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Leon Redbone Bio
Leon Photo for The Bio
L-R Peter Ecklund, Vince Giordano, Leon Redbone and Jonathan Dorn
Leon Redbone was a revivalist of early 20th century songs of sentiment, beautiful melodies which were derived from blues, early country, ragtime and hot jazz. In a comedic, unpredictable yet confident presentation of his music, he and his fellow musicians, the very best sidemen, would transport their audience night after night to a different world, that of a vaudeville time machine. Leon would set the mood sometimes entering the stage once the lights dimmed to "The Third Man Theme" by Anton Karas or "Melancholy" by Johnny Dodds. Known for his array of hats, dark glasses, string ties, walking sticks, old suits and guitars tuned down a whole step (a C chord becomes Bb, the people's key) which best suited his gravely baritone voice, it became a no holds barred night of musical mayhem and fun. He was a master at minimalist facial gestures that captivated audiences at his every raise of the eyebrow. He made his audience feel as if they were a part of the show by inviting them to perform "sing a long numbers" and snapping their pictures with his cameras.

Leon entered life's stage as Dickran Gobalian August 26, 1949 in Cyprus. Musically speaking, it was later in Toronto Canada where he would become a fixture on the late 1960's coffee house scene. This is where he became "Sonny" then transforming into the character we know as Leon Redbone. It was in Toronto where Leon would meet a fellow musician named Mose Scarlett who would play a significant role in Leon's development as a guitar player and choice of material to perform and eventually record. The two became obsessed with those that recorded on labels such as Okeh, Paramount, Columbia and Victor at 78 rpms. The voices of days gone by with names such as Emmett Miller, Jimmie Rodgers, Wilton Crawley, Lee Morse, Blind Blake, Jelly Roll Morton and it was in fact Mose who introduced Leon to a few of these artists creating a lifelong obsession.

By 1972, Leon was generating interest within the entertainment elite that included Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot and Steve Goodman among others. It was during this pivotal year Redbone would play The Mariposa Folk Festival slowly gaining national attention. Dylan sought him out on the island as Redbone presented himself dressed in an old straw hat, ratty cigar (with extras held between the curls of his guitar strings) a bohemian Harmony Sovereign guitar with painted headstock, V shaped duct tape, magic marker embellishments that mirrored Leadbelly's famous 12 string guitar and a bottle of Ballantine's whiskey in his back pocket. The delivery of his chosen material and created look was such a mystery to many at the time that curiously would peak soon enough. This same year he would play The Buffalo Folk Festival as well as record a number of songs at The University of Buffalo by David Benders which eventually would be released as a double album by Third Man Records. He would use the same old Harmony guitar on the record. A beautiful  early video exists from The Buffalo Folk Festival as well. It was at The University of Buffalo where Leon would meet his future wife and co producer, road manager Beryl Handler. Beryl would book Leon at UB acting as the school's booking agent. In 1975 Leon signed his first record contract with Warner Brothers and released "On The Track". He would perform twice on Saturday Night Live in 1976. His first appearance was with Tuba great Jonathan Dorn and the National spot light paved the way for the two to work together for 12 years. Leon would enjoy a fruitful career of television, stage, film and radio until 2015. He appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson frequently during the 80's and 90's. One memorable appearance was with clarinetist Bobby Gordon. The two would eventually survive a plane crash in Clarksburg, West Virginia on February 12, 1979. Leon's voice became so iconic that he was called to do a Budweiser commercial but not just limited to beer. He also appeared as a caricature of himself in a Ken L Ration dog food commercial. He would land roles in films most famously as "Leon" in the beloved film "Elf". He narrated a wonderful PBS documentary about a territory jazz band called "Remembering The Scranton Sirens" in 2011. Leon released 12 studio LPs during his career and a handful of live performances. Each one expertly produced, arranged and performed by he and his studio musicians. Leon passed on May 30, 2019, the very same day his old friend Mose Scarlett passed.
                                                                                                           Bio by Billy Bratcher
Mose Scarlett 1
Mose Scarlett
Mose Scarlett 2
Leon did this drawing of Mose Scarlett in 1980
Mose Scarlett 3
Mose Scarlett
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