Leon Redbone flies high with new album 'Flying By'

Asked why it’s been such a long time between the release of his last album Any Time and the new Flying By, Leon Redbone smiles and answers, in trademark laconic manner, “Things take time.”

"I get distracted,” he adds, considering his activities since Any Time’s 2001 appearance, these including plenty of live performances, and in the last year or so, planning for Flying By.

That’s not to suggest that the planning and production of Leon Redbone albums are long drawn-out affairs. But the singular pre-World War II ragtime, jazz, blues and Vaudeville stylist is ever-careful when it comes to choosing his material, and in the case of Flying By, also had a hurricane to contend with.

“We started recording at Water Music in New Jersey—and then they went under water!” says Redbone’s longtime producer Beryl Handler, recalling the deleterious effects of Hurricane Sandy.

"Then we found a place in the Poconos—of all places!” Handler continues. “Red Rock Recording is a great studio, and all the guys came out there.”

The musicians included Vince Giordano & the Nighthawks, whose leader Giordano is a Redbone studio regular. Two tracks with big band arrangements were done at New York’s MSR Studios.

“It was all very haphazard because we were totally discombobulated--and it takes a long time when you haven’t been in the studio for so long,” says Handler.

She notes that Giordano really wanted to cut “Wanna Go Back Again Blues,” which they knew from Duke Ellington’s recording. Redbone revives another jazz immortal via Jelly Roll Morton’s “Mr. Jelly Lord.”

“He was an amazing piano player and songwriter and singer—and what a character!” says Redone. He further singles out Irving Berlin’s “But Where Are You,” which closes the album.

“That particular song, as far as I’m concerned, is his best work,” says Redbone. “But almost no one’s heard it.”

In fact, “But Where Are You” was sung In the 1936 Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie classic Follow the Fleet by Harriet Hilliard—of later Ozzy & Harriet TV sitcom fame.

“I just happened to come across it one day—and once you hear it, you can’t forget it,” says Redbone.

“The amazing thing is that it’s an extremely simple melody--which is the best,” he informs. “You get way more out of a simple melody than something that’s very complicated, and there’s a whole sentiment expressed in that simple melody, with heart and sincerity.”

Sentimentality in music, suggests Redbone, has “evaporated.”

“It’s just noise volume level, with no sentimentality at all,” he says of contemporary music. “It didn’t get better over the years, which is unfortunate. Maybe a slight jog in the planets might make it get better!”

He runs his hand across his neck in a slicing motion and adds, “It’s just flatlining.”

So on Flying By, Redbone revives the music of another legendary artist--the now largely forgotten 1920s-‘30s jazz and blues singer Lee Morse.

“She was a unique individual—everything about her was unique,” says Redbone, who opens Flying By with Morse’s “Just You and I” and also performs her “Main Street.”

Morse, notes Handler, called her band Her Bluegrass Boys long before the term was defined and popularized.

“Songwriters would submit songs to her because she could cover any range,” says Handler.

Redbone notes that like Berlin’s “But Where are You,” “you hear [a Morse] recording one time and it stays with you.”

So much so, apparently, that Redbone took a trip to Rochester, N.Y., to visit the grave of Morse, who died in 1954 at age 57--and was buried without a marker.

“There was snow on the ground, and I knew they might take a dim view if we started shoveling things in a cemetery,” Redbone says wryly. “I’ve seen it happen.”

But he adds that the reporter he was with went on to organize funding for a headstone for Morse.

More recently, Redbone, who has been seen and heard on TV and film since first appearing on Saturday Night Live during its 1975 debut season, sang “When You Wish Upon a Star” on the soundtrack of Woody Allen’s 2010 film You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and appeared on the soundtrack of Boardwalk Empire episodes.

But his main activity now is to promote Flying By, which is out on August Records--his label since 1984--and features whimsical cover artwork by his daughter Blake Redbone Mayer.

Subscribe to my examiner.com pages, follow me on Twitter @JimBessman, and check out my jimbessman.com website for other original reporting, musings, and what have you.

Link to Article:
http://www.examiner.com/article/leon-redbone-flies-high-with-new-album-flying-by

12 comments

  • Steve

    Steve Wherever

    I just wanted to say thank you for a lifetime of absolutely beautiful music.

    I just wanted to say thank you for a lifetime of absolutely beautiful music.

  • Nancy

    Nancy

    So miss your performances!

    So miss your performances!

  • Johnny

    Johnny Denver

    Had been waiting for a Denver return for a few years now, sad to hear it won't be happening. I've seen you perform live twice, and have enjoyed your music since first hearing it on SNL way back when. Best of health to you, you made the world a better place!

    Had been waiting for a Denver return for a few years now, sad to hear it won't be happening. I've seen you perform live twice, and have enjoyed your music since first hearing it on SNL way back when. Best of health to you, you made the world a better place!

  • William B

    William B Hollywood

    I treasure your performance at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood around 1990. It coincide with the beginnings of a romance I won't forget either. They will always go together.

