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Leon Redbone

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Leon Redbone
Redbone in 2010
Redbone in 2010
Background information
Birth nameDickran Gobalian
Born(1949-08-26)August 26, 1949[1]
Nicosia, British Cyprus
DiedMay 30, 2019(2019-05-30) (aged 69)
New Hope, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Occupation(s)Musician, singer, songwriter
Instrument(s)Guitar, vocals
Years activeLate 1960s–2015
Redbone at Massey Hall, Toronto, Canada in 2007

Leon Redbone (born Dickran Gobalian;[2][3] August 26, 1949 – May 30, 2019) was a singer-songwriter and musician specializing in jazz, blues, and Tin Pan Alley classics. Recognized by his hat (often a Panama hat), dark sunglasses, and black tie, he was born in Cyprus of Armenian ancestry and first appeared on stage in Toronto, Canada, in the early 1970s. He also appeared on film and television in acting and voice-over roles.

In concert, Redbone often employed comedy and demonstrated his guitar-playing skill. His recurrent gags involved the influence of alcohol and claims he had written works originating well before he was born. He favored music of the Tin Pan Alley era, circa 1890–1910. He sang the theme to the 1980s television series Mr. Belvedere, and released 18 albums.

Early life


Redbone was elusive about his origins, and never explained the origin of his stage name.[2] According to a Toronto Star report in the 1980s, he came to Canada in the mid-1960s, and changed his name via the Ontario Change of Name Act.[4] Biographical research published in 2019 corroborated his birth name, and confirmed that his family was of Armenian origin.[2] His parents lived in Jerusalem,[1] but fled in 1948 for Nicosia, Cyprus, where Redbone was born. By 1961, the family had moved to London, England, and by 1965 to Toronto.[2]



While living in Canada in the late 1960s,[2] Redbone began performing in public at Toronto area nightclubs and folk music festivals. He met Bob Dylan at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1972. Dylan was so impressed by Redbone's performance that he mentioned it in a Rolling Stone interview,[5] leading that magazine to do a feature article on Redbone a year before he had a recording contract.[6] The article described his performances as "so authentic you can hear the surface noise [of an old 78 rpm]."[7] Dylan said that if he had ever started a label, he would have signed Redbone.[8] Redbone's first album, On the Track, was released by Warner Bros. Records in 1975.[7]

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.[9][10] During the 1980s and '90s he was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He was also a guest on A Prairie Home Companion.[11]

A self-taught musician, he played by ear, sometimes changing the chords of established tunes, never rehearsing with a band, and not following set lists.[2] In an interview in the Winter 2017 edition (No. 177) of BING magazine, the publication of the International Club Crosby, clarinetist Dan Levinson recounted working with Redbone:

I toured with Redbone for 12 years. We used to listen to early Crosby while we were on the road. [Redbone's] taste in music was more eclectic than that of anyone I've ever known – it included Emmett Miller, Blind Blake, Paganini, Caruso, Gene Austin, John McCormack, Moran and Mack, Cliff Edwards, Jelly Roll Morton, Ted Lewis, Mustafa the Castrato, the Hungarian singer Imre Laszlo, Jimmie Rodgers ('the Singing Brakeman'), Mongolian throat singers, W. C. Fields, Laurel and Hardy ... and early Bing Crosby.

Redbone was described as "both a musical artist and a performance artist whose very identity was part of his creative output."[2] He usually dressed 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 and a black string tie.[12] With his reluctance to discuss his past came speculation that "Leon Redbone" was an alternative identity for another performer.[13] Two common suggestions in years past were Andy Kaufman and Frank Zappa,[14] both of whom Redbone outlived. Though sometimes compared to Zappa and Tom Waits for "the strength and strangeness of his persona", he almost exclusively played music from decades before the rock era, occasionally writing his own new material in a similar blues-influenced Tin Pan Alley style. (As well, Redbone's only Billboard chart hit, "Seduced", was a newly written tune by Gary Tigerman arranged in Redbone's decades-old style.) Redbone disdained "blatant sound for people to dance to",[2] and in a 1991 interview, he said: "The only thing that interests me is history, reviewing the past and making something out of it."[2]

