Leon Redbone, one of my all-time favorite vocalists, died about a week ago at the age of 69. I first heard his voice when I was a teenager, and my friends and I thought he was the greatest thing since peanut butter and jelly.
Redbone enjoyed a cult celebrity throughout the 70s and 80s, appearing often on Saturday Night Live and the The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He was a true oddity in the pop era I grew up in, bending and twisting the musical styles of ragtime and the 20s and 30s into something all his own and strangely enchanting. He found a dedicated following of fans who kept him performing right up until a few years ago, when he retired for health reasons.
He was truly a mystery man. Very little is known about his life or childhood beyond his “discovery” by Bob Dylan at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1972. I’ve added a link to the documentary film about Redbone, Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone, a 15-minute treasure from Riddle Films well worth watching, and a link to some footage of him strumming through “Shine On Harvest Moon” in Nashville, TN, 2014, near the end of his career.
If you’ve never encountered Mr. Redbone, you’ll likely be somewhat flabbergasted by his music and performance style. I’m the first to admit he’s an acquired taste. But once acquired, you’ll want to listen to everything he’s ever recorded.
I’m sorry that I must say goodbye to this unique talent, who taught me so much about art, style, and voice during my impressionable youth. His passing leaves me with the hollow sadness one feels upon losing an old friend you wish you’d gotten to know better. I tip my hat to you, Champagne Charlie.