Leon Redbone

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Leon Redbone
Leon Redbone at Knuckleheads Saloon-Kansas City MO.png
Redbone in 2010
Background information
Birth nameDickran Gobalian
Born(1949-08-26)August 26, 1949[1]
Nicosia, Cyprus
DiedMay 30, 2019(2019-05-30) (aged 69)
Bucks County, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Occupation(s)Musician, singer, songwriter
InstrumentsGuitar, vocals
Years activeLate 1960s–2015

Leon Redbone (born Dickran Gobalian,[2][3] August 26, 1949 – May 30, 2019) was a Cyprus-born Canadian-American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and actor specializing in jazz, blues, and Tin Pan Alley classics. Recognized by his Panama hat, dark sunglasses, and black tie, Redbone 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 skill in guitar playing. Recurrent gags involved the influence of alcohol and claiming to have written works originating well before he was born – Redbone favored material from the Tin Pan Alley era, circa 1890 to 1910. He sang the theme to the 1980s television series Mr. Belvedere and released eighteen albums.


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 was once known as Dickran Gobalian, and he came to Canada from Cyprus 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 stated that his family was of Armenian origin.[2] His parents lived in Jerusalem, but moved in 1948 to Nicosia, Cyprus, where Redbone was born. By 1961, the family had moved to London, England, and by 1965 to Toronto.[2]


Redbone at Massey Hall, Toronto, Canada in 2007

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] His 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 Redbone 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 printed 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 with 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 exclusively played music from decades before the rock era, and disdained "blatant sound for people to dance to".[2] 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 the crash of a small plane in Clarksburg, West Virginia, on February 12, 1979.[4] He 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, following complications from dementia.[16] At the time of his death he was living in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in hospice care.[8][17] He is survived by his wife Beryl Handler, daughters Blake and Ashley, and three grandchildren.[18]

A statement on Mr. Redbone’s website noted his death with cheeky humor: "It is with heavy hearts we announce that early this morning, May 30th, 2019, Leon Redbone crossed the delta for that beautiful shore at the age of 127."[19] His longtime publicist Jim Della Croce confirmed that his age was, in fact, 69.[8]

Appearances in other media[edit]

One of Redbone's songs, "Seduced", was featured prominently in the 1978 film The Big Fix. Redbone sang "Baby, It's Cold Outside" with Zooey Deschanel over the closing credits of the 2003 film Elf [20] and provided the voice for Leon the Snowman in the film.[21] On his 1987 album Christmas Island he performed "Frosty the Snowman" with Dr. John.[22] He performed the theme song 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, Redbone 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]

Redbone performed in several TV commercials, including Budweiser beer, in which 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 in which 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 is 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[edit]

Compilation albums[edit]

  • Rhino Hi-Five: Leon Redbone (Rhino, 2007)
  • Strings & Jokes: Live in Bremen 1977 (MIG, 2018)

Live albums[edit]

  • Live & Kickin' (Purple Pyramid / Cleopatra, 1981)
  • Leon Redbone Live (Green Stone Records, 1985)
  • Live! (truncated version of 1985 release) (Pair, 1994)
  • Live – October 26, 1992: The Olympia Theater, Paris, France (Rounder, 2005)[35]


  1. ^ Neil Genzlinger, "Leon Redbone, Idiosyncratic Throwback Singer, Is Dead at 69", New York Times, May 30, 2019
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Pugh, Megan (March 19, 2019). . Oxford American (104). Retrieved June 6, 2019.
  3. ^ Gehman, Geoff (November 2014). . ICON.
  4. ^ a b c Quill, Greg. Toronto Star (The Star.com) June 13, 2007.
  5. ^ Fong-Torres, Ben (February 14, 1974). . 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. ^ . All About Jazz. Archived from the original on July 27, 2012. Retrieved August 26, 2011.
  7. ^ a b Quill, Greg (June 13, 2007). . thestar.com. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c DeLuca, Dan. . inquirer.com.
  9. ^ Grow, Kory (May 19, 2015). . Rolling Stone. Retrieved October 2, 2016.
  10. ^ McGinn, Andrew (October 16, 2009). . Dayton Daily News  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). 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. ^ . Telegraph – Herald (Dubuque) – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). 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). . Montgomery News. Archived from the original on May 31, 2019. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  13. ^ Bruley, Abigail (May 26, 2011). . The Feast. Retrieved September 2, 2011. Leon Redbone, the crooner once thought to be the alter ego of Andy Kaufman or Frank Zappa
  14. ^ . Last.fm. Retrieved August 28, 2011.
  15. ^ . 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). . Washington Post. Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  17. ^ Willman, Chris; Aswad, Jem (May 30, 2019). . Variety. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
  18. ^ Lifton, Dave. . Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  19. ^ '". Time Magazine. May 30, 2019.
  20. ^ . Amazon.com. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  21. ^ . Retrieved June 2, 2019 – via www.imdb.com.
  22. ^ . YouTube. Retrieved September 1, 2011.
  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 0-345-49773-2.
  24. ^ . leonredbone.com. Archived from the original on December 27, 2010.
  25. ^ . Retrieved June 2, 2019 – via www.imdb.com.
  26. ^ . TV.com. March 10, 1991. Retrieved July 12, 2014.
  27. ^ . American Public Television. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  28. ^ . YouTube. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
  29. ^ . YouTube. Retrieved September 1, 2011.
  30. ^ . YouTube. Retrieved September 1, 2011.
  31. ^ . YouTube. Retrieved September 2, 2011.
  32. ^ . YouTube. Retrieved September 1, 2011.
  33. ^ Leon Redbone - Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone on YouTube
  34. ^ . Allmusic.com. Retrieved May 31, 2019.
  35. ^ . Third Man Records. November 15, 2016. Retrieved November 18, 2016.

External links[edit]