Leon Redbone Dies: Early ‘SNL’ Musical Favorite Was 69

UPDATE, with additional details Leon Redbone, the trombone-voiced singer-songwriter whose eccentric, nostalgic Americana style of music found at least a temporarily frequent home on early episodes of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, died today. He was 69.

His death was confirmed by his family in a whimsically worded announcement on Redbone’s website – an announcement that certainly bore a resemblance to Redbone’s own songwriting and conversational style.

“It is with heavy hearts we announce that early this morning, May 30th 2019, 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. He’s interested to see what Blind Blake, Emmett, and Jelly Roll have been up to in his absence, and has plans for a rousing sing along number with Sári Barabás. An eternity of pouring through texts in the Library of Ashurbanipal will be a welcome repose, perhaps followed by a shot or two of whiskey with Lee Morse, and some long overdue discussions with his favorite Uncle, Suppiluliuma I of the Hittites. To his fans, friends, and loving family who have already been missing him so in this realm he says, ” Oh behave yourselves. Thank you…. and good evening everybody.”

Born in Cyprus but raised mostly in Canada, Redbone’s unusual olde-time jazzy, Tin Pan Alley throwback style, sung in a growly voice with a guitar on his knee and Panama on his head, recalled the itinerant blues musicians he revered, a style that didn’t go unnoticed by Bob Dylan, who mentioned Redbone to Rolling Stone magazine in the early 1970s and brought the singer a first round of fame.

But it was Redbone’s appearances on two first-season episodes (a rarity, even then) of Saturday Night Live – particularly a performance of his signature tune “Walkin’ Stick” – that brought national recognition, placing him among that show’s early pantheon of quirky personalities like Andy Kaufman, Albert Brooks, Scred & King Ploobis. In turn, they gave the fledgling NBC late-night comedy an element of counterculture eccentricity. In all, Redbone appeared on SNL four times, including twice in the first season, once in Season 3 (1977) and again in Season 8 (1983).

Soon Redbone after his SNL debut, he would be appearing on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, and while his fame didn’t maintain its initial burst level, he hardly faded away. He gave voice to a snowman in Will Ferrel’s Elf, performing the movie’s them song, a duet with star Zooey Deschanel on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

TV music credits include the themes to Mr. Belvedere (“According To Our New Arrival”) and Harry and the Hendersons (Fats Waller’s “Your Feets Too Big”). He had an acting role on ABC’s series Life Goes On. His commercial work included singing and appearing in the the popular beer commercial “This Bud’s For You,” a tune that drew an angry anti-commercialism response song in 1988 from Neil Young called “This Note’s For You.”

Redbone continued to record music, 16 full-length albums in total from his debut in 1975 to 2016. He retired by 2015 due to poor health.

No cause of death was listed on his website.

Redbone is survived by his wife Beryl Handler, daughters Blake and Ashley and three grandchildren.

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