Music, Comics & Collecting Records: R. Crumb & Jerry Zolten
September 24th, 2014 ~ This week on American Routes we spin some shellac and wax nostalgic with the iconic cartoonist, musician and record collector Robert Crumb, who’ll share with us his love of musical times gone by. Then, we talk to educator and vinyl aficionado Jerry Zolten about the story of Paramount Records, started by a furniture manufacturer, whose recorded legacy is now contained in two swank suitcases.
Archive for the ‘Robert Crumb’ Category
This slideshow of R. Crumb’s blues-inspired works happens to be set to a Paramount record, Charley Patton’s “Down the Dirt Road Blues.”
What concerns us here are Paramount’s print ads, which ran in The Chicago Defender. I’ve tried mightily to find the names of the artists who drew these. People in a better position to know than I assure me their identities are lost to the years, though they may have been staff illustrators at a Madison ad agency.
The loss of that knowledge is a damned shame, because without knowing it, those artists altered the history of underground comix, by serving as an acknowledged influence on that form’s grand pooh-bah, Robert Crumb.
Even a superficial glance at some of these ads reveals a precursor to Crumb’s famous signature style (it’s strikingly evident in the slouching posture of some of these characters), and Crumb paid direct homage to these artists in a series of trading card sets that have been compiled into the book R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country—the comix artist’s abiding passion for the music of the early recording era has never been a secret.
Here are a few of those ads.
It’s astonishing that these have never been collected into a coffee table art book. The illustration work is wonderful, and for historical interest, these are hard to beat. The only place I know of where they’ve been compiled is in the insane Rise and Fall of Paramount Records box sets jointly released by Jack White’s Third Man label and John Fahey’s Revenant Records.
Purchase shirts here: http://www.kotapparel.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=3_133
R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz, and Country (Abrams Books, 238 pages, CD incuded))
by Terry Zwigoff (excerpt from R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz, and Country):
Robert’s original idea was to include a single music card with each Yazoo LP, in much the same spirit as the established trading card tradition that dates back over a century. It was Nick Perls [Yazoo Records founder] who wanted to package the cards as a thirty-six-piece boxed set. That gave Nick an additional item to sell rather than a bonus premium to give away with his paltry LP sales.
He also had Robert design beautiful point-of-purchase store displays for the card sets, which are rare and collectible items today. I remember walking around the West Village with Nick as he tried to talk the local merchants into carrying the card sets. He was pretty successful. The cards were appealing and colorful and sold well right from the start.
Numerous printings were done over the years, and the rights passed from Nick to other publishers. After Nick died, the original artwork for the cards was sold and today is owned by a successful film director in northern California.
Initially, Robert wanted to draw only the country string bands for the country set, but he was persuaded to include Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, and a few more well-known entertainers. Robert liked these artists, but he seemed to get a bigger kick out of celebrating the lesser-known bands. Perhaps he wanted to give them a well-deserved bit of recognition after all their years of obscurity.
The existence of available photographs partly determined the musicians he chose to include. It’s a minor miracle that someone had a photo of Mumford Bean and His Itawambians, a band so obscure that their one existing 78 has only been heard by maybe dozen hard-core country collectors, and has never been reissued.
R. Crumb’s Sweet Shellac – American Black String Bands Of The 20’s & 30’s (BBC radio episode)
Hot Women – Women Singers from the Torrid Regions of the World: CD Compilation By R. Crumb
Hot Women is a collection of 24 tracks taken from old 78 rpm recordings. They were gathered by none other than underground cartoonist/cultural icon R. Crumb, who also annotates the liner notes with what biographical information his friends could find on the web (Crumb himself knows not how to use the internet); we’re even treated to illustrations based on whatever photographs he could find of these women.
The earliest of the songs, like “Lu Fistinu Di Palermo” (Rosina Trubia Gioiosa of Sicily), comes to us from 1927; the latest, “Ballali Madja” (Hamsa Khalafe & Ali Atia, Africa), is dated around 1950. Most tracks come to us from the ‘30s, and possess both the eerie warmth and alien disembodiment that informs such cinematic tributes to the ‘30s as Triplets of Belleville and Pennies from Heaven, only more so: more so because while some of these “torrid regions” may be familiar to us (Lousiana, Cuba), others are decidedly less so (Tunisia, Middle Congo). I never imagined that Vietnam or Burma had viable pop recording industries 70 years ago.
Tony Baldwin handled remastering duties on Hot Women, and while I have no idea what the original recordings sound like, the effect is mesmerizing. The sound is still separated from reality, yet saturated with the physical effects of its context. “El Tambor De La Alegria”, a Cuban number from 1928, arrives as in a cloud of dust from the street, as though it exploded into being without the benefit of a producer. The mesmerizing “Chant D’Invitation A La Dance”, from the Middle Congo, built entirely on voice and finger piano, seems suffused with the miasma of an unfamiliar terrain and a stubborn refusal to be “properly” colonized.
If Crumb’s notes show an admiration for these women, his illustrations and the songs themselves seem to reflect the persistence of “exotic” cultures despite the oppressive gaze of the occidental eye. If Crumb’s cartoons turn misogyny on its head by deconstructing the misogynist impulse, his sharing of this music seems to critique colonialism by spreading its accidental treasures, the voices of the oppressed turning the entertainment of their oppressors into an expression of their own tenacity. This collection is grotesque, sexy, dissonant, desperate, and comical, both of this world and defiantly outside of it. These may not be the first hot women to haunt my daydreams, but they’re among the few I’ve ever felt so desperate to share.
