Archive for Leon Redbone

Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: Leon Redbone

Posted in Lost Classics! with tags , , , , , on November 14, 2010 by 30daysout

We are giving our sister’s record collection a rest for the time being, and playing some of our own favorite records.  Today let’s dust off On The Track, the 1975 debut from mysterious singer/guitarist Leon Redbone.  He’s mysterious because nobody knows for certain where he comes from, or who he is for that matter.  He did gain some notoriety playing in Toronto in the early 1970s but Leon made his national impression with this album, followed by a 1976 appearance on “Saturday Night Live.”

Whomever he may be, Redbone is a tremendous musician and singer – with On The Track he put his great talents to work interpreting songs of the old Tin Pan Alley, some dating back to the turn of the (20th) century.   The album’s 11 tunes have sparse instrumentation, and nothing here sounds “modern” in the strict sense – you get a sense you are listening to a gramophone record of the 1920s.  Actually most of the album was played by some serious studio heavyweights including percussionists Ralph McDonald (castanets) and Steven Gadd (drums) as well as legendary jazz cats Milt Hinton (bass), Garnett Brown (trombone), Seldon Powell (sax) and Jonathan Dorn (tuba).

So you have Leon on guitar, starting the proceedings with “Sweet Mama Hurry Home Or I’ll Be Gone,” which puts the listener square in the pre-World War II era.  Then there’s the Fats Waller classic “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” which sets up as a duet between Redbone on guitar and a cool violin.  Irving Berlin’s “My Walking Stick” adds horns and a tuba to the mix, and it’s a good showcase for Redbone’s voice and nimble guitar picking.  “Lazy Bones” is a sultry piece of Dixieland blues, written by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer.  Then Irving Berlin’s “Marie” swirls like an island breeze, with nifty clarinet work by Billy Slapin.

On “Desert Blues (Big Chief Buffalo Nickel)” Leon unveils his unique “throat tromnet,” a type of singing that sounds like a trumpet crossed with a trombone.  His scat singing and yodeling at the end is pretty good, too – the Singing Brakeman Jimmie Rodgers could never have envisioned this throwaway becoming the highlight of an album four decades after his death.

“Lulu’s Back In Town” opens with the sounds of a pool hall, where Redbone is said to have started his singing career, and the album closes with the 19th century “Polly Wolly Doodle,” which was often performed around the turn of the century by blackface minstrel Dan Emmett.   Clearly, the vaudeville performers and blackface minstrels are among Leon Redbone’s heroes – he even said so when we met him backstage before one of his shows.

Another of Leon’s heroes – and mine too – is the obnoxious show-biz amphibian Michigan J. Frog, who appears on the album cover.  Created by Warner Bros. cartoon animator Chuck Jones, Mr. Frog made his one and only big-screen appearance in “One Froggy Evening,” a 1955 cartoon short (they used to put cartoons on at the movies back then).  Michigan J. Frog made a number of cameos on other TV cartoons, and was most famously the official mascot of the WB television network from 1995 until 2005, when the frog was unceremoniously “killed” by network brass.

On The Track was an auspicious debut but it wasn’t a big hit.  A lot of people “discovered” Leon Redbone with his appearances on “Saturday Night Live” and later on “The Tonight Show.”  He put out a follow-up, Double Time, in 1977 and has cut about 12 or so albums since.  Redbone appeared on a number of TV commercials and duetted with Zooey Deschanel on “Baby It’s Cold Outside” for the movie Elf.  Leon Redbone still performs today, with pretty much the same schtick he had back in 1975.  Nice to know some things never change.

MP3: “My Walking Stick”

MP3: “Desert Blues (Big Chief Buffalo Nickel)”

MP3: “Lazy Bones”

MP3: “Polly Wolly Doodle”

Leon Redbone official website

YouTube: Leon Redbone medley

BONUS: “One Froggy Evening” from YouTube

Sampler Daze: A Last Look at the Loss Leaders

Posted in Lost Classics! with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2009 by 30daysout


When The 1969 Warner/Reprise Songbook appeared in early 1969, the liner notes said, by way of explanation, the sampler’s goal was “hopefully to win new friends for some very creative people.”  People like Jethro Tull, the Pentangle, Frank Zappa, Van Dyke Parks, Randy Newman, even Tiny Tim.  Warner Bros. Records, founded in 1958, was just beginning to hoist its freak flag, and in just a few years the label’s roster would be the cream of the crop.

And so the ride began: with L.A. street freak Wild Man Fischer’s “Songs For Sale” introducing “My Sunday Feeling” by Jethro Tull.  Eleven years later, the Warner Bros./Reprise Loss Leaders series ended on the sampler Troublemakers with Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols snarling, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”

Well, no.  The 34 Loss Leaders samplers that appeared between 1969 and 1980 formed my musical tastes and exposed me to artists I would never have dreamed of seeking out, to people who may have been just a little too adventurous even for early-Seventies radio.  I remember calling up my local AM pop station and smugly asking the DJ to play some Zappa and the Mothers, or that flip side by the Beach Boys, only to get the response, “What?”  The Loss Leaders made me cooler than the disc jockey!

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Sampler Daze: The WB/Reprise Loss Leaders, Part 10

Posted in Lost Classics! with tags , , , , , , , , on September 25, 2009 by 30daysout

supergroup peoplesrecord
The world in 1976 looked and sounded a heck of a lot different than it did in 1969.  When you went to a club it was most likely a fern bar.  The ladies wore hot pants and halter tops, men wore stacked heels and checkered pants.  The 1970s had its own stupid haircut: the shag (later replaced by another all-star stupid haircut, the mullet).  Music was becoming more rhythmic and slick, it would be another year or so before we’d call it “disco.”  Music more often than not was made for dancing – even at a fern bar.

And so there was Supergroup, the first Loss Leaders sampler from 1976.  We had come a long way from the first Loss Leader sampler in 1969, from the underground to the dance floor.  The sounds of disco were unmistakable: First Choice updated the Philly Groove for a dance audience, and “Are You Ready For Me?” addresses the Big Question.  In answer, everybody seemed to be ready: even the Doobie Brothers, taking to the dance floor with “Rio,” and even a nominally jazz artist like George Benson gets into the groove with “Breezin’,” the title song for an album that would ride all the way to the top of Billboard‘s pop album charts.  Leon Russell had just gotten married, and he celebrated by cutting a record with his new bride.  Hit singles included Seals & Croft’s “Get Closer,” and former Lovin’ Spoonful leader John Sebastian crooning his No. 1 “Welcome Back.”

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Lost Classics! Leon Redbone

Posted in Lost Classics! with tags on August 6, 2008 by 30daysout

Photo by Art Meripol

One guy from the 1970s who seems to be unfairly forgotten is Leon Redbone.  One could make a strong case that a large part of his current anonymity is his own fault – after all, when he was “hot” Leon made it very hard to know anything about him.  We saw Leon in Beaumont, Texas, in the late 1970s … he skulked backstage and we went in a few minutes later to do an interview.

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