Robert Crumb: One of the bits of foolishness that I became involved in was the music business. After that brief interlude living in the ecstatic now of the late sixties, I returned once again to my maudlin nostalgia for the dear dead past — especially the music of the twenties.
I began again to collect old 78 rpm records in earnest. Collecting had always been my addiction of choice, and I became hooked again. I started spending a lot of time, energy and money hunting for those old jazz, blues and country records from the twenties. So while I had to force myself to keep drawing comics, what I truly enjoyed was going for adventures into uncharted territories and pawing through piles of junk and dank, dark second-hand stores.
The good records were few and far between, finding a stack of good ones all in one place was a euphoric, thrilling experience, but rare, of course. Mostly you found them one by one, through days and weeks of searching and asking around.
This love of old music led to friendships with other young musical idealists. There was the old time music scene; a lot of hippie types who played old American country fiddle tunes, blues, ragtime, and Irish music. I could plinkety-plink along on my little toy instrument, a quaint little 1920s banjo-uke I found at the Alameda Flee Market.
My music skills were very limited, but playing music with other people was very relaxing, generally, than just sitting around getting stoned, and every once in a while the music would sort of come together and sound almost like one a’those old records. That was always kind of exciting.
Over the next several years, this band developed a bit, took in a few more musicians, made three LPs for Yazoo in New York, played a lot of clubs, bars, folk festivals, weddings and parties and even went on a national “tour” of sorts in 1976. We settled on the name, “R.Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders,” and of course I was the front man. I had the name that would bring people to see us (Yeah, they stared at us more than they listened, I do believe.)
The clubs were the worst… it was excruciating for me… the only advantage was every now and then there’d be some friendly female who would let me maul her. Weddings and parties were better. The people all knew each other, and our music helped create a convivial social atmosphere, something you don’t get with loud rock music.
Another one of our “venues” in the early days was the street. Jeeziz that was a grim scene… Fisherman’s Warf, Union Square in San Francisco. Armstrong played the musical saw, and whenever the crowds of passerby were ignoring us too much, somebody’d say, “okay, Armstrong, get out the saw…” it never failed… it stopped them cold… they’d crowd around and gape with wonder at a guy playing a saw… they took snapshots, asked questions… they were highly fascinated… It was enough to make you very cynical… Armstrong could be playing the most beautiful ragtime or blues masterpiece with great feeling and they’d just walk on by… we were just so much shrubbery… but then he’d take out that saw, and you’d get fifty people tossing money. “Okay, Armstrong, get out the saw!” I mean, you had to get their attention somehow!