Note: I plan on updating this article when I get the time, but I've been saying that for a year... I do have a lot more information around...
"R. Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders" are a loosely organized string band playing songs from the 1920s and (occasionally) modern songs styled after the songs of the 20s. I know of three albums (all recorded in the mid-seventies), and one 78 RPM single. The LPs are simply titled (R. Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders, R. Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders #2, and R. Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders #3). The covers have R. Crumb artwork, of course. All three are on Blue Goose, a minor folk label that seems to have been swallowed by Shanachie. More recently, two CD reissues with material from the second and third albums have been released by Shanachie. The first album seems to have been ignored so far.
A fan in the Bay Area, Steve Goldfield, sent me the following information about the current status of the Cheap Suit Serenaders: "R. Crumb isn't an active member and hasn't been for a long time with the exception of three of this year's performances... The current band includes Bob Armstrong (saw, guitar), Bob Brozman (various steel instruments, guitar, ukulele), Al Dodge on mandolin, Terry Zwigoff on saw, cello, Stroh fiddle, and mandolin, and Tony Marcus on guitar and fiddle. Everybody sings except for Terry."
Sandberg and Weissman's "Folk Music Sourcebook" (Alfred A. Knopf, 1976) has a short review of R. Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders in a section headed "The String Band Revival." They say "The well-known cartoonist turns out to be a fine tenor banjo player, playing with friends on guitar, mandolin, tuba, accordion, etc. The band re-creates early white string ragtime and vodeodo sounds, with period vocal stylings and some original songs."
The personnel is fluid on the three albums though there is a core consisting of Crumb, Robert Armstrong, and Allan Dodge on all three albums. As noted, Zwigoff is on Cheap Suit Serenaders #2 and Cheap Suit Serenaders #3. On Cheap Suit Serenaders #3, they add the noted string player and folk archivist Bob Brozman, who plays mostly Hawaiian guitar on the album. "Guests" are found on all three albums, adding diversity to the instruments played by the regulars. And diverse they are! Among the instruments represented are mando-ukulele, banjo-mandolin, musical saw, and mando-cello.
Much of the band's history I've gleaned from two sources. One is an article by founding bandmember Bob Armstrong in "Pulse Magazine," the music magazine put out by Tower Records. This does not seem to be available online and Tower did not answer my request to post the article. The other main source is an interview of bandmember Terry Zwigoff that was featured in Hidden Water (electronic magazine - Pockets of Eccentricity: An interview with Terry Zwigoff by Marshall Wyatt - no longer available online, unfortunately).
I'll put a bit more about the history when I get a chance to write about it.
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Updated November, 2003