Leon Redbone, Unintentionally Mysterious Musician, Dies

Jazz and blues artist's fans included Dylan
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 30, 2019 7:16 PM CDT
Updated May 31, 2019 12:22 AM CDT
Leon Redbone, Musician of Mystery, Dies at 69
Leon Redbone performs in 1998 at the Redwood Coast Dixieland Jazz Festival in Eureka, California.   (Patricia Wilson/The Times-Standard via AP, File)

Leon Redbone, the blues and jazz artist whose growly voice, panama hat, and cultivated air of mystery made him seem like a character out of the ragtime era or the Depression-era Mississippi Delta, died Thursday. He was 69, the AP reports. No details about his death were provided. Redbone's career got a boost in the early 1970s when Bob Dylan met him at the Mariposa Folk Festival in Canada and praised his performance. Dylan said that if he ever started a label, he would sign Redbone. "Leon interests me," Dylan said in an interview with Rolling Stone in 1974. "I've heard he's anywhere from 25 to 60. ... I can't tell, but you gotta see him. He does old Jimmie Rodgers, then turns around and does a Robert Johnson."

Redbone, who retired in 2015, never directly answered questions about his origin or age. His publicist confirmed he was born in Cyprus on Aug. 26, 1949, but the statement added: "Leon Redbone crossed the delta for that beautiful shore at the age of 127. He departed our world with his guitar, his trusty companion Rover, and a simple tip of his hat." Redbone was quoted: "I don't do anything mysterious on purpose. I'm less than forthcoming, but that doesn't necessarily mean I'm mysterious. It just means I'm not inclined to go there." He released 16 albums; his debut was "On the Track" in 1975. Usually wearing a white suit with a string tie, and the panama hat, Redbone performed twice on Saturday Night Live in its first season and was a frequent guest of Johnny Carson's. He sang the theme songs for the TV series Mr. Belvedere and Harry and the Hendersons. A 16-minute documentary about Redbone was released last year, titled Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone. (David "Honeyboy" Edwards, who played with Robert Johnson, was the last living link to the birth of the blues.)

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