Leon Redbone - vocal, guitar, harmonica
Specializing in interpretations of early 20th century popular music, singer and guitarist Leon Redbone first gained attention in Toronto in the mid-1970s. Refusing to divulge any information about his background or personal life, Redbone's intense desire to protect his privacy led to numerous outrageous rumors, fueling early press speculation that he was either comedian Andy Kaufman or Frank Zappa in disguise. With his vaudeville era attire, dark glasses, and Groucho Marx moustache, he certainly appeared to have been transplanted through time, with his music harkening back to pre-World War ragtime, jazz and blues. Redbone's distinctive bass/baritone vocal stylings recalled performers like Jelly Roll Morton and Bing Crosby, and are heavily influenced by the white blackface minstrel singer Emmett Miller. Redbone's debut album, Off The Track, was released in 1975 and he soon gained a cult following through numerous television appearances, including a recurring musical guest spot on the up and coming NBC comedy show Saturday Night Live.
Opening for Randy Newman at the Lincoln Auditorium on the campus of New Jersey's Camden County College, this recording captures Leon Redbone early on, performing a wide range of vintage American music. With an unerring sense of authenticity, Redbone blends skillful instrumental and vocal performances, peppered with a subtle humor uniquely his own. His set primarily focuses on material from his debut album and its follow-up Double Time, but also features several songs not featured on those first two albums, including two classics that he often performed but chose not to release.
The set kicks off with the rarest of material, beginning with "I Aint Got Nobody," a highlight of the rare and long out-of-print live album he released nearly a decade later. Redbone's sense of humor and his bluesy authenticity shines through on the Reverend Gary Davis number "She Wouldn't Say Quit" and the jug band classic "Has Anybody Seen My Gal," a song first recorded by the California Ramblers in 1925. Neither of these songs appeared on Redbone's albums, making them a welcome presence here.
A pair of tracks that Redbone would soon record for his 1977 Double Time album follow, with the Jack Norworth/Nora Bayes penned standard, "Shine On Harvest Moon" and the equally vintage "The Shiek Of Araby." He then continues with two of the most intriguing tracks from On The Track, with Jimmie Rogers "Desert Blues (Big Chief Buffalo Nickel)" and Irving Berlin's "My Walking Stick." He closes the set with Blind Blake's traditional arrangement of "Diddy Wa Diddie," which would also soon surface on Double Time. This recording concludes with a sneak preview of the title track to his third album, Champagne Charlie, before Redbone bids the audience farewell by tipping his hat and turning the stage over to Randy Newman.