    I treasure your performance at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood around 1990. It coincide with the beginnings of a romance I won't forget either. They will always go together.

  • Char

    Char Florida

    I've loved you since I met you in Satellite Beach Fl - then we spent that harrowing day when the plane had a problem in the Carolina's. I'm still ok with flying but I heard you aren't - that's ok - your music can still fly me to the moon anyway. ccc

    I've loved you since I met you in Satellite Beach Fl - then we spent that harrowing day when the
    plane had a problem in the Carolina's. I'm still ok with flying but I heard you aren't - that's ok - your music can still fly me to the moon anyway. ccc

  • Francois De Groen

    Francois De Groen San Ramon, California

    Mr. Redbone, Your voice, your music, your gift to the composers and artists who's music you resurrected so faithfully and authentically, gives countless of your past, present, and future fans - the musical authenticity of a bygone era that found perhaps its greatest expression through you. If you have heard this before, you'll just have to suffer another compliment: I believe every artist who's music you resurrected would be nothing less than honored, pleased, and genuinely flattered, by the love and musical goods with which you delivered these priceless gems into our lives. Thank You so much. I have never met you, or the spirit that occupies you as Leon Redbone, but Sir, you nailed it. Again and again. You are now an old soldier who fought well, marching through the heavens and hells of countless gigs. Age as we all must, I sincerely hope you are at least comfortable as you approach that inevitable next adventure which we all reach in the same way a baby has to die to the womb to pass into this life. Not a one of us could coax a baby from the womb with tall tales about this world. Why move when we're nice and snuggly in the womb? Hell, we get evicted, and then we listen, for the rest of our lives, for a heart that was so close we could feel it and hear it. I am convinced the reason we all scream in protest at birth is because momma's poop chute is the first thing we see. Close up. Not exactly a post card of Niagra Falls. As if that ain't enough, the Doctor gives us a hearty slap. My point is, birth is the trauma that awakens us from slumbering in the lazy river of the womb into the rapids of our life. Good God, what a ride, man! Why should the death of our body be any different? I believe someone put that to music - the bit about about 'Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die'. My own belief of God, the Universe, after-life, and so on, has changed many times. I've worked in emergency services on the street level for years, and have no delusions about the obvious fact that life is unfair. On the other hand, I once heard someone say, "If life was truly fair, I'd probably be dead". Touche'. I believe life's existence itself is a mysterious miracle. Believer or atheist, the How doesn't really explain the Why. But I believe each of us, Mr. Redbone, is not finished when we croak our last breath. And it is a croak. Nothing had to exist in the first place. So for me, the mystery can only deepen. If it's lights out we won't know it anyway, so why fuss? Dozens of virgins? I don't have the patience. If there is sex "there" they damn sure better be good at it. After all, I will be giving them the best 47 seconds of their after-life every time. I believe what we express through our lives resonates past this body (and time) we live in. I wish you all the comfort, happiness, and peace for the rest of your days. You have made my life happier with your music. Maybe the world will get the treat of your autobiography or memoirs. I have two teenage girls who are tethered to 'smart' phones the same way some older farts are, who should know better. However, I make sure my kids get exposed to good music. I don't care from when or what genre - just so it's authentic and moves them. I hope you will feel the same smile I do when I hear my kids humming the melodies of your music. Ahhh, fear not, friend. The spirit that lives in you, lives on through your gifts to the world over these many decades, and you have left the world a much happier place than it would have been without the beautiful and gruff Leon Redbone. I would be content just listening to you mumble - and understand it well. Please do not let your knowledge pass away when your body does. You spent a lifetime with this stuff. Now give yourself that same gift through telling us your story, Sir. With all the love and joy your music continues to give me, Francois

