Leon Redbone

I first became acquainted with Mr. Redbone, not through his Saturday Night Live appearance, but when I was caught by the cover of his Double Time album at Reader's Corner in Raleigh, NC. 

I bought the album, liked his sound, and sought out more of his odd blend of old-time Americana parlor songs smattered with long-ago standards of jazz, blues, country, and TIn Pan Alley. And some of the oddest, laziest scat-singing that is not quite singing nor quite scatting.

I was fortunate to see him live on several occasions and his persona onstage was pretty much what one expected from hearing his drawling baritone voice: laid-back to the point of drowsiness, yet capable of playing hot guitar like nobody's business.

That memory is why I was surprised by a video from the Talkin' Blues podcast where Leon talks in a very normal, reasonable tone of voice about...what, I could not really articulate for you. Something about how music captures you, both as musician and listener? Anyway, it ends with Leon entertaining a small live audience, sitting on a chair, riffing, and adding some new flourishes to a song he's played a bazillion times over the last 40 years. He is a master of his craft.

That clip, I think, comes from a documentary said to be in production about this mystery man. The promo video for the documentary has some warm reminiscences from people who saw Leon emerge from Toronto, of all places, in the mid to late '60s. He was a mystery then, and remains a bit of one today.

The video below (from Austin City Limits) is the Leon I remember best, in his youthful prime, with his late-70s sound of a small combo: clarinet, tuba, guitar, maybe a muted trumpet.

Another reason I like this video is that it's a transfer from someone's home VHS recording. Those snowy bands at the top and bottom of the picture, caused by some poor VCR head tracking, are the visual equivalent of the pops and crackles of old 78s which Mr. Redbone must have heard as a young man, building his repertoire. Shades from the past.


Michael E Brown @brownstudy