This old man came rolling home last Spring:
“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.”
In fact, he was not that old. Our trusty Wikipedia reports that Leon Redbone, born Dickran Gobalian, crossed that river at the still too young age of 69, notwithstanding the whimsical tall tale above that appeared on his website. The publicist who posted it is Jim Della Croce, who I regret to say is not (as far as I know) related to the singer-songwriter Jim Croce (“crow” like the bird and “chi” as in Tai Chi).
The notice about Leon being 127 is a fitting coda to the life of a performer who seemed to step out of another era. The exaggerated age corresponds to how old Leon Redbone would have been if he had been alive when the music he loved first appeared: Vaudeville, ragtime, early jazz, and Tin Pan Alley classics. Leon Redbone was a one man musical revival.
This 1977 cut “Diddy Wa Diddie” shows how Leon Redbone not only inhabited the past but anticipated the future, since he prophesied my blog nickname more than four decades in advance. Pretty neat, huh?
Anyways, folks around my age will remember Leon Redbone appearing out of nowhere in the mid 1970s when he showed up as a guest on the original SNL.
In spite Leon’s injunction to not talk about him when he is gone, we are talking about him when he is gone. Our bad.
Of Armenian origin, Leon’s past zig-zags from Cyprus, to London, to Canada, and then to Toronto and the musical stage, where he was discovered by Bob Dylan. From thence he went on to musical fame which flared up particularly in the seventies but kept up a steady simmer till the end, with his passing in the state of Pennsylvania.
That simmering musical career included a steady stream of albums: 13 studio albums, 2 compilation albums, and four live albums. Other musical contributions included movie soundtracks and many tv appearances, including SNL, Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, and Sesame Street, as well as numerous tv commercials.
Leon had no musical training and played everything by ear, adapting chords and arrangements as he went along. He never rehearsed with a band and did not followed a pre-set program of tunes in his performances. His life and art were captured in this short documentary:
The documentary was also titled “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone.” There we go again, talking about Leon when he’s gone.
No song seems to better encapsulate the Leon Redbone mystique than his rendition of “Shine on August Moon”:
Leon shines on through his music and through his surviving wife Beryl Handler, his two daughters, and three grandchildren. And long may he shine on some more. Requiēscat in pāce, Leon.