Redbone survived a small plane crash in Clarksburg, West Virginia, on February 12, 1979.[4] He thereafter traveled 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."[4]

On May 19, 2015 on his website, his publicist referred to concerns about his health and announced his retirement from performing and recording.[15]



Redbone died on May 30, 2019, from the effects of dementia.[16] At the time he was living in New Hope, Pennsylvania, in hospice care.[8][17] He was survived by his wife Beryl Handler, daughters Blake and Ashley, and three grandchildren.[18]

A statement on Redbone's website noted his death with cheeky humor: "It is with heavy hearts we announce that early this morning, May 30, 2019, Leon Redbone crossed the delta for that beautiful shore at the age of 127. He departed our world with his guitar, his trusty companion Rover, and a simple tip of his hat."[19][20] His longtime publicist Jim Della Croce confirmed that Redbone was actually 69.[8]

Appearances in other media


One of Redbone's songs, "Seduced", was featured prominently in the 1978 film The Big Fix. He sang "Baby, It's Cold Outside" with Zooey Deschanel over the closing credits of the 2003 film Elf [21] and provided the voice of Leon the Snowman in the film.[22] He performed the theme songs for the TV shows Mr. Belvedere and Harry and the Hendersons.[23]

Redbone appeared regularly on the PBS children's show Between the Lions.[24] On Sesame Street, he sang several songs over film footage, including "Blueberry Mouth", "Have You Ever", and "What Do They Do When They Go Wherever They Go?" He also appeared as Leon in the 1988 film Candy Mountain,[25] and on an episode of the TV show Life Goes On.[26] He narrated the 2011 Emmy Award-winning documentary Remembering the Scranton Sirens, celebrating the exceptional, yet little-known musical legacy of one of the most significant "territory" dance bands in American musical history.[27]

He performed in TV commercials for various companies, including Budweiser beer (where he lay on a surfboard singing "This Bud's for You"[28]), the U.S. automobile brand Chevrolet,[29] All laundry detergent,[30] and InterCity British Rail service (where he sang the song "Relax"[31]). He also lent his voice to an animated caricature of himself in a commercial for Ken-L Ration dog food.[32]

Redbone was the subject of the 2018 short documentary film Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone by Mako Funasaka, Liam Romalis and Jason Charters, produced by Riddle Films.[33]




Studio albums


Live albums

  • Live & Kickin' (Purple Pyramid / Cleopatra, 1981)
  • Mystery Man (Accord, 1982) 
  • Leon Redbone Live (Green Stone, 1985)
  • Live! (truncated version of 1985 release) (Pair, 1991) 
  • Live – October 26, 1992: The Olympia Theater, Paris, France (Rounder, 2005)[36] 
  • Strings & Jokes: Live in Bremen 1977 (MIG, 2018) 
  • If We Ever Meet Again (Concert Archive-Delta-Special Markets, 2021)


