Leon Redbone (born Dickran Gobalian, August 26, 1949) is a singer 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 bow 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.
According to the Toronto Star report in the 1980s, his birth name is Dickran Gobalian, he came to Canada from Cyprus in the mid-1960s and changed his name via Ontario, Change of Name Act. However, a reference from 1973 states that he was a native of Philadelphia who moved to Toronto.
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, 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]." 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 throughout the late 1970s and last appeared on the show in 1983. 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.
Due to his reluctance to discuss his past, there has been speculation that "Leon Redbone" was an alternative identity for another performer. The two most commonly mentioned are Andy Kaufman and Frank Zappa, 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. 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."
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. He performed the theme song for the 1980s sitcom Mr. Belvedere, as well as the theme from the syndicated sitcom Harry and the Hendersons. He appears regularly on the PBS children's show Between the Lions. 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. 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.
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", the US automobile brand Chevrolet, All brand laundry detergent, and a commercial for InterCity (British Rail) service in the late 1980s in which he sang the song "Relax". He also lent his voice to an animated caricature of himself in a commercial for Ken-L Ration Burger 'n Bones.
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