said...

Leon Redbone looked a lot like Frank Zappa.

Original Mike said...

I saw Leon Redbone at the Union Theatre in Madison. Always liked him.

Robert Cook said...

I never liked Leon Redbone, for the same reason I've never liked Tom Waits: they both simply mimic the singing styles and vocal inflections of old, black blues men. I hear it as cheap and inauthentic. Waits, in particular, irritates me as an offensive phony.

h said...

The 1950s and 1960s were a great time for musicians looking back and appreciating the music that came before them. Bob Dylan was part of that. Leon Redbone mined the pop music of the 1920s and 1930s that made me think (in my 20s then) that this music should not just be dismissed as trite drivel.

Leland said...

I never really knew him as an artist until the "Elf" song, and the tone of his voice made me think they had Zooey singing opposite an old recording, like a mashup edit. I then read up his history with Frosty the Snowman. I then forgot about him. His is a style of music I enjoy when the mood is there, and then it is perfect. I like big band jazz too, but when it is appropriate. Anyway, it was "Guardian of the Galaxy" that brought him back to my attention again, and now his death. If you told me he was 127, I wouldn't disagree.

Unknown said...

After many years of lurking, this sad news prompts me to make my first post here. I knew Leon Redbone had been unwell for the past couple of years or so, so this is not a surprise to me, but it's still bumming me out.

I first saw him as a 15 year old on one of his SNL appearances in 1977, and it opened a whole new genre of music to me, and I've been a huge fan ever since. I was only able to see him live once, somewhere around 1986 or '87 at the late lamented Nightstage in Cambridge, MA - I've never enjoyed any other show more.

RIP Sonny...

Phil 314 said...

“Leon Redbone looked a lot like Frank Zappa.”

I always thought Groucho Marx.

Listening to the clip reminded me of a thought I would have when listening to him “Man, he should clear his throat once and for all”

Phil 314 said...

Final thought:

When will the ‘70s moustache come back? (Or as my now adult kids used to call mine, “Porn star ‘stache”)

As the long hair of the late 60s and early 70s receded the mustaches grew out.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I always loved Leon Redbone's music. The jazzy folksy guitar style. His sweet renditions of older songs.

He was actually such a relief from the acid rock long involved endless drum solo repetitious style that was popular at that time. Then there was Disco (spit).

Even though he was reprising---not mimicking as Cookie suggests--- a style of long forgotten (by the youth of the time) music he brought his own spin into it. Refreshing and unique. Happy music.

By reprising that old style he also brought to the attention of young people at that time the importance and value of some of those old timer artists like Sister Rosetta Tharpe and as stated in the obituary Blind Blake, Emmett, and Jelly Roll. He was important in keeping these traditions and artist who were at part of the roots of American music alive and remembered.

Thank you Leon Redbone for all the good time music.

tcrosse said...

There was a rumor that Leon was actually one of Andy Kaufman's many jokes.

rehajm said...

As a young kid I loved his enigmatic persona- I thought he was Zappa before I learned he wasn't. I love the guys you can't pin down...I hope he liked that. He garnered the interest of such a wide variety of performers. HIs work with Bonnie Raitt! I loved his SNL performance and his Budweiser commercial.

God speed Dickran Gobalian

rehajm said...

I love that Cookie doesn't like him. One more reason to love him.

rehajm said...

Which is not to impugn Cookie necessarily but rather one more manifestation of the interesting enigmatic character Redbone was.

Ann Althouse said...

"The 1950s and 1960s were a great time for musicians looking back and appreciating the music that came before them. Bob Dylan was part of that."

The greatest example of that was Tiny Tim (a friend of Bob's).

NorthOfTheOneOhOne said...

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.

127 years ago was 1892. 1892 was the same year that Michigan J Frog was sealed up in the cornerstone of the JC Wilber building. Coincidence?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

If you guys like this retro and historic roots of music type of thing. I recommend looking at, or listening to, the Smithsonian Folkways collection.

Jack Klompus said...

