He’s been singing the songs of the ‘Boardwalk Empire’ era for decades, and has re-done a song he originally recorded in 1977 for the HBO series’ soundtrack.
This past Sunday, Nov. 13, if you tuned into HBO’s Boardwalk Empire you may have caught Leon Redbone singing the song “Sheik of Araby” during the closing credits.
Although Redbone, who returns to the Atlantic City area with a Sunday, Nov. 20, show at Stockton College’s new Campus Center Theater (2pm, $20) in Pomona, recorded the tune on his 1977 Warner Bros. release, Double Time, his second album, he was asked to re-record the song for the Boardwalk Empire soundtrack.
Earlier this year, in fact, Redbone was asked by old friend and musical collaborator Vince Giordano to visit a recording studio in Brooklyn (likely Brooklyn Recording, he says) to resurrect the old song from the 1920s for the soundtrack of Boardwalk Empire, Vol. 1: Music from the HBO Original Series, which was released in September on Elektra Records.
“I’ve known Vince for decades,” says Redbone. “Several of them. I hear from him once in a while and I go down to New York, even though it’s never been one of my favorite places, but it’s nice to get down there to listen to Vince’s band. It’s really come together quite well.”
Giordano, well regarded in show biz for his unparalleled knowledge of American music, and who has a house full of old sheet music he’s collected over the years, according to those who know him, leads a New York based jazz band — Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks — that appears as the house band at the club Babette’s in the HBO series based in 1920s Atlantic City.
Giordano, according to the show’s creator Terry Winter, has proven to be a major asset to the series, with his vast knowledge and collection of period songs, and his ability to do modern-day renditions of popular songs from the 1920s, five of which also appear on the Boardwalk Empire soundtrack.
Giordano and his band also accompany many of the other performers on the soundtrack, including Redbone.
The elder statesman of old-time music, who recently was out of country for a holiday, vacationing in “some villa somewhere,” hasn’t seen a scene from Boardwalk Empire yet.
Nor has he heard the soundtrack.
Redbone says that Giordano had the music track all ready for him when he arrived at the studio to lay down his vocal track for “Araby” earlier this year. He doesn’t play guitar on the recording, unlike his version on Double Time, which features a younger Redbone doing a far-gone novelty-tune take on the song — a sort Captain Beefheart, hip-hop precursor and Blind Willie Johnson stew of a sound.
Redbone says the Boardwalk Empire “Sheik of Araby” that he sings on is also a novelty-tune take on the song, penned by Harry B. Smith, Francis Wheeler and Ted Snyder in 1921.
“The song of course was not written to sound that way at all,” he tells Atlantic City Weekly during a recent phone chat. “[But] I guess everybody kind of thinks of that as a novelty song, which is the complete opposite of how it was written — it was supposed to be mood music.
“But Vince wanted to use that song. I just came in to sing the thing. I was surprised that it wasn’t done in the original way it was presented. I don’t know what the reason was in deciding to go with the novelty song version.”
Although “The Sheik of Araby” appears on Vol. 1 of the Boardwalk Empire soundtrack, the song, with credit to Giordano, Winter, Martin Scorsese, the show’s music coordinator Meghan Currier, and soundtrack producers Stewart Lerman, Kevin Weaver and Randall Poster, doesn’t appear in the show until the second season, which is set in 1921.
Redbone says that although the song “doesn’t use some of the elements of the original music” and is “not quite the way it was supposed to be presented,” that the show’s musical minds likely used the version heard on the soundtrack because “most people don’t know it any other way.”
Redbone recalls his earlier recording of the tune: “I think it was on my first or second album for Warner Brothers,” he says, his enchanting croak of a voice a little quieter — and croakier — than in past years. “That [version] is completely over the top. But that’s how people know the song. Anyone who knew the song any other way was dead 50 years ago.”
Redbone can’t recall if he ever heard the “finished project” of the new rendition of “Araby,” but that’s not out of line with the man’s more than unique personality.
Redbone has consistently told this writer over the past decade that he doesn’t catch much television. “I don’t seem to see anything except Turner Classic Movies every once in a while; that’s about the only thing I’ve ever really seen,” he says.
When it is suggested he may enjoy HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, as it is set in the 1920s, like much of the music Redbone has played throughout his career, he says, “Maybe they’ll put it all together so I can watch it all at one time.”
Redbone had no idea he was on a soundtrack that featured Stephen deRosa singing as Eddie Cantor or Kathy Brier portraying Sophie Tucker, on a couple tracks, including “Some of These Days,” a tune that Redbone recorded on his 1975 debut album On the Track.
“So she sings it the way Sophie Tucker would have sang it?” asks Redbone. “That’s good. It was the most unusual style [of singing] that she had. She had a staggered style of singing. She would sing the song and then the melody would come and the melody would be there and then she would sing the song — it was very interesting. I don’t think that anybody else ever did that. It was most unusual.”
'The whole world now will start listening and really finding out how great the music of the 1920s is. It brings it up to the forefront.'
"When I recorded the first two songs I got to record with the band, which I prefer — in the same room, we did it live. Coming from a musical theater background, I prefer to sing live because there's just this synergy when you have a band playing behind you."
“It’s been my love and passion ever since I was five years old and I think this music moves people. People who come to see us, they say, ‘When I got here I was in kind of a blah mood, not so good, or depressed, or whatever and I come out in just a whole different place. I’m laughing, my spirits are lifted, it’s cheaper than going to a psychiatrist!’”
The famed seaside resort that is portrayed in HBO's hit drama series Boardwalk Empire celebrated the show's second season premiere on Sunday, Sept. 25, in a number of ways over the weekend.
“The three eras that attracted me where the 1920s, the ‘50s and the ‘70s. And really HBO’s mandate was [so broad that] I literally had a huge canvass to work from.”
In the sixth episode of this multi-part series, the distinguished panel of Atlantic City historians and authors begin to discuss the history of entertainment and nightlife in the resort, which has played such a vital role in Atlantic City for more than a century.
Leon Redbone at Appel Farm With HBO’s Boardwalk Empire highlighting the music of the 1920s (and even earlier), it would only make sense that a long-time carrier of the torch of early American music — Leon Redbone — should put out an album of songs from the era. “It’s a good idea,” Redbone, in his trademark nasaly voice tells AC Weekly. “I’ll make a call.” Of course you never know when Redbone, who has successfully kept his music career and private life separate,...
In a “news” box on the upper right side of the Archeophone Records home page, there’s a list of the songs played thus far in the first two episodes of HBO’s 'Boardwalk Empire,' set in 1920s Atlantic City.