Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Leon Redbone - 1975 - On The Track

Leon Redbone
On The Track

01. Sweet Mama Hurry Home Or I'll Be Gone 2:49
02. Ain't Misbehavin' (I'm Savin' My Love For You) 4:03
03. My Walking Stick 3:41
04. Lazybones 3:06
05. Marie 4:24
06. Desert Blues (Big Chief Buffalo Nickel) 3:42
07. Lulu's Back In Town 2:34
08. Some Of These Days 3:16
09. Big Time Woman 2:44
10. Haunted House 4:58
11. Polly Wolly Doodle 2:56

Guitar, Harmonica, Vocals [Throat Tromnet], Vocals – Leon Redbone
Banjo – Don McLean
Bass Guitar – Milt Hinton
Castanets – Ralph Macdonald
Clarinet – Billy Slapin
Cornet, Trumpet – Joe Wilder
Drums – Stephen Gadd
Guitar [Hawaiian] – Charles Macey
Piano – Patty Bown
Saxophone – Phil Bodner, Seldon Powell
Trombone – Garnett Brown
Tuba – Jonathan Dorn
Violin – Emanuel Green (tracks: A5), Gene Orloff (tracks: A5), Joe Venuti, Leo Kahn (tracks: A5)

Leon Redbone (born Dickran Gobalian, August 26, 1949 – May 30, 2019) was a Cypriot-American singer-songwriter and musician 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. 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. Biographical research published in 2019 corroborated his birth name, and stated that his family was of Armenian origin. His parents lived in Jerusalem, but fled in 1948 to Nicosia, Cyprus, where Redbone was born. By 1961, the family had moved to London, England, and by 1965 to Toronto.

While living in Canada in the late 1960s, 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, leading that magazine to do a feature article on Redbone a year before he had a recording contract. The article described his performances as "so authentic you can hear the surface noise [of an old 78 rpm]." Dylan said that if he had ever started a label, he would have signed Redbone. 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, appearing twice in the first season. 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.

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. 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." 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. With his reluctance to discuss his past came speculation that "Leon Redbone" was an alternative identity for another performer.Two common suggestions in years past were Andy Kaufman and Frank Zappa, 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". In a 1991 interview, he said: "The only thing that interests me is history, reviewing the past and making something out of it."

Redbone survived a small plane crash in Clarksburg, West Virginia, on February 12, 1979. 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.

On May 19, 2015 on his website, his publicist referred to concerns about his health and announced his retirement from performing and recording.

Redbone died on May 30, 2019, following complications from dementia. At the time of his death he was living in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in hospice care. He is survived by his wife Beryl Handler, daughters Blake and Ashley, and three grandchildren.

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."

This is the debut long-player from Leon Redbone (guitar/harmonica/vocals/throat tromnet), a one-man folk/jazz enigma. Although it was incorrectly rumored that the artist was a musical visage of Frank Zappa, Redbone began getting notice during a stint in Toronto, Ontario, in the early '70s. For On the Track (1975), he offers a uniquely authentic revival of turn-of-the-century melodies, including those of the Singin' Brakeman, Mississippi Blue Yodeler Jimmie Rodgers ("Desert Blues") as well as Fats Waller ("Ain't Misbehavin'"). However, he liberally applies the same notable technique to a wide array of pop standards from the likes of Irving Berlin ("Marie") and Johnny Mercer ("Lazy Bones"). The minimalism in the arrangements provides an understated delivery focusing on Redbone's distinguished baritone vocals. This includes his self-proclaimed "throat tromnet" -- an orally generated device that sounds like a combination trombone and trumpet. Accompanying him are quite an aggregate of studio stalwarts -- such as percussionists Ralph McDonald (castanets) and Steven Gadd (drums) as well as legendary jazz heavies Milt Hinton (bass), Garnett Brown (trombone), Seldon Powell (sax), and Jonathan Dorn (tuba). Their contributions are likewise discreet and otherwise tastefully augment the highly developed and melody-intensive arrangements. The Spanish inflections of "My Walking Stick" work subtly behind the artist, supporting rather than detracting from his cool and expressive vocals. The swampy and lethargic "Lazybones" reverberates the swelter of the Delta summertime. Hinton's thick basslines amble along at an even pace -- while Redbone's drowsy vocals contrast the high and tight brass interjections and sonic ornamentation. "Lulu's Back in Town" recalls Rev. Gary Davis' talking blues, as it commences with a brief spoken introduction setting up the premise of the song. The manufactured sound effects of a mostly uninhabited pool hall are in essence a wink of the mind's eye for the listener. Famed jazz producer Joel Dorn was at the helm of these sessions and his experience provides an organic attention to nuance. On the whole, the lack of over-production allows the material room to breathe without stifling the arrangements, yet with enough augmentation to adequately support Redbone's more central delivery.

Content to go on his merry way in music, Leon Redbone blithely ignores pretty much all post World War Two music styles in a career that has endured well over forty years. 'On The Track' was his first album for Warner Brothers, released in 1976, and it sounds as fresh and 'oldly new' as it did back then. Singing in a gravel voiced style, and accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, Redbone explores New Orleans Jazz, Country Blues and even novelty songs in a way that is coherent and furiously entertaining. In his way, he was pursuing a similar path to that of Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal and Van Dyke Parks - exploring the forgotten hinterlands of American music - and having a great time doing it. The producer of this set, Joel Dorn, deserves praise for the way in which he has captured great performances without trying to impose contemporary production tricks, making the album very faithful to Redbone's idiosyncratic vision. Wonderful music indeed.

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