Leon Redbone

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Leon Redbone
Leon Redbone at Knuckleheads Saloon-Kansas City MO.png
Leon Redbone at Knuckleheads Saloon, Kansas City, Missouri, 2010
Background information
Birth name Dickran Gobalian[1]
Born (1949-08-26) August 26, 1949 (age 67)
Ontario, Canada, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, or Cyprus
Genres Vaudevillian, ragtime, jazz, blues
Occupation(s) Musician, singer-songwriter
Instruments Guitar
Years active 1975–2015
Labels August Records, Warner Bros., Atco, Sugar Hill, Blue Thumb, Rounder, Private Music, Third Man
Website www.leonredbone.com

Leon Redbone (born Dickran Gobalian, August 26, 1949) is a singer-songwriter and guitarist specializing in jazz, blues, and Tin Pan Alley classics. Recognized by his Panama hat, dark sunglasses, and black tie, Redbone first appeared on stage in Toronto, Canada in the mid-1970s.

Redbone's concerts blend performance, comedy, and skilled instrumentals. Recurrent gags involve the influence of alcohol and claiming to have written works originating well before he was born. He sang the theme to the television series Mr. Belvedere[2] and has released sixteen albums.[3]

On May 19, 2015 on his web site, his publicist announced his retirement from performing and recording.[4]

Early life[edit]

According to a Toronto Star report in the 1980s, his birth name is Dickran Gobalian, and he came to Canada from Cyprus in the mid-1960s and changed his name via the Ontario Change of Name Act.[1] However, an article about producer John H. Hammond in a 1973 issue of the Canadian jazz magazine Coda states that he was a native of Philadelphia who moved to Toronto: "Sitting next to Hammond was a young white musician named Leon Redbone from Philadelphia, but currently residing in Toronto".[5]


Redbone at Massey Hall, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 2007

While living in Canada in the early 1970s, Redbone began performing in public at Toronto area nightclubs and folk music festivals. He met Bob Dylan at the Mariposa Folk Festival. Dylan was so impressed by Redbone's performance that he mentioned it in a Rolling Stone interview,[6] leading that magazine to do a feature article on Redbone a year before he had a recording contract.[7] The article described his performances as "so authentic you can hear the surface noise [of an old 78 rpm]." His first album, On the Track, was released by Warner Bros. Records in 1975.

He was introduced to a larger public as a semi-regular musical guest on NBC's Saturday Night Live, appearing twice in the first season.[8][9] During the 1980s and '90s Redbone was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He has also been a guest on A Prairie Home Companion.[10]

Due to his reluctance to discuss his past, there has been speculation that "Leon Redbone" was an alternative identity for another performer.[11] The two most commonly mentioned are Andy Kaufman and Frank Zappa,[12] both of whom Redbone has outlived.

Redbone usually dresses in attire reminiscent of the Vaudeville era, performing in a Panama hat with a black band and dark sunglasses, often while sitting at attention on a stool, with a white coat and trousers with a black string tie.

Redbone survived the crash of a small plane in Clarksburg, West Virginia, on February 12, 1979.[1] He travels to engagements exclusively by car, saying, "I carry around many unusual items and devices. They make life difficult for airport security personnel and flying impossible for me."[1]

Redbone retired from music in 2015 due to health problems.[4][8]

Appearances in other media[edit]

Redbone sang "Baby, It's Cold Outside" with Zooey Deschanel over the closing credits of the 2003 film Elf [13] and provided the voice for Leon the Snowman. On his 1987 album Christmas Island he performed "Frosty the Snowman" with Dr. John.[14] He performed the theme song for the TV shows Mr. Belvedere and Harry and the Hendersons.[2]

Redbone appeared regularly on the PBS children's show Between the Lions.[15] He appeared on an episode of the TV show Life Goes On.[16] He narrated the 2011 Emmy-winning documentary Remembering the Scranton Sirens.

