Songwriter Stephen Foster is called “the father of American music” for penning such standards as “My Old Kentucky Home” and “Oh! Susanna.”
Banjo picker Grandpa Jones achieved notoriety as a cast member of “Hee Haw” on the way to Country Music Hall of Fame induction.
R&B stars the Isley Brothers have been hit-makers from the early ’60s into the new millennium. It’s their version of “Twist & Shout” that informed the Beatles’ cover.
What do Foster, Jones and the Isleys have in common? Cincinnati.
More specifically, they’re each commemorated in Cincinnati Musical Legends, a collection of 36 cards with original portrait art on the front and a bio on the flipside.
Northside music shop Shake It Records put together the Cincinnati Musical Legends project. Shake It’s Darren Blase conceived the idea, inspired by similar trading-card sets of blues and country musicians by the underground cartoonist R. Crumb.
For the Cincinnati Musical Legends artwork, Blase turned to Justin Green, a longtime Shake It collaborator and Cincinnati-based cartoonist. Portions of Green’s body of work, like Crumb’s, have chronicled stories of American-music pioneers and unsung heroes.
Green did some of the 36 portraits. The rest were completed by teenagers working for local organization ArtWorks. Shuffling through the cards, it’s hard for an untrained eye to tell apart Green’s work from the work of the young artists.
Mr. Spoons (Photo: Provided)
“They really stepped up to the project,” Blase says. “Justin had already done about eight of the cards when we went to ArtWorks. We said, ‘What you’re doing is producing commercial art.’ You need to complement Justin’s style. You can tell the ones that aren’t his, but it’s still like, wow, these are really great and are done by high school kids.”
Blase created the parameters for qualifying as a Cincinnati legend and card-set inclusion.
“Our definition of Cincinnati artists was people that lived here and recorded here and settled down and stayed for a while. James Brown will never be on a card, because he didn’t live here. He would just come through and record,” Blase says.
Also, a legend doesn’t have to be of the stature of Foster, Jones or the Isley Brothers. Included in the set are relative unknown figures such as the Teardrops, a 1960s female-vocal quartet formed at Hughes High School, and the country and bluegrass recording artist “Hobo” Jack Adkins, who made a home in Madeira, a suburb not often confused for Nashville.
The Cotton Club (Photo: Provided)
“We just didn’t want to front-end it with all the obvious people. There’s well-known and unknown, footnote kind of guys, but altogether they start to tell a pretty interesting story,” Blase says.
In Blase’s mind, the card that rises to the top of the deck is that of the late local blues-rock hero Lonnie Mack.
“Everybody always asks what the Cincinnati sound is, and people always mention King Records, and I’m like, man, not even close. The Cincinnati sound to me is Lonnie Mack. It’s country and bluegrass and R&B and soul and blues all rolled together in equal elements,” he says. “He has that river-town sound. I think he’s one of the greatest blue-eyed soul singers of all time. Everyone talks about his guitar playing, which is fine. He’s a great guitar player. But he was as equally a great white soul singer.”
How to get ’em
The set comes in a box and sells for $15.99. It’s available at Shake It Records and will be released officially on Friday, July 19, with an event that evening at the store. Call Shake It Records at 513-591-0123 for details.