I was deeply saddened today by the news that Leon Redbone passed away this morning. Leon – who retired from performing in 2015 due to health concerns – was a man of self-created mystery who cultivated that mystery from the beginning of his career. He was a unique character, who I never saw break character.
Once, in the 1970s, I went to pick Leon up at the Montreal airport. I watched for him at the international arrivals gate for what seemed like a very long time and finally assumed he was a no-show. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder, turned around, and Leon said, “I hope you arranged to have fan dancers at the show tonight. I can’t do the show without fan dancers.” He had ducked out of Canada Customs through a side door and watched me watching for him for a while.
Leon was a brilliant singer, guitarist and stage performer whose repertoire was pulled from old jazz, blues and Tin Pan Alley songs.
I produced several concerts with Leon in Montreal in the ‘70s and wrote about them, and about the last concert I saw him do in Ottawa, in a 2011 article at this link.
My deepest condolences to Leon’s wife, Beryl Handler, who was already Leon’s manager when I first produced a concert with him in 1974, and to their daughters.