Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: One sacrifice we make with CDs is the loss of the 12" x 12" album covers, often an appealing piece of artwork on its own. With some, the cover is better than the music.

One of the best covers is “Cheap Thrills,” by Big Brother and the Holding Company, featuring Janis Joplin.

Similar to a comic book page, it has 16 individual panels, plus logo and masthead. All of the art is credited to R. Crumb.

I have never seen another cover like this but figure you'd know if others exist with Crumb's unusual style.

Does a neat cover, such as “Cheap Thrills,” affect value?
—Ed Houston, Gig Harbor, Wash.

DEAR ED: The distinctive “Cheap Thrills” cover art is by Robert Crumb, a prominent cartoon artist who first gained fame in the mid-'60s with his comic creation, Fritz the Cat, and his wildly popular “Keep on Truckin'” poster.

From 1968 to present (he's still at it), Crumb is credited with over 70 covers and labels for records and compact discs — a diversion that began in 1968 with “Cheap Thrills.”

His cover art remains the most collectible of any found on records.

Here is a chronological listing of the 20th century Crumb covers, which even includes a few of his own recordings:

1968: Big Brother and the Holding Company (“Cheap Thrills”). 1972: Good Tone Banjo Boys (“Ducks Yas Yas”); R. Crumb & His Keep-on-Truckin' Orchestra (“River Blues”). 1974: Cliff “Ukelele Ike” Edwards (“I'm a Bear in a Lady's Boudoir”); R. Crumb and His Cheap Suit Serenaders (“Hot Tunes”); Various Artists (“Please Warm My Weiner [sic] - Old Time Hokum Blues”); Alan Seidler (“The Duke of Ook”); Dave Jasen (“Rompin' Stompin' Ragtime”).

1975: Hokum Boys (“You Can't Get Enough of That”); Casey Bill Weldon & Kokomo Arnold (“Bottleneck Guitar Trendsetters of the 1930s”). 1976: Various Artists (“Bring Me Another Half-A-Pint”); R. Crumb and His Cheap Suit Serenaders (“Number 2”);. 1977: Larry Groce (“Turn on Your TV”). 1978: R. Crumb and His Cheap Suit Serenaders (“Party Record”); The Klezmorim (“Streets of Gold”); Bo Carter (“Banana in Your Fruit Basket”); R. Crumb and His Cheap Suit Serenaders (“Number Three”); Big John Wrencher Maxwell (“Street Alley Blues”). 1979: Wild Family Orchestra (“From Zamora, California”).

1981: Antler Joe and the Accidents (“Go Commercial!”). This one is currently the most valuable of the records with Crumb covers, with documented sales in the $500 to $750 range. 1982: Otis Brothers (“The Otis Brothers”). 1984: Various Artists (“Yazoo's History of Jazz”). 1985: Charley Patton (“The King of the Delta Blues”). 1987: Various Artists (“San Francisco Jazz on Flexo - 1930 to ´32”). 1989: The Klezmorim (“First Recordings 1976-1978”).

1990: Memphis Jug Band (“Memphis Jug Band”). 1991: Various Artists (“Harmonica Blues”). 1992: Roy Smeck (“Hawaiian Guitar, Banjo, Ukulele and Guitar”); Gerard Dôle (“Co Co Colinda”); Various Artists (“Bottleneck Guitar Trendsetters of the 1930s”). 1993: Beau Hunks (“Original Laurel & Hardy Music”).

1995: Various Artists (“The Music Never Stopped - Roots of the Grateful Dead”); Soundtrack (“Crumb”). 1996: Original Cast (“R. Crumb the Musical”). 1997: Gerard Dôle (“Dans les Bayous de la Louisiane”). 1998: Soundtrack (“Louie Bluie”); Helen Wheels (“Archetype”); Beau Hunks “Saxophone Soctette”). 1999: Various Artists (“From R. Crumb's 78rpm Record Collection: That's What I Call Sweet Music”); Fiddlin' Ian McCamy & His Celtic Reelers (“Sleep Sound in the Morning”); Gerard Dôle “Big Fun on the Bayou”).

Prices vary a bit, based on each buyer's preferences, but an appealing Crumb cover can multiply the value by 10 to 15 times the same record with a non-Crumb cover.

Crumb's dislike for Rock music is well-known, and is reflected in the recordings for which he provided art.

Not included in our list, and of lesser interest to album art collectors, are Crumb covers that do not include cartoon characters. This applies to those using actual photographs, ones where his work appears only on the label, and any where Crumb's contribution is limited to hand-lettering of text.

After the success of “Cheap Thrills,” numerous knock-off covers appeared. Some are Crumby enough to be fraudulently passed off as by Robert.

Others are just plain crummy, and easily distinguished from the real thing.

IZ ZAT SO? In 1972, “Fritz the Cat” became the first ever animated feature film to carry the X rating.

In 1994, the film “Crumb,” about Robert and some of his family, came out to glowing reviews.

Movie critic Roger Ebert goes so far as to state: “Crumb is one of the most remarkable and haunting documentaries ever made … a film that gives new meaning to the notion of art as therapy.”

Click here for interesting images and more information about Robert Crumb cover and label art.

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