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Is Leon Redbone Serious?

Leon Redbone has built, sort of in a minor key, one of the most distinctive and eccentric personas in American culture. Does anyone beside perhaps his most dedicated fans know much about the guy? In any case, just about everything he plays is great both for its simplicity and the fact that he is calling attention to terrific songs that largely are forgotten. Click here (iTunes) or on the image (Amazon) for “Champagne Charlie,” a popular and recommended Redbone album.
Here is a rather odd line from Wikipedia’s bio of Leon Redbone:

According to the Toronto Star report in the 1980s, his birth name is Dickran Gobalian, he came to Canada from Cyprus in the mid-1960s and changed his name… (Continue Reading…)

For some reason, it doesn’t seem surprising. I never really knew if Redbone was on the level. He is remarkably talented, but I never quite bought the shtick. But the bottom line is that it doesn’t matter.

Jon Niccum writes an engaging bio at Redbone’s site which, again unsurprisingly, doesn’t say anything about Redbone himself:

The careers of performers who reside in the limelight are usually short-lived and over-overexposed. So it’s refreshing to encounter Leon Redbone, who has for decades remained so musically resonant and personally elusive. Though his iconic guise of white fedora, jacket and sunglasses has been thoroughly satirized (anybody remember the “Leon Redbone workout” Far Side cartoon?), it’s easy to overlook what a genuinely gifted artist he remains – a role he inevitably tries to downplay.

 “In some ways I’ve always been complacent in my approach to music,” Redbone says. “So in some ways maybe I’m the pure definition of consistent.”

At the core of his initial calling was the desire to simply honor songs from the past – a waltz with bygone days that established him as sole curator of the museum of 20th century music. Over the course of his 30+ year, 15+ album career, the bard has continued his love affair with tunes from the turn-of-the-century (as in the second-to-last century), flapper-era radio ditties, Depression-spawned ragtime and World War II folk-jazz. (Continue Reading…)

There isn’t a great deal of good video of Leon Redbone, but the 1991 clip from The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson is excellent. Redbone performs Up a Lazy River and Mr. Jelly Roll Baker. The guy — whoever he really is — is very talented. Looking that relaxed and seeming to do so little as he does so much is unique. In a way, it’s reminiscent of Willie Nelson.

Check out the slide guitar player about halfway through the second song.

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Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.


What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.


The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.