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!
Old Time Radio Show host John Heneghan films Robert Crumb in his record room in the South of France. Robert plays Curley Weaver’s “No No Blues” from his 78 rpm record collection.
Thanks to both of these gentlemen for this wonderful video.
The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of: The Dead Sea Scrolls of Record Collecting, Super Rarities & Unissued Gems of the 1920’s & ’30s (Yazoo CD 2202)
by Mike Yates (www.mustrad.org.uk)
Some years ago an American acquaintance gave me a list of the ‘three things that you will never see in your life’. I can still remember two of these ‘things’ – they were ‘a contented farmer’ and ‘a dead donkey’ – though, sadly, the third item on the list has now slipped my mind. I wonder if there was ever a similar list of things that you would never expect to hear in your life? Well, in my case, such a list would have to include two ‘missing’ Paramount 78’s of outstanding Mississippi blues-singers, the first by Willie Brown and the second by Son House. Now, believe it or not, the Son House has, at last, turned up -slightly scratched and battered – but nevertheless brilliant!
And it has just been reissued on a double set of CDs The Stuff That Dreams are Made Of – The Dead Sea Scrolls of Record Collecting (Yazoo CD 2202). The album is subtitled Super Rarities & Unissued Gems of the 1920’s & ’30s and whilst a number of items are heard here on CD for the first time, it must be said that some tracks have been reissued previously elsewhere. It seems that Yazoo are of the opinion that if only one-known copy of a 78 exists, then this is the place for it – no matter if it has already been reissued elsewhere. But, as I said, there are some new reissues here. The Son House coupling, Mississippi County Farm Blues / Clarksdale Moan will have the blues-aficionados salivating; while the Georgia Pot Lickers’ Up Jumped the Rabbit / Chicken Don’t Roost Too High will no-doubt do the same for the Old-Timey fans.
And, of course, there is more to these albums than just these two killer 78s. For a start there are fascinating solo fiddle tracks from J D Harris (The Grey Eagle) and Osey Helton (Green River), two fiddlers who are new to me. There is a duet piano track by Smith & Irvine (Lonesome Road Blues), and the notes offer the suggestion that the unknown Mr Smith could possibly have been the father of the multi-talented Hobart Smith, who was recorded by Alan Lomax and many others. At times it certainly shows a resemblance to Hobart’s piano work, but I guess that the jury is still out on this one. There is a stunning version of the song The Battleship of Maine performed by Wilmer Watts and the Lonely Eagles (as Fightin’ in the War with Spain), and, likewise, a splendid version of the old-timey fiddle & banjo tune I’m Gonna Marry that Pretty Little Girl from the Sweet Brothers of Galax, Va. (more…)
PIONEER’S of COUNTRY MUSIC, boxed trading card set by ROBERT CRUMB. These are back in print for the first time in over twenty years. From Denis Kitchen Publishing. ISBN # 0-9710080-5-1 Price: $10.95
Forty legendary and obscure country music pioneers painted by R. Crumb with biographies on the reverse by music historian Richard Nevins. (These are similar to Crumb’s Heroes of the Blues and Early Jazz Greats boxed sets.) Featured are such well known acts as Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family (A.P., Maybelle and Sara), along with long neglected groups whose sprightly names alone evoke foot stomping and tub thumping: Gid Tanner & the Skillet Lickers, The Happy Hayseeds, Ernest Stoneman & his Blue Ridge Corn Shuckers, and Al Hopkins and his Buckle Busters.
Other featured performers: Andy Palmer of Jimmie Johnson’s String Band; Eck Robertson & Family; Da Costa Woltz’s Southern Broadcasters; Fiddlin’ John Carson & his Virginia Reelers; Earl Johnson and his Dixie Entertainers; Fiddlin’ Doc Roberts Trio; Ted Gossett’s String Band; Harry “Mac” McClintock; Dr. Humphrey Bate & His Possum Hunters; Uncle Dave Macon and his Fruit Jar Drinkers; Burnett & Rutherford; Mumford Bean and his Itawambians; The Shelor Family; W. T. Narmour & S.W. Smith; Ray Brothers; The Tennessee Ramblers; Shepherd Brothers; Taylor-Griggs Louisiana Melody Makers; Jimmie & George Carter of Carters Brothers & Son; Hoyt Ming and his Pep Steppers; Paul Miles and his Red Fox Chasers; Roane County Ramblers; Frank Blevins & his Tar Heel Rattlers; Charlie Poole with the North Carolina Ramblers; Fiddlin’ Bob Larkin and his Music Makers; East Texas Serenaders; “Dock” Boggs; Fiddlin’ Powers & Family; Red Patterson’s Piedmont Log Rollers; Weems String Band; Leake County Revelers; Wilmer Watts and the Lonely Eagles; South Georgia Highballers; and the Crockett Kentucky Mountaineers.
All the colorful groups are lovingly drawn by the inimitable underground cartoonist and are printed on a heavy stock and packaged in a nifty full-colorbox, also designed by Crumb.
by Robert Crumb (from “The Rose and the Briar,” edited by Sean Wilentz and Greil Marcus, W.W. Norton, 2006)
by Robert Crumb (from “The Rose and the Briar,” edited by Sean Wilentz and Greil Marcus, W.W. Norton, 2006)
To be continued.