849

The Leon Redbone Suite for Guitar and Genius in B-Flat. Part I

Jeff Fitzgerald, Genius By

Sign in to view read count
If there has been a more unique performer in the past fifty years than Leon Redbone, then this article is not about them.
I. Prelude

If anyone ever decides to get together a Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse for the Current State of American Pop Culture, I get dibs on Pestilence. Or possibly Death, depending on which one is likeliest to get more leg. And I invite Leon Redbone to saddle up next to me as we cut a bloody swath through the barren and useless hinterlands of creatively bankrupt reality TV, soulless and bland corporate top 40 music, hyper-accelerated fads that—thanks to the Internet—burn through their useful life in mere fractions of the time it used to take us to tire of our most surface of distractions, and synthetic blackness about as urban as a Honda Civic full of lilywhite middle-class wannabes blasting gansta rap at full volume and chattering cartoonish slang at one another like modern minstrel-show endmen with no sense of irony. I've already got a black Panama hat with Leon's name on it. The hour is near at hand.

Which is to say.

In another day and age, Leon Redbone would be a wandering troubadour carrying the songs of a distant age to new and wanting ears. And I would be a hard-drinking Ring Lardner-esque humorist looking at the world with a jaundiced eye (before they had drops to cure that malady). Together, we would travel the countryside having all sorts of adventures and using our super powers to fight crime. Actress Thora Birch would be a saucy, tart-tongued Vassar undergrad-turned-cheesecake model traveling with us in search of the man who gave her father a tragic pink belly one fateful night in Poughkeepsie. And at the end of every episode, we would learn an important lesson about friendship and the power of music to salve the human condition.

Two paragraphs in, and I've yet to get to the damned point.

If there has been a more unique performer in the past fifty years than Leon Redbone, then this article is not about them. Redbone's unmistakable voice has resonated across the purview of American culture like some dusky echo of the past, culling in our unconscious a memory of forgotten songs from an era half-remembered even by those still living who experienced it. His gentle, genuine appreciation for both the material and the listener resonates with an authenticity lacking in even the best-costumed revivalists. It is that validity that has both allowed him to build a long and successful career as a recording and touring artist, and hawk both good beer (Budweiser,' which currently comprises a significant portion of my bodily fluids) and decent laundry detergent (Allâ"¢, which I use to launder all of my parakeet's pirate outfits).

Be that as it may.

Redbone's personal history is deliberately vague. The Internet Movie Database lists his date of birth as October 29, 1929; but then, IMDB also describes Britney Spears as an actress, so there goes a measure of its credibility. He may or may not have been born in New York City, and virtually nothing is known of him till he shows up at the Mariposa Folk Festival where he is discovered by La Salle, who was looking for a new trade route to Toronto. So what we don't know about the intervening years, I'll use my dramatic license (Virginia Department of Literary Devices Permit No. 149863) to fill in.

Leon Redbone was born to a young Chippewa Indian couple, Herschel and Sadie Weintraub, sometime before this article was written. His formative years were spent in a strict Hebrew school, which was very traumatic for him as he was a Methodist. A talented and well-liked teenager, he was voted by his peers at Blind Willie Dunn Vocational School as "Most Likely to Develop A Cryptic, Anachronistic Stage Persona." He received his first guitar by mistake at the age of 13 (he had sent in 4,300 Ovaltine labels in hopes of receiving a 1941 Packard Super 8 160 convertible. The error was never rectified and to this day, he drinks Nestle's Quik in protest). By the age of 16, he was studying the instrument under the tutelage of a man who had once given guitar virtuoso Eddie Lang $4 carfare and half a tuna sandwich.

Attending college briefly (28 minutes and 14 seconds), Redbone quickly realized that the vagabond life was the way for him. For one thing, he really enjoyed saying "vagabond," and for another, it made it virtually impossible for him to receive junk mail. He set out on the road with nothing more than the clothes on his back, his beloved guitar, and $32,000 in negotiable securities. By the time he was 25, he was already a quarter century old.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read How the Other Half Swings Genius Guide to Jazz How the Other Half Swings
by Jeff Fitzgerald, Genius
Published: July 6, 2017
Read Jazz Lovers Series: Hugh Hefner Genius Guide to Jazz Jazz Lovers Series: Hugh Hefner
by Jeff Fitzgerald, Genius
Published: June 1, 2017
Read Trumpet From On High Genius Guide to Jazz Trumpet From On High
by Jeff Fitzgerald, Genius
Published: May 4, 2017
Read Cloudland Re-Revisited: Think of One Genius Guide to Jazz Cloudland Re-Revisited: Think of One
by Jeff Fitzgerald, Genius
Published: April 7, 2017
Read Take Me Out to the Ballgame Genius Guide to Jazz Take Me Out to the Ballgame
by Jeff Fitzgerald, Genius
Published: March 17, 2017
Read Making A Jazz Blockbuster Genius Guide to Jazz Making A Jazz Blockbuster
by Jeff Fitzgerald, Genius
Published: June 21, 2016
Read "Jazz Lovers Series: Hugh Hefner" Genius Guide to Jazz Jazz Lovers Series: Hugh Hefner
by Jeff Fitzgerald, Genius
Published: June 1, 2017
Read "Cloudland Re-Revisited: Think of One" Genius Guide to Jazz Cloudland Re-Revisited: Think of One
by Jeff Fitzgerald, Genius
Published: April 7, 2017
Read "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" Genius Guide to Jazz Take Me Out to the Ballgame
by Jeff Fitzgerald, Genius
Published: March 17, 2017
Read "How the Other Half Swings" Genius Guide to Jazz How the Other Half Swings
by Jeff Fitzgerald, Genius
Published: July 6, 2017
Read "Trumpet From On High" Genius Guide to Jazz Trumpet From On High
by Jeff Fitzgerald, Genius
Published: May 4, 2017
Read "Balé Folclórico de Bahia at Zellerbach Hall" Live Reviews Balé Folclórico de Bahia at Zellerbach Hall
by Harry S. Pariser
Published: March 19, 2017
Read "Clarence Becton: Straight Ahead Into Freedom" Interview Clarence Becton: Straight Ahead Into Freedom
by Barbara Ina Frenz
Published: January 19, 2017
Read "Solving the Audience Equation, The Fix is On, and It's a Setup!" Mr. P.C.'s Guide to Jazz Etiquette... Solving the Audience Equation, The Fix is On, and It's...
by Mr. P.C.
Published: March 24, 2017
Read "Bailey’s Bundle – El Dudas – Some Great Songs, Volumes 1 & 2" Bailey's Bundles Bailey’s Bundle – El Dudas – Some Great...
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: July 5, 2017
Read "Mark Sullivan's Best Releases of 2016" Best of / Year End Mark Sullivan's Best Releases of 2016
by Mark Sullivan
Published: December 9, 2016
Read "Paul Winter Sextet: Count Me In" Profiles Paul Winter Sextet: Count Me In
by Duncan Heining
Published: October 13, 2016

Sponsor: JANA PROJECT | LEARN MORE  

Support our sponsor

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.