Folk Aficionado Louis Curtiss
“I used to sell 78s to Robert Crumb,” says Folk Arts Rare Records owner Louis Curtiss of the cartoonist and musician whose Book of Genesis: Illustrated currently tops the New York Times’ hardcover graphic books best-seller list. “I started doing business with him by mail order in the mid-’70s, when he bid on some 78s on my auction list. He liked those old dance bands from the ’20s on the Grey Gull label. He didn’t bid on the really big-money items, but those were rare records.
“We communicated by letter a few times, and I talked to him once or twice on the phone, and then he came down to San Diego when we were presenting the Rhythm Rascals in concert. He looked like the Robert Crumb he draws, the hat and the whole thing. I showed him my collection, and he talked about his.… He bought a few old records while he was here.”
Crumb has illustrated around 50 album covers, from Big Brother and the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills (1968), through various jazz and blues compilations, a 2009 cover for Eden and John’s East River String Band, and records by his own band, Robert Crumb and the Cheap Suit Serenaders.
According to Curtiss, one of the city’s experts on roots music, “His band plays pretty well. They kicked a lot of others into doing that kind of old-timey music.”
Curtiss has headed up over 50 local-music festivals since 1967, most notably the Adams Avenue Roots Festival. “In 2008, the Adams Avenue Business Association relieved me of that privilege,” he says, “so now I run Folk Arts Rare Records and put up video clips of performers...on my Facebook page, some 550-plus clips.”
In addition, Curtiss hosts Jazz Roots on Sunday nights for KSDS-FM and Jazz88.org. “On December 20,” he says, “I [hosted] ‘Christmas Jazz Roots,’ with songs like ‘Santa Claus Blues’ by Clarence Williams’s Blue Five with Louis Armstrong, ‘Christmas in Jail’ by Leroy Carr, and Larry Vincent doing ‘Let Me Hang My Balls on Your Christmas Tree.’ ”