  1. ^ a b Genzlinger, Neil (May 30, 2019). "Leon Redbone, Idiosyncratic Throwback Singer, Is Dead at 69". The New York Times. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Pugh, Megan (March 19, 2019). "Vessel of Antiquity". Oxford American (104). Retrieved June 6, 2019.
  3. ^ Gehman, Geoff (November 2014). "Flying By, Flying High". ICON.
  4. ^ a b c Quill, Greg. "Redbone careful to preserve the mystery." Toronto Star (The Star.com) June 13, 2007.
  5. ^ Fong-Torres, Ben (February 14, 1974). "Knockin' on Bob Dylan's Door". Rolling Stone. Retrieved May 20, 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.
  6. ^ "Leon Redbone Biography". All About Jazz. Archived from the original on July 27, 2012. Retrieved August 26, 2011.
  7. ^ a b Quill, Greg (June 13, 2007). "Redbone careful to preserve the mystery". thestar.com. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c DeLuca, Dan (May 30, 2019). "Leon Redbone, acclaimed 1970s musician, dies in New Hope". inquirer.com.
  9. ^ Grow, Kory (May 19, 2015). "Leon Redbone Retires, Plans Comp on Jack White's Label". Rolling Stone. Retrieved October 2, 2016.
  10. ^ 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. Archived from the original on June 10, 2014. Retrieved September 15, 2012. It's now impossible to envision Redbone back on 'SNL.' His last appearance on the show was in 1983.
  11. ^ "Leon Redbone to perform at Clarke; Guitarist will perform a mix of folk, jazz and ragtime music". Telegraph – Herald (Dubuque). March 4, 2004. Archived from the original on June 10, 2014. Retrieved September 15, 2012. Throughout his career, Redbone has produced 11 albums and has been featured on Garrison Keillor's "Prairie Home Companion."
  12. ^ Rubin, Felice (November 13, 2009). "Leon Redbone brings eclectic, irreverent music to Colonial Theatre". Montgomery News. Archived from the original on May 31, 2019. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  13. ^ Bruley, Abigail (May 26, 2011). "NIght Train + Arts & Ale + Leon Redbone". The Feast. Retrieved September 2, 2011. Leon Redbone, the crooner once thought to be the alter ego of Andy Kaufman or Frank Zappa[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ "Leon Redbone On Tour". Last.fm. Retrieved August 28, 2011.
  15. ^ "Leon Redbone has Retired from Performing and Recording". leonredbone.com. Retrieved May 19, 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."
  16. ^ Schudel, Matt (May 30, 2019). "Leon Redbone, eccentric musician who seemed to inhabit an earlier time, dies at 69". Washington Post. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  17. ^ Willman, Chris; Aswad, Jem (May 30, 2019). "Singer Leon Redbone Dies at 69". Variety. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
  18. ^ Lifton, Dave (May 30, 2019). "Leon Redbone Dies". Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  19. ^ "NEWS". LEON REDBONE. May 30, 2019. Retrieved May 11, 2022.
  20. ^ "Leon Redbone, Enigmatic '70s Musician, Dies 'at the Age of 127'". Time Magazine. May 30, 2019. Archived from the original on May 31, 2019.
  21. ^ "Elf: Music From The Major Motion Picture: CDs & Vinyl". Amazon. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  22. ^ "Elf (2003) – IMDb". Retrieved June 2, 2019 – via www.imdb.com.
  23. ^ Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle F. (October 17, 2007). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946–Present (9 ed.). Ballantine Books. p. 903. ISBN 978-0-345-49773-4.
  24. ^ "What's New". leonredbone.com. Archived from the original on December 27, 2010.
  25. ^ "Candy Mountain (1987) – IMDb". Retrieved June 2, 2019 – via www.imdb.com.
  26. ^ "Life Goes On – Season 2, Episode 17: Corky's Travels". TV.com. March 10, 1991. Archived from the original on May 31, 2019. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  27. ^ "REMEMBERING THE SIRENS". American Public Television. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  28. ^ "1982 Leon Redbone Budweiser Commercial". YouTube. Retrieved July 21, 2014.[dead YouTube link]
  29. ^ "Chevy featuring Leon Redbone (1991)". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved September 1, 2011.
  30. ^ "All commercial". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved September 1, 2011.
  31. ^ "Relax". YouTube. Retrieved September 2, 2011.[dead YouTube link]
  32. ^ "Leon Redbone Burgers and Bones ad". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved September 1, 2011.
  33. ^ Leon Redbone – Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone on YouTube
  34. ^ "Discography". Allmusic.com. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  35. ^ "Leon Redbone". Billboard.com. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
  36. ^ "Leon Redbone Releases!". Third Man Records. November 15, 2016. Archived from the original on November 19, 2016. Retrieved November 18, 2016.