Cookie of course keeps it realler than all of you.

Lance said...

Just watched this short doc, thought it gave a nice taste: Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone

Narr said...

He was a classic, and I'm sorry to hear the news.

Musical forms and styles live only because people who weren't around to live the realities that prompted them, find whatever of beauty, or truth, they contain. One of my much-esteemed former colleagues is a noted scholar, musicologist, and performer of the Blues, and sometimes I think he can play the hiss and pop of the old recordings as well as the notes. (He was a Harvard classics scholar, go figure).

There's a tendency to sniff at those who adopt, adapt, misuse, or bastardize artistic forms. Fine, let's start with the Rolling Stones, middle-to-upper-class Englishmen who made fortunes trying to imitate and update what started as worksongs, wails, and field hollers long before and far away from them.

Narr
You don't have to wear a powdered wig to play or enjoy the harpsichord

dustbunny said...

Robert Cook, that’s some weird, judgmental bullshit about Tom Waits. His work started as trying to sound older than he was (as did Dylan’s) but the many directions he has explored since then makes his work original and unique. Have you heard Mule Variations?

Jack Klompus said...

Cookie is just so authentically down with the real black man.

Narr said...

IIRC, Dylan mentions in his memoir somewhere (I've merely browsed around), that he spent a lot of time after arriving in NYC at the NYPL, reading the microfilmed newspapers from the WABAWTS (1861-65). It was an immersion in American history, culture, and language.

I'm not his biggest fan, but he's a great artist; as a writer of songs that sound good regardless of the performer, I'd rate Paul Simon higher, FWIW.

Narr
And Stevie, the wondrous!

Robert Cook said...

"Robert Cook, that’s some weird, judgmental bullshit about Tom Waits. His work started as trying to sound older than he was (as did Dylan’s) but the many directions he has explored since then makes his work original and unique. Have you heard Mule Variations?"

No. As I do not like any Tom Waits performance I have ever heard, I do not make any effort to explore his body of work.

Christy said...

Redbone confused the hell out of me, starting with his name, redbone being such an insult at the time. Then I realized he was always ribbing us and settled in for the ride. Still, I loved trying to figure out what he was really doing.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

I saw Leon Redbone at the University of Alaska in 1982. Part of his shtick was to take flash pictures of the audience as a way of admonishing us not to do the same to him. I am astonished to learn he was only four years older than I am. I pegged him at around 127 when I saw him in 1982.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

"Robert Cook, that’s some weird, judgmental bullshit about Tom Waits.

To defend Cook. Everyone is entitled to his/her own taste and judgement about music and art...and pretty much anything else.

Opinions on art may differ but there is NO wrong or right because they are personal opinions. I don't care for Tom Waits. My opinion. Someone else might like Tom Waits. Their opinion. I don't have to listen to Waits and I'm certainly not going to stop someone else from doing so.

Cook may think that Redbone was being a mimic. OK. His opinion. I think Redbone was doing a reprisal and homage to a type of music. My opinion.

Neither one of us is right or wrong :-)

WhoKnew said...

I saw Leon Redbone at the Stock Pavilion (dirt floors and all) in Madison sometime during the 75-76 school year. He was opening for John Prine. Both of them put on good shows. And just to join in the Tom Waits debate, I think his first two albums are great, but that was back when he was still trying to sing. Afterwards he got sucked into his stage persona and started just mumbling his way through the music. That did it for me. I occasionally hear something of his and think that it would be good if it was covered by someone who would actually sing the song. I have the same problem with Rickie Lee Jones, who for a long while seemed to think she was the female Tom Waits

dustbunny said...

Just read that Tony Glover of Koerner, Ray and Glover died. A great harps player who also mined old blues music. And Dust bunny Queen, while I recognize your reign over us common dust bunnies I feel that having an opinion on music one doesn’t listen to seems more like bullshit than an informed opinion.

Nichevo said...

I think he did a commercial once. It might have been for Country Time Lemonade. Whatever that was is the only time I remember ever to have heard his music.