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‘R. Crumb: The Complete Record Cover Collection’

New book features illustrator’s music-related work

Reprinted from R. Crumb: The Complete Record Cover Collection. Copyright © 2011 by Robert Crumb. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Well-known as a lover of old records, the satirical cartoonist Robert Crumb has collected his work on album covers and musicians' portraits in a new book, R. Crumb: The Complete Record Cover Collection. The artist spoke to Rolling Stone by phone from the south of France, where he has lived for the past two decades.

By James Sullivan

Reprinted from R. Crumb: The Complete Record Cover Collection. Copyright © 2011 by Robert Crumb. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

‘Cheap Thrills,’ Big Brother & the Holding Company

Crumb's most famous cover, for this 1968 album by Janis Joplin's band, was completed in one all-night drawing session for $600. The album was originally titled Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills, but the record company didn't like it. No one was thrilled with the original cover image, either – a photo of the band lying naked in bed together – so they contacted the artist. "I just did it as a work for hire," says Crumb, who was making a name for himself at the time as one of the original underground cartoonists of Zap Comix. Crumb drew this montage as the back cover, but Joplin and the record company agreed to use it on the front. "Janis used to come around, smoke pot, talk about the comics," he recalls. "She was nice." 

Reprinted from R. Crumb: The Complete Record Cover Collection. Copyright © 2011 by Robert Crumb. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

‘Music Self-Played Is Happiness Self-Made!!’

This 1972 cover was done for one of Crumb's own old-timey bands, who changed their name on each side of their recordings (this side is credited to Armstrong's Pasadenians) and pressed their music on 10-inch, 78-rpm records – "ridiculously," says Crumb. "We printed a few thousand of these, and the guy who printed them had them in stock for, like, 20 years. They didn't sell well."

Reprinted from R. Crumb: The Complete Record Cover Collection. Copyright © 2011 by Robert Crumb. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

‘Number 2,’ R. Crumb and His Cheap Suit Serenaders

This cover from the 1976 album by Crumb's own band features cellist Terry Zwigoff, who later made the documentary 'Crumb.' He was not intentionally made to look like Albert Einstein, says Crumb. "I don't think the guys in the band were very flattered with the caricatures," he deadpans. "We didn't get many groupies."

Reprinted from R. Crumb: The Complete Record Cover Collection. Copyright © 2011 by Robert Crumb. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

‘The Music Never Stopped: Roots of the Grateful Dead,’ Various Artists

Crumb was unhappy with this 1995 assignment for Shanachie Records, which was done for CD covers. "I said, 'You want all these people on a CD cover? What are they, like, five inches across? Come on." He took the job anyway – as with a lot of his music-related work, Crumb got paid in vintage 78s.

Reprinted from R. Crumb: The Complete Record Cover Collection. Copyright © 2011 by Robert Crumb. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

B.B. King (Original Artwork for Silkscreen)

Crumb took this job on commission from a big fan of the blues master B.B. King. "I actually don't care for his music," says Crumb, "but I don't find it that objectionable, either." He has turned down plenty of requests to do more album cover work over the years, including some from big-name acts: "If I needed money, I'd probably do it more. I don't do it for music I don't like, and I don't like very much modern music, rock & roll."

Reprinted from R. Crumb: The Complete Record Cover Collection. Copyright © 2011 by Robert Crumb. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

‘Hot Women: Women Singers from the Torrid Regions of the World,’ Various Artists

Famous for putting his sexual obsessions into his work, Crumb says despite the title, these old recordings aren't particularly sexy. "I don't know – what sounds sexy? Marilyn Monroe singing 'Happy Birthday' to JFK?" There is, however, one very brief track, the last on the record, a field recording from Tahiti in which a group of female singers "are making a sound like they're being fucked."

Reprinted from R. Crumb: The Complete Record Cover Collection. Copyright © 2011 by Robert Crumb. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

‘Hell Hound on My Trail’ (Original Artwork for Silkscreen)

Crumb's drawing from an iconic photo of blues legend Robert Johnson caused more headaches than he'd bargained for. Steve LaVere, who claims rights to much of Johnson's work, threatened to sue the artist for copying the image. "He's extremely litigious. I got a summons to appear in court – oh, God, it was awful. I said, 'You can't claim ownership of my drawing.'" Advised that he'd probably win in court but it might cost him $100,000, Crumb agreed to settle.   

Reprinted from R. Crumb: The Complete Record Cover Collection. Copyright © 2011 by Robert Crumb. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

‘Crumb: Original Soundtrack’

The CD cover of the soundtrack to the 1995 documentary that helped cement Crumb's eccentric image originated as a sketchbook self-portrait. Filmmaker Terry Zwigoff chose it. "Sometimes I just feel like I have a gun to my head," says Crumb. "I'm sure a lot of people do." 

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