Mike Royer’s Cruisin’ Years: the Interview, part 2

« Speaking of winners, I’ve got Zwellyn Zablow of 11 West Second Street in Freeport, New York, who saw me at the Rockefeller Center dance. I want you to check in at Murray Hill 85-700. Anyway, MU-700 within the next ten minutes… »

Read the liner notes. Regrettably, Cruisin’ 1962 isn’t currently available on YouTube. Boo, hiss.
Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1963 in its entirety here!
Read the liner notes, Again, Cruisin’ 1964 isn’t currently available on YouTube! Write your congressman and let ‘im have it!
Read the liner notes, then grind your teeth in frustration at Cruisin’ 1965‘s absence on YouTube.
Read the liner notes, and/or listen to Cruisin’ 1966 in its entirety here!

Now then, here’s part two of our exclusive conversation with Mr. Mike Royer, picking up the thread from where we left off in Part One.

Michael Royer: Richard, you asked « How were you selected? » Well, I’d been working with Paul, and apparently he liked what I did on the Mormon history slides, so he asked me if I would do the ‘final art’ and all the research and everything on the covers, and the last time I saw Paul, before the second batch, that started with The Cruisin’ Years, that had the tickets on the table, and the picture of… I don’t know if it was Eddie in uniform or not… but whatever, that was when Howard Silver of Increase Records decided to do more for the line. And continue the series.

WOT: Right.

MR: And from that point on, all of the writing, and all the ideas, were totally mine.

WOT: I figured it would happen at some point…

MR: I think the ideas might have been a collaboration between Jacobs and Gruwell, but one of the reasons Howard Silver asked me « Do we need to contact Paul Gruwell? », and I said « Nope, you have no reason in the world to contact Paul. »

WOT: Cut out the middleman!

MR: I’m the guy who Paul used to introduce at parties as « This is the man who *inked* my Cruisin’ covers. »

WOT: Oh, boy. Okay.

MR: “Up yours, pal!

WOT: Oh, this is gold, thank you!

MR: So I said « We don’t need him! », you know, and so all the rest of the albums after that were mine. And there are two covers that were done for a packaging, done for big box stores, that would have had either two or six cds in a tall case…

WOT: I remember those. ‘Longboxes’, shoplifting deterrents of the early cd era.

MR: … and one of them, Eddie is saying « We’ll be late for something at the theater » and Peg is saying « … but, but, the Beatles are on Ed Sullivan tonight! » So they were done to fit in the chronology of the covers. When he said « I’d like to start over with 1968 », and I said, « Well, I don’t wanna do the Woodstock. »

MR: « I don’t want Peg to have a kid from her serviceman, who obviously… died in service. »

WOT: Right.

MR: So I, and you’ve probably seen it, the cover is in front of a theater showing 2001: A Space Odyssey. Eddie discovers Peg there, as one of the Vietnam Widows for Peace. So now we know what happened to the serviceman that she ultimately married.

MR: ’cause I think, uh, the shot of Eddie and the musician with the beard…

WOT: Luthor, yes.

MR: … in college, and he’s got a newspaper clipping taped to his lamp that says « Peg marries… » somebody.

WOT: « Kevin Buchanan III » … he appears to be a society boy.

MR: I don’t know if you have all of them…

WOT: As far as I know.

MR: And of course, I continued, on all of the covers, to introduce a little bit… of tension.

WOT: Do tell.

MR: ’cause there’s some in every cover, sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s overt. But I believe I did through… what year is the Kent State thing?

WOT: Let’s see… 1970. Eddie’s talking with his boss about it.

MR: Peg says « That’s okay, because Mike wants to give me another tennis lesson. »

WOT: Well, another “lesson”, at any rate. Whether it’s tennis remains to be seen. She’s got the racket, but…

MR: So… I can say all those new covers were made… the one previous to that is where they’re at Niagara Falls, and he’s talking about things could happen at his firm, and she’s saying « But Eddie, *I* might want a career! » And I enjoyed doing that cover, because I just wanted to do her standing there at the little motel sink in her slip.

MR: … and of course, being male and having to draw female forms, I made sure that her skirt was blowing in the wind… and in her little tennis outfit in the next year.

MR: We did, uh, let’s see: there was The Cruisin’ Years, which re-established the whole series. And then, starting with ’68 through ’70.

Waitaminit, that’s only three years.

WOT: Many years later, you did Cruisin’ With Porky Chedwick in ’94, I think.

MR: Okay, I did two ‘Cruisin’ With‘… the second one, I guess it was never published…

WOT: Ah, right.

MR: … or produced, or released. And it was just another… let’s see: Porky Chedwick has got her in a poodle skirt and they’re dancing, right?

WOT: Yeah, that’s it.

MR: Okay, the next one was outside on a city street, and in the brick building behind them you see the silhouette of a disc jockey, and the broadcast booth at a radio station, I think the sign is on the roof. And Peg is protesting something. She’s got a banner, and Eddie and she are arguing about something. Ah, I only have a copy of my rough on that, or my comp. And of course there’s more detail on her than on him. I enjoyed drawing her. That last ‘Cruisin’ With’ I thought was much better than the first one I did, for cover art.

WOT: (laughs) exactly.

WOT: Is Cruisin’ a frequently-evoked topic by your fans?

MR: Every once in a while, it’s funny… for years, once in a blue moon, somebody would say something about Cruisin’. But I was in Charlotte, just… less than two weeks ago.

WOT: Right.

MR: … and I swear, a dozen or more people talked to me about the Cruisin’ covers at my table. Maybe that’s because there’s a new series of Cruisin’ albums… with art that I don’t like.

WOT: Oh, I don’t like it either: it looks like, and likely is, clip art.

MR: I don’t know who’s producing it. I don’t think it’s Howard Silver.

WOT: It’s called “The Cruisin’ Story“, it’s out of England, and it’s just a series of run-of-the-mill compilations, without the defining radio program concept.

MR: Howard Silver ran Increase Records. I don’t know if he bought out Increase and that was [Ron] Jacobs’ company or not. He’s in Hawaii now, last I heard. Jacobs [Indeed he was, but Mr. Jacobs passed away in 2016].


Our interview concludes in Part Three!

Mike Royer’s Cruisin’ Years: the Interview, part 1

« This isn’t just nostalgia. It’s history! »

Today, Michael Royer (born June 28, 1941), who surely needs no introduction around these parts, celebrates birthday number seventy-seven, and on this special occasion, we have a treat, both for the great man and for the rest of us: part one of an interview Mr. Royer granted us, conