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December 08, 1974 - Image 8

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1974-12-08

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Page Eight






'While my guitar gently weeps...





He ends his first set with a
rendition of "Polly-Wolly Dood-
le" that would put Shirley Tem-
ple to shame. It's punctuated
with the "deep-doodely-dop-
wops" and slurred vocals that
take you back to the days
of the sleazy speakeasy.
At the end of the song, Leon
Redbone takes a sip of "Mich-
igan Water" from his tumbler,
deliberately and almost pain-
fully gets up and drawls out: "I
shall be back directly". For a
minute you can't believe it and
you look at the retreating fig-
ure to be sure you're not see-
ing things.
EVERYTHING - his gait, his
exaggerated mannerisms, t h e
"Michigan water," and his black
three-piece suit, complete with
a polka dot tie and geometric
print vest, suggests the rein-
carnation of W.C. Fields with
only the top hat missing.

Leon Redbone stinks of the
twenties and thirties so bad
that he must have been born
in a dim-lit poolhall and a bath-
tub full of gin. Hz's a musician
who literally acts out his music.
The intermission over now, he
returns back to The Ark's living
room for a second set. All eyes
turn back to the staircase to
look at him, and again t h e y
can't believe it.
He stands theatrically at the
top of the stairs with a cigar in
his mouth, sombrero over h i s
toboggan hat, and harmonica
rack a la Dylan.
AS HE walks down, he casual-
ly lights up a cigar. Someone
doubtfully calls out "Chico?"
In a voice dripping with dis-
dane, Redbone replies, "No, I'm
"You've got to have a sense
of style" he expounds after-
wards. He has two sides: side
A is country-sized Jimmy Rod-

gers and side B is bluesy Robert
Johnson. In fact, he sounds
exactly like an old 78 record,
complete with scratches. You
can even hear the surface noise.
Every detail is faithfully re-
produced - from his singing
(those "skiddily-boop-doop non-
sense syllables we all know and
love) to his yodeling to t h e
nasal, slurred vocal to his im-
itation of trombone and honey
dripped crooning. His guitar
sounds incredibly like the rag-
time piano style of great blues
TALKING seriously to R e d-
bone is just short of impossible.
How can you possibly have the
usual kind of interchange with
a man who claims his father
was Paganini and his mother
was Jenny Lind? As Bonnie
Raitt said in a recent Roling
Stone article, "I spent an after-
noon with him in a hotel room
. . and I kept wondering when
he was going to become norm-
al. He never did."
With encouragement from the
man himself, all kinds of in-
credible legends have sprung
up around Leon. Undoubtedly
some of them have to be true.
For awhile it was rumored that
he was really 400 years old.
Apparently, none of Redbone's
friends, fellow musicians, or
business associates know where
he's from, how old he is, or
what his real name is.
WHEN HE was to appear at
the 1972 Mariposa Folk Festi-
val, his biography stated, "My
name is Blind James Hocum. I
come from New Orleans and the
reason I wear dark glasses all
the time is because I used to
lead Blind Blake through t h e
South." According to the Rolling
Stone article, a crumpled old
photo of Dylan accompanied
this biographical gem.
In 1969 or '70 Leon myster-
iously showed up in Toronto, but

many ways, including the ever-
present sunglasses.
IN FACT, in 1972, when Dy-
lan had to leave the Mariposa
Folk Festival via a police
launch, he grabbed Leon. The
two of them left together, sport-
ing matching black umbrellas,
black suits, and identical black
Many people became convinc-
ed that Bob and Leon were bro-
thers. Looking at Leon, it is
tough to tell where Groucho


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