Redbone has performed in several TV commercials, including Budweiser beer, in which he lies on a surfboard singing "This Bud's for You",[17] the U.S. automobile brand Chevrolet,[18] All laundry detergent,[19] and InterCity British Rail service in which he sang the song "Relax".[20] He also lent his voice to an animated caricature of himself in a commercial for Ken-L Ration dog food.[21]


Cinema marquee in Towanda, Pennsylvania featuring appearance of Leon Redbone

Studio albums[edit]

Live albums[edit]

  • Leon Redbone Live (1985)
  • Live! (1994)
  • Live & Kickin' (1999)
  • Live – October 26, 1992: The Olympia Theater, Paris, France (2005)
  • Long Way from Home (2016)[22]


  1. ^ a b c d Quill, Greg. "Redbone careful to preserve the mystery." Toronto Star (The Star.com) 13 June 2007.
  2. ^ a b Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle F. (17 October 2007). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present (9 ed.). Ballantine Books. p. 903. ISBN 0-345-49773-2. 
  3. ^ "Leon Redbone Discography". Discogs. Discogs. 2016. Retrieved August 11, 2016. 
  4. ^ a b "Leon Redbone has Retired from Performing and Recording". leonredbone.com. Retrieved 19 May 2015. Leon Redbone, the legendary folk/jazz/roots performer has retired from both public appearances and recording. A spokesman for the artist noted, "We share the sadness and disappointment sure to be experienced by his many fans and friends and hope they understand that his health has been a matter of concern for some time. It has become too challenging for him to continue the full range of professional activities." 
  5. ^ Coda (Volume 11, Issues 1-6 ed.). 1973. p. 36. Retrieved 26 August 2011. Sitting next to Hammond was a young white musician named Leon Redbone from Philadelphia, but currently residing in Toronto. 
  6. ^ Fong-Torres, Ben. "Knockin' on Bob Dylan's Door". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 20 May 2015. "Leon interests me," he said. "I've heard he's anywhere from 25 to 60, I've been this close" — Dylan held his hands out, a foot and a half apart — "and I can't tell, But you gotta see him. He does old Jimmie Rodgers, then turns around and does a Robert Johnson." Redbone has surfaced at various folk festivals in the past years and is every bit the mystery that Dylan indicates. 
  7. ^ "Leon Redbone Biography". All About Jazz. Retrieved 26 August 2011. 
  8. ^ a b Grow, Kory (19 May 2015). "Leon Redbone Retires, Plans Comp on Jack White's Label". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2 October 2016. 
  9. ^ McGinn, Andrew (October 16, 2009). "Leon Redbone Has Been Performing Timeless Tunes For Decades, But He's Still Got An Air Of Mystery -- And That's The Way He Likes It.". Dayton Daily News  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). Retrieved 15 September 2012. It's now impossible to envision Redbone back on "SNL." His last appearance on the show was in 1983. 
  10. ^ "Leon Redbone to perform at Clarke; Guitarist will perform a mix of folk, jazz and ragtime music". Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque) – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). March 4, 2004. Retrieved 15 September 2012. Throughout his career, Redbone has produced 11 albums and has been featured on Garrison Keillor's "Prairie Home Companion." 
  11. ^ Bruley, Abigail (May 26, 2011). "NIght Train + Arts & Ale + Leon Redbone". The Feast. Retrieved 2 September 2011. Leon Redbone, the crooner once thought to be the alter ego of Andy Kaufman or Frank Zappa 
  12. ^ "Leon Redbone On Tour". Last.fm. Retrieved 28 August 2011. 
  13. ^ "Elf: Music From The Major Motion Picture: CDs & Vinyl". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2014-07-12. 
  14. ^ "Leon Redbone and Dr. John - Frosty The Snowman". YouTube. Retrieved 1 September 2011. 
  15. ^ [1] Archived December 21, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  16. ^ "Life Goes On - Season 2, Episode 17: Corky's Travels". TV.com. 1991-03-10. Retrieved 2014-07-12. 
  17. ^ "1982 Leon Redbone Budweiser Commercial". YouTube. Retrieved 21 July 2014. 
  18. ^ "Chevy featuring Leon Redbone (1991)". YouTube. Retrieved 1 September 2011. 
  19. ^ "All commercial". YouTube. Retrieved 1 September 2011. 
  20. ^ "Relax". YouTube. Retrieved 2 September 2011. 
  21. ^ "Leon Redbone Burgers and Bones ad". YouTube. Retrieved 1 September 2011. 
  22. ^ "Leon Redbone Releases!". Third Man Records. November 15, 2016. Retrieved November 18, 2016. 

External links[edit]