Face the Music: The Album Art of Robert Crumb

Face the Music: The Album Art of Robert Crumb

Regardless of what you’re into, 2016 has been one of the most incredible years for music in some time. What’s more, it’s been a tremendous year for us here at TIDAL. As a means of celebrating the past year, we’re taking time in these last two weeks of 2016 to highlight the written pieces we’re most proud of, drawing from a variety of our columns, interviews and more!

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With Face the Music we celebrate the visual side of music, highlighting cover designs, artists, eras, genres and more. In this edition we take a closer look at the beloved and recognizable cover art of cartoonist Robert Crumb.

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Third Man Records just released a wonderful collection of previously unpublished primeval Greek village music recorded between 1907 and 1960.

The album itself, Why The Mountains Are Black, is an exciting travel into some pretty undiscovered musical terrain. But as Third Man states, it’s not simply for historians and collectors of long-gone sounds, “this compilation is intended to push the limits of what we have come to expect of music, its purpose and indeed its origin.”

In a recent review Pitchfork praised the release, calling it a “baffling” collection that “transcend(s) its esotericism and connect(s) with a global audience, perhaps even with those who’ve never had a sip of ouzo in their life.”

We can talk more about primeval music from the Mediterranean another time, but here our focus is on the album’s cover artist, who is none other than the great cartoonist and illustrator Robert Crumb.

Born in Philadelphia in 1943, Robert Crumb rose to prominence as a key figure in the American “underground comix” movement in the late 1960s, creating the legendary underground publication Zap Comix, and introducing us to immortal characters like Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural and Devil Girl.

Crumb has always been critic and satirist of modern culture, but since his height as a counter-cultural icon in the 1970s he has gradually shifted toward a more personal and autobiographical style.

He was subject of the award-winning documentary movie Crumb (1994), and James Urbaniak portrayed him as an affectionate record collector in the 2003 cult film American Splendor, about the life of his drawing friend Harvey Pekar. In one of most major works, Crumb faithfully illustrated a complete comic edition of the The Book of Genesis in 2009.

Now 72 years old, Robert Crumb is also an outspoken aficionado of vintage folk culture and music – especially blues, jazz and country – and he’s had several band projects on his own, along with being a dedicated collector of old 78 records.

In The R. Crumb Handbook (1998) he wrote about The Search For Old Music:

“I was an eccentric kid, woefully out of step with my own time. I liked old things. I went around wearing an old Abe Lincoln frock coat. I kind of liked some of the early rock and roll records, but I loved the background music in the old 1930s Laurel and Hardy and “Little Rascals” comedies that I watched on TV kiddie shows. (….) There’s a wealth of great music recorded in the 78 era, before the onslaught of mass media profoundly changed everything … forever!”

Robert Crumb has illustrated a large number of album covers over his career, mostly tied to his own lifelong love of vintage sound and culture, and we have collected some of his finest work to honor his living legacy. This gallery doubles a a treasure chest of under-appreciated old-time music, including harmonica blues, jazz guitarists and Louisiana cajun, and beginning with one exception of the rule that remains the most famous cover of his career.

(And to dig deeper into the music below, just click on the cover to listen to the full album on TIDAL.)

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Big Brother & The Holding Company:
Cheap Thrills

(Columbia, 1968)

 

Earl Hooker
Theresa a Fungus Among Us

(Red Lightnin’, 1972)

 

Various ‎Artists
Please Warm My Weiner: Old Time Hokum Blues

(Yazoo, 1974)

 

Casey Bill Weldon & Kokomo Arnold
Bottleneck Guitar Trendsetters Of The 1930s
(Yazoo, 1975)

 

R. Crumb and His Cheap Suit Serenaders‎
Number Two
(Blue Goose, 1976)

 

Various ‎Artists
Harmonica Blues: Great Harmonica Performances of the 1920s and ’30s
(Yazoo, 1976)

 

Eddie Lang
Jazz Guitar Virtuoso
(Yazoo, 1977)

 

Blind Boy Fuller
Truckin’ My Blues Away
(Yazoo, 1978)

 

Bo Carter
Banana In Your Fruit Basket: Red Hot Blues, 1931-1936
(Yazoo, 1979)

 

Howard Armstrong
Louie Bluie Film Soundtrack
(Arhoolie, 1985)

 

Memphis Jug Band
Memphis Jug Band
(Yazoo, 1990)

 

Charlie Patton
King of the Delta Blues
(Yazoo, 1991)

 

Various Artists
The Music Never Stopped: Roots Of The Grateful Dead
(Shanachie, 1995)

 

Gérard Dôle
Dans Les Bayous De La Louisiane
(Dom, 1997)

 

The Beau Hunks Saxophone Soctette
The Beau Hunks Saxophone Soctette
(Basta, 1999)

 

Various Artists
The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of:
Super Rarities & Unissued Gems of 1920s & ’30s
(Yazoo, 2006)

 

 

Various Artists
Why The Mountains Are Black:
Primeval Greek Village Music 1907-1960
(Third Man, 2016)

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For further enjoyment of Robert Crumb’s music-related works we recommend the book R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country – the complete collection of the trading card sets he created in the 1980s.

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