Crooner Leon Redbone comes to Paradise
During a recent lively phone conversation with the legendary Leon Redbone, I learned he and I have a mutual interest in cartoons ("Winsor McCay was the greatest of all illustrators!” Redbone advised me emphatically). This wasn’t your typical musician interview. In fact, Redbone was even asking me questions in between stories of his musical life.
From a tour stop in South Dakota, Redbone shared tales about the sometimes-hit, sometimes-miss musical talent of street musicians, and the one about two Argentinean restaurant musicians—a violinist and a bandoñon player—whom he brought back to the States to record with him, enjoying “the unpredictable nature” of hiring unknown quantities to play with him, and explaining that “they … muddled their way through quite nicely.”
This decidedly one-of-a-kind singer/guitarist/pianist, whose credits—in addition to the 11 albums he has recorded—range from doing the theme music for a PBS Baryshnikov ballet to being the voice of the snowman in the Will Ferrell film Elf, “doesn’t need to go touring or make records to pay his rent,” his promoter, Bill Kiely of UpWest Arts, told me by phone.
Redbone, “a neo-vaudevillian crooner” with his trademark baritone voice, hat, shades and mustache, made sufficient money from certain choice gigs like his seven seasons of appearances on Saturday Night Live, from 1976-83, and his widely known commercial work for Budweiser beer. In other words, Redbone can afford to be choosy about when and where he performs.
So we’re awful lucky that Mr. Redbone is coming our way on Sept. 8, “his first ever visit to Paradise.” Tending to play music from the proverbial good ol’ days (he loves Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and vaudeville performer Emmett Miller), he promises to serve up, according to his press release, “yer ragtime,” “yer tin pan alley,” “yer ballads,” “yer swing” and “yer torch songs.”
“I like a 19th-century approach to music, which bleeds over to the early 20th century,” the very pleasant Redbone explained to me in his subdued voice. “Something that creates a mood … something sensible … or just plain whimsical.”
Redbone’s version of Spencer and Clarence Williams’ 1919 song “Ain’t Gonna Give You None of My Jelly Roll,” from his 2001 album, Any Time, is a good example of his playfulness: “I ain’t gonna give nobody none of this jelly roll./ I wouldn’t give you a piece of this cake to save your soul.” Or, from “Your Feets Too Big,” also on Any Time: “Way up north in a house that’s new/ There were four of us/ Me, your big feet, and you. / From your ankle up I’d say you’re sure sweet/ From there down there’s just too much feet…”
Though Redbone sings songs written by others, when he performs them he truly makes them his own. His smooth delivery at times lulls you into a dreamy, romantic state. When he sings the Jelly Roll Morton song, “If You Knew” ("If you knew how I loved you/ And the little things you do, / Would you come to me again/ Say you’re sorry that you caused me pain?"), you just want to give him a little hug, having been seduced into his world by his suave voice.
Redbone explained that “two people” will be joining him on the PPAC stage: “On piano, Asaro.” I asked him whether “Asaro” was a first or last name, and he replied, “Last.” I asked him what Asaro’s first name was, and at first he replied, “I don’t know. I just call him Asaro.” Then, after a fair pause to think: “Paul.” Then, “On cornet … Black.” I didn’t find out Black’s first name until the promoter Kiely filled me in (it’s Scott). Kiely chuckled at Redbone’s not knowing the first names of the musicians with whom he tours. But, as he’d told me in a previous call, it is the music that is important to Redbone.
Opening the show will be Tom “The Bubble Man” Noddy (who, like Redbone, has appeared on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show) to perform his quirky bubble show.