    Mr. Redbone,
    Your voice, your music, your gift to the composers and artists who's music you resurrected so faithfully and authentically, gives countless of your past, present, and future fans - the musical authenticity of a bygone era that found perhaps its greatest expression through you. If you have heard this before, you'll just have to suffer another compliment: I believe every artist who's music you resurrected would be nothing less than honored, pleased, and genuinely flattered, by the love and musical goods with which you delivered these priceless gems into our lives. Thank You so much. I have never met you, or the spirit that occupies you as Leon Redbone, but Sir, you nailed it. Again and again. You are now an old soldier who fought well, marching through the heavens and hells of countless gigs. Age as we all must, I sincerely hope you are at least comfortable as you approach that inevitable next adventure which we all reach in the same way a baby has to die to the womb to pass into this life. Not a one of us could coax a baby from the womb with tall tales about this world. Why move when we're nice and snuggly in the womb? Hell, we get evicted, and then we listen, for the rest of our lives, for a heart that was so close we could feel it and hear it. I am convinced the reason we all scream in protest at birth is because momma's poop chute is the first thing we see. Close up. Not exactly a post card of Niagra Falls. As if that ain't enough, the Doctor gives us a hearty slap. My point is, birth is the trauma that awakens us from slumbering in the lazy river of the womb into the rapids of our life. Good God, what a ride, man! Why should the death of our body be any different? I believe someone put that to music - the bit about about 'Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die'. My own belief of God, the Universe, after-life, and so on, has changed many times. I've worked in emergency services on the street level for years, and have no delusions about the obvious fact that life is unfair. On the other hand, I once heard someone say, "If life was truly fair, I'd probably be dead". Touche'. I believe life's existence itself is a mysterious miracle. Believer or atheist, the How doesn't really explain the Why. But I believe each of us, Mr. Redbone, is not finished when we croak our last breath. And it is a croak. Nothing had to exist in the first place. So for me, the mystery can only deepen. If it's lights out we won't know it anyway, so why fuss? Dozens of virgins? I don't have the patience. If there is sex "there" they damn sure better be good at it. After all, I will be giving them the best 47 seconds of their after-life every time. I believe what we express through our lives resonates past this body (and time) we live in. I wish you all the comfort, happiness, and peace for the rest of your days. You have made my life happier with your music. Maybe the world will get the treat of your autobiography or memoirs. I have two teenage girls who are tethered to 'smart' phones the same way some older farts are, who should know better. However, I make sure my kids get exposed to good music. I don't care from when or what genre - just so it's authentic and moves them. I hope you will feel the same smile I do when I hear my kids humming the melodies of your music. Ahhh, fear not, friend. The spirit that lives in you, lives on through your gifts to the world over these many decades, and you have left the world a much happier place than it would have been without the beautiful and gruff Leon Redbone. I would be content just listening to you mumble - and understand it well. Please do not let your knowledge pass away when your body does. You spent a lifetime with this stuff. Now give yourself that same gift through telling us your story, Sir.

    With all the love and joy your music continues to give me,
    Francois

  • Darren

    Darren Florida

    Dear Mr. Redbone, Thank you for all the wonderful music you have given us over the years. I hope your life has been fulfilling to you and was everything you hoped it would be and more. I have loved your music since my childhood in the 70's and will continue to love it for the rest of my life. Peace be with you, always.

    Dear Mr. Redbone,

    Thank you for all the wonderful music you have given us over the years. I hope your life has been fulfilling to you and was everything you hoped it would be and more. I have loved your music since my childhood in the 70's and will continue to love it for the rest of my life. Peace be with you, always.

  • Jack

    Jack Jersey

    Can listen to your music 24 / 7

    Can listen to your music 24 / 7

  • Nancy

    Nancy Maynard

    Miss you!

    Miss you!

  • Dave

    Dave C

    Christmas on Chirstmas Island has been a tradition since my children were small. My oldest is 30 and it just gets better with time. It would not be Christmas without it. I have been a great fan since the seventies. Merry Christmas and thank you so much for being you. The one and only!

    Christmas on Chirstmas Island has been a tradition since my children were small. My oldest is 30 and it just gets better with time. It would not be Christmas without it. I have been a great fan since the seventies.
    Merry Christmas and thank you so much for being you. The one and only!

  • Joanna

    Joanna Florida

    I still have the autographed album you signed for me referring to me as "Lady J" .I fell in love with your music right there in Rockefellers in Houston, Texas. Thank you for being you and sharing you with the world, You've made it a better place. God bless you and I pray the rest of your journey is full of love peace and comfort.

    I still have the autographed album you signed for me referring to me as "Lady J" .I fell in love with your music right there in Rockefellers in Houston, Texas. Thank you for being you and sharing you with the world, You've made it a better place. God bless you and I pray the rest of your journey is full of love peace and comfort.

  • YAEL LI-RON

    YAEL LI-RON KAUAI

    Leon Redbone is my favorite singe by a mile. There's no other way to say that. When I'm depressed, I listen to him. When I'm in a good mood, l listen to him. When my husband was dying, Leon's music made him smile. He particularly loved Your Feet's Too Big and Sheik of Araby. He always laughed when he heard those songs, despite his terminal illness. Anybody who has a problem with immigrants should listen to this Cyprus-born Armenian genius who sings the American Song Book like no other. Blues, Jazz, Dixieland, he does it all. And what a brilliant guitarist! He's outstanding, unique, talented, and makes me laugh. Does anybody know if he's in good health?

    Leon Redbone is my favorite singe by a mile. There's no other way to say that. When I'm depressed, I listen to him. When I'm in a good mood, l listen to him. When my husband was dying, Leon's music made him smile. He particularly loved Your Feet's Too Big and Sheik of Araby. He always laughed when he heard those songs, despite his terminal illness. Anybody who has a problem with immigrants should listen to this Cyprus-born Armenian genius who sings the American Song Book like no other. Blues, Jazz, Dixieland, he does it all. And what a brilliant guitarist!

    He's outstanding, unique, talented, and makes me laugh. Does anybody know if he's in good health?

Add comment