You may not immediately recognize the name, but once you see the image, you know exactly who Leon Redbone is.
Redbone’s signature look is in attire reminiscent of the vaudeville era, performing in a Panama hat with a black band and dark sunglasses, often while sitting at attention on a stool, with a white coat and trousers with a black string tie.
Redbone brings his talent and mystique to the Colonial Theatre, Nov. 21, at 8 p.m., for a one-night performance.
Located in the heart of downtown Phoenixville, the Colonial, opened in 1903, is the last surviving theater among four that once thrived in the borough and is the only one of its kind in Chester County. In its early days, the Colonial was home to live stage shows, vaudeville acts and musicals, including appearances by Harry Houdini and Mary Pickford.
Real movie buffs know that the Colonial was featured in the 1958 science fiction classic “The Blob,” starring Steve McQueen, which was filmed in and around Phoenixville.
Redbone said that his performance at the Colonial will include songs that he has “played for some time and that have been around for a long time. I will perform whatever seems to work best for that day, but I have never presented a song I don’t like,” he added.
The artist said he favors melancholy songs, “But I break them up with something more upbeat. Everything is for the moment, and I try to convey the sentiment of the song in that moment.”
Redbone’s eclectic and irreverent style is rooted in his start as a performer. While living in Canada in the early 1970s, Redbone began performing in public at Toronto area nightclubs and folk music festivals. At one point, it was rumored that he was actually comedian Andy Kaufman, who sometimes took on other identities, or singer/guitarist Frank Zappa, who somewhat resembled Redbone. However, Redbone has performed since the deaths of Kaufman and Zappa, and the rumors have subsided.
In 1974, Rolling Stone magazine ran a feature article on Redbone, a year before he had a recording contract. The article described his performances as “so authentic you can hear the surface noise [of an old 78 rpm].” His first album, “On the Track,” was released by Warner Bros. Records in 1975.
Redbone was introduced to a larger public as a semi-regular musical guest on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” throughout the late 1970s and into the 1980s. In a late-’70s appearance on the “The Merv Griffin Show,” he was introduced as “Andy Kaufman … maybe or maybe not.” During the 1980s and 1990s, Redbone was a frequent guest on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.”
The artist said he has something new in the works that should be released in 2010. He has already released approximately 15 albums and earned a sizable cult following. His concerts blend performance, comedy and skilled instrumentals. Recurrent gags involve the influence of alcohol and claiming to have written works originating well before his time (as part of the mystery of his true age).
Redbone’s origins are shrouded in mystery. His birth name is believed to be Dickran Gobalian. He has cited his date of birth as Oct. 29, 1929; this wildly inaccurate date was the day of the U.S. stock market crash that sparked the Great Depression. He also claimed to have been born in Bombay during a monsoon to parents Niccolò Paganini (a composer and violinist who died in 1840) and Jenny Lind (a singer who died in 1887).
Redbone has appeared in a number of areas outside of his music recording and performance career. He has made appearances in the comic strips “Mister Boffo” and “The Far Side.” He performed the theme song for the popular 1980s sitcom “Mr. Belvedere,” as well as “Your Feet’s Too Big,” the theme from the syndicated sitcom “Harry and the Hendersons.”
He appears regularly on the PBS children’s show “Between the Lions.” He did a cover of Frank Loesser’s romantic Christmas song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Zooey Deschanel for the closing credits of the 2003 film “Elf.” He also voiced the character of Leon the Snowman in the same film. On his 1987 album “Christmas Island,” he performed a version of “Frosty the Snowman” with Dr. John.
He has also produced music for and appeared in television commercials, perhaps the most famous being an advertisement for Budweiser beer, in which he flies over a beach on a flying carpet, singing “This Bud’s for You.” He was also featured in a famous TV advertisement for InterCity (British Rail) service in the late 1980s.
Redbone said he plans to keep performing for as long as he can and that if he wasn’t performing he would be a photographer or a painter. “These are well fixed solitary things and I travel quite a bit, so right now I don’t have the time for them,” he added.
at The Colonial Theatre
227 Bridge St.,
Phoenixville, PA 19460,
Sunday, Nov. 21, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $24.50 - $34.50.