Like King Records? Libby Holman? H-Bomb Ferguson? Sacred Mushroom? You’ll soon be able to collect their images — and many other local music heroes — on playing cards.
Yes, there are such bona fide King Records legends as Otis Williams, Bonnie Lou, Junior McCants, Grandpa Jones and, of course, Syd Nathan, the company’s owner. But there are also other local music legends.
They include H-Bomb Ferguson, a Jump Blues and raucous Rock singer who performed in colorful wigs and hula skirts and had a pet snake named Boo Boo; Hobo Jack Adkins, whose Country recordings included “Kentucky School Bus” about “school children that went home to heaven” after a bus accident in Eastern Kentucky; the psychedelic Blues-Rock band Sacred Mushroom, whose moniker is still considered one of the best ever; and the Cincinnati-born Broadway star and stylish Pop singer Libby Holman, whose streak of hits from 1929-1935 included “Moanin’ Low,” “Am I Blue?” and “Love for Sale.”
All of the above and more will be part of the Cincinnati Music Legends Card Deck, a set of artist-designed cards planned for release in early 2019. It’s one of local nonprofit ArtWorks’ more unusual projects to date — it has supplied a project manager and two art-student apprentices to the project, which is currently taking shape at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. The lead artist is the accomplished cartoonist/sign painter Justin Green; the idea’s originator is Darren Blase, co-owner of Shake It Records.
Blase’s inspiration was the music trading card sets created by cartoonist R. Crumb — Pioneers of Country Music, Heroes of the Blues and Early Jazz Greats. “I always loved those things,” Blase says. “I always thought we should do this here.”
Green has already painted the distinctive signage at Shake It — the marquee-like sign above the front door includes portraits of such beloved recording artists as Tom Waits, Louis Jordan, Loretta Lynn and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. So he was a natural for this. But as he found his work slowed by an eye ailment, Blase turned to ArtWorks for help.
On a recent afternoon, all involved were assembled at the Art Academy. Along the walls were preliminary pen-and-ink drawings of the subjects, reference photos and mock-ups of cards and the 80-word biographies that will go on the back of them. Project manager Joe Walsh was working with his apprentices on adding watercolor to a scanned copy of a completed drawing. Eventually, the watercolor-painted drawings will be scanned into digital files and sent overseas to be printed into decks of 3-by-4-inch Cincinnati Music Legends cards.
“I’ve been entrusted with these incredibly talented geniuses and I want to give them my knowledge without cramping their style,” Green says. “So they’re my product really, not the cards.”
Given his musical knowledge, Blase had a relatively easy time choosing subjects for his cards.
“I put a list together of 156, and kind of just pooled from my files pretty randomly,” he says.
This set will ultimately depict 36 or 37 legends in a pack of 40 cards. It will be printed in an initial edition of 1,000 and may retail for $15.99. Blase ultimately plans for a series of four or five sets. “I’ll see if I can find a way to put bubble gum in them, too,” he says.
Blase also decided the chosen subjects had to have lived in Cincinnati for at least some period; they couldn’t just have come here to record at King Records’ studio. “That’s why there’s no James Brown,” he says. And he decided that the guitarist Lonnie Mack be included in the first set.
For the student apprentices, this project is paying an extra dividend — an education in Cincinnati music history.
“For Libby Holman, I read her entire biography and I can recite all the things that happened in her life,” says apprentice Josie Masset, of Miami University.
And they are aware they will be introducing some of their subjects to a new audience.
“I can’t believe I’m part of this,” says Kadin True, an Art Academy student. “These cards are going to be part of how these people are going to be remembered.”
When finished, Cincinnati Music Legends card decks will be available at Shake It Records and other stores.