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Leon Redbone

Leon Redbone
Leon Redbone in 2010 at Knuckleheads Saloon in Kansas City, MO
Background information
Birth name Dickran Gobalian[1]
Also known as Leon Redbone
Born (1949-08-26) August 26, 1949
Genres Vaudevillian, ragtime, jazz, blues
Occupation(s) musician, songwriter, arranger, producer
Instruments Guitar, Harmonica, Banjo, Piano, Throat Tromnet[2]
Years active 1975–2015
Labels Warner Bros. Records, Emerald City, Rounder, August, Blue Thumb Records

Leon Redbone (born Dickran Gobalian, August 26, 1949) is an Canadian/American singer-songwriter and guitarist specializing in interpretations of early 20th-century music, including jazz and blues standards and Tin Pan Alley classics.

Recognized for his trademark Panama hat, dark sunglasses, and black tie, Redbone first appeared on stage in Toronto, Canada in the mid-1970s.

Redbone has released approximately fifteen albums and earned a sizable cult following. His concerts blend performance, comedy, and skilled instrumentals. Recurrent gags involve the influence of alcohol and claiming to have written works originating well before his time. He sang the theme to the television series Mr. Belvedere.[3]

On May 19, 2015 on his web site, his publicist announced his retirement from performing and recording.[4]


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
  • Appearances in other media 3
  • Solo discography 4
    • Albums 4.1
    • Studio albums 4.2
    • Live albums 4.3
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Early life

According to a Toronto Star report in the 1980s, his birth name is Dickran Gobalian, and he came to Canada from Cyprus in the mid-1960s and changed his name via the Ontario Change of Name Act.[1] However, an article about producer John H. Hammond in a 1973 issue of the Canadian jazz magazine Coda states that he was a native of Philadelphia who moved to Toronto: "Sitting next to Hammond was a young white musician named Leon Redbone from Philadelphia, but currently residing in Toronto".[5]


Leon Redbone in 2007 at Massey Hall, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

While living in Canada in the early 1970s, Redbone began performing in public at Toronto area nightclubs and folk music festivals. He met Bob Dylan at the Mariposa Folk Festival. Dylan was so impressed by Redbone's performance that he mentioned it in a Rolling Stone interview,[6] leading that magazine to do a feature article on Redbone a year before he had a recording contract.[7] The article described his performances as "so authentic you can hear the surface noise [of an old 78 rpm]." His first album, On the Track, was released by Warner Bros. Records in 1975.

He was introduced to a larger public as a semi-regular musical guest on NBC's Saturday Night Live first season, 1976, episode 15 with Jill Clayburgh-host and last appeared on the show in 1983.[8] During the 1980s and '90s Redbone was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. He has also been a guest on A Prairie Home Companion.[9]

Due to his reluctance to discuss his past, there has been speculation that "Leon Redbone" was an alternative identity for another performer.[10] The two most commonly mentioned are Andy Kaufman and Frank Zappa,[11] both of whom Redbone has outlived.

Redbone usually dresses 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.

Redbone survived the crash of a small plane in Clarksburg, West Virginia, on February 12, 1979.[1] He travels 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."[1]

His publicist announced his retirement from both recording and performing on May 19, 2015 issuing the statement: "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."[4]

Appearances in other media

Redbone has appeared in a number of areas outside of his music recording/performance career. He has made appearances in the comic strips Mister Boffo and The Far Side.[12] He performed the theme song for the 1980s sitcom Mr. Belvedere,[3] as well as the theme from the syndicated sitcom Harry and the Hendersons.[3] He appears regularly on the PBS children's show Between the Lions.[13] He performed Frank Loesser's romantic Christmas song "Baby, It's Cold Outside" with Zooey Deschanel for the closing credits of the 2003 film Elf.[14] He also voiced the character of Leon the Snowman in the same film. On his 1987 album Christmas Island he performed a version of "Frosty the Snowman" with Dr. John.[15] Redbone also appeared in an episode of the American television series Life Goes On that originally aired in 1991.[16] He narrated the 2011 Emmy-winning WVIA-TV Documentary Film "Remembering the Scranton Sirens".

Redbone has produced music for and appeared in television commercials, including an advertisement for Budweiser beer in which he flies over a beach on a surfboard, singing "This Bud's for You",[17] the U.S. automobile brand Chevrolet,[18] All brand laundry detergent,[19] and a commercial for InterCity (British Rail) service in the late 1980s in which he sang the song "Relax".[20] He also lent his voice to an animated caricature of himself in a commercial for Ken-L Ration Burger 'n Bones.[21]

Solo discography

Cinema marquee in Towanda, Pennsylvania featuring appearance of Leon Redbone.


Studio albums

Live albums

  • Leon Redbone Live (1985)
  • Live! (1994)
  • Live & Kickin' (1999)
  • Live - October 26, 1992: The Olympia Theater, Paris France (2005)


  1. ^ a b c d Quill, Greg. "Redbone careful to preserve the mystery." Toronto Star (The 13 June 2007.
  2. ^ "Barnes and Noble review of On The Track". 
  3. ^ a b c Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle F. (17 October 2007). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present (9 ed.). Ballantine Books. p. 903.  
  4. ^ a b "Leon Redbone has Retired from Performing and Recording". Retrieved 19 May 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.” 
  5. ^ Coda (Volume 11, Issues 1-6 ed.). 1973. p. 36. Retrieved 26 August 2011. Sitting next to Hammond was a young white musician named Leon Redbone from Philadelphia, but currently residing in Toronto. 
  6. ^ Fong-Torres, Ben. "Knockin' on Bob Dylan's Door". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 20 May 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. 
  7. ^ "Leon Redbone Biography". All About Jazz. Retrieved 26 August 2011. 
  8. ^ 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  – via  
  9. ^ "Leon Redbone to perform at Clarke; Guitarist will perform a mix of folk, jazz and ragtime music". Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque) – via  
  10. ^ Bruley, Abigail (May 26, 2011). "NIght Train + Arts & Ale + Leon Redbone". The Feast. Retrieved 2 September 2011. Leon Redbone, the crooner once thought to be the alter ego of Andy Kaufman or Frank Zappa 
  11. ^ "Leon Redbone On Tour". Retrieved 28 August 2011. 
  12. ^ "secret #12: I don't find "comedy" very funny. | Flickr - Photo Sharing!". Flickr. 2008-03-27. Retrieved 2014-07-12. 
  13. ^ [2]
  14. ^ "Elf: Music From The Major Motion Picture: CDs & Vinyl". Retrieved 2014-07-12. 
  15. ^ "Leon Redbone and Dr. John - Frosty The Snowman". YouTube. Retrieved 1 September 2011. 
  16. ^ "Life Goes On - Season 2, Episode 17: Corky's Travels". 1991-03-10. Retrieved 2014-07-12. 
  17. ^ "1982 Leon Redbone Budweiser Commercial". YouTube. Retrieved 21 July 2014. 
  18. ^ "Chevy featuring Leon Redbone (1991)". YouTube. Retrieved 1 September 2011. 
  19. ^ "All commercial". YouTube. Retrieved 1 September 2011. 
  20. ^ "Relax". YouTube. Retrieved 2 September 2011. 
  21. ^ "Leon Redbone Burgers and Bones ad". YouTube. Retrieved 1 September 2011. 

External links

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