The Music Column

The Legacy of Leon Redbone

Leon Redbone left the scene in 2015—I don’t mean that he expired, but simply that he retired.  There was mention at the time of health concerns, but he was through with television appearances and concerts and touring, and with recording as well.  There has been almost nothing about him on the national scene since then, but there has also been a certain presence even in an absence.  Leon Redbone was such a phenomenon that his image, as distinct from his personal individuality, cannot be forgotten.

Leon Redbone was—and forever is—a singer and acoustic guitarist who came across as the ultimate hipster, what with his sunglasses, his Panama hat, his black tie, and his assured and even sly presence.  Somehow, his look and his skills and his repertory were all fused into a singular experience.  When his success is set against his singularity, we begin to see how particular and focused it all was.  And perhaps we also realize how much we owe to him, in terms of the musical service he embodied.  There was so much contained in the performing individual that it was hard to take in all at once.

But before we address what he performed, we must note how he performed it.  Though he was often accompanied by a clarinetist or a trumpeter, he was also quite effective all by himself.  His guitar-playing was altogether acoustic in its sound and assumptions, and this was fundamental. ...

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