Friday, August 8, 2008
Seeing Leon Redbone in 1980 was a trip...both in strangeness and that it was a trip to the distant past in American music. Redbone is a man of mystery who shrouds his identity behind false information. Few, if any, know who he really is. Anyone who's paid attention knows he's a master of real 'root's' music, from Tin Pan Alley to 20's jazz and minstrel shows. With his deep voice and unique style, his music is immediately identifiable.
The best moment of the show for me was when my friend and writer Denny Angelle interviewed him back stage. Let me let Denny tell you the story from his blog 30daysout.wordpress.com. It's a super music blog.
One guy from the 1970s who seems to be unfairly forgotten is Leon Redbone. One could make a strong case that a large part of his current anonymity is his own fault - after all, when he was “hot” Leon made it very hard to know anything about him. We saw Leon in Beaumont, Texas, in the late 1970s … he skulked backstage and we went in a few minutes later to do an interview.
Although he was cordial and polite, Leon didn’t have much to say - at least anything we could understand. He muttered incomprehensible answers to our questions, talking about Romanian comic books and arcane musical styles. He did mention that one of his influences was Emmitt Miller, a minstrel show performer of the 1920s who often performed his songs in blackface. Onstage, Redbone was great: he is an expert guitar player, and at one point he performed an intricate piece with a handkerchief draped over the frets of his guitar. Always a polite young man (we think he was young), he tipped his hat to the audience and sought out friendly faces with a flashlight. He sings, he plays, and he does trumpet sounds with his mouth - and he’s done about 15 albums this way.
Redbone skulked onto the scene in 1975 with On The Track, a pretty good album from Warner Bros. with artwork featuring that company’s smart-ass singing and dancing frog (there was no WB television network back then, just that one cartoon with the frog). Over the years Redbone has appeared on TV shows and commercials, puts out albums sporadically and continues to perform in small venues. He’s as mysterious now as he was back then, and I guess that is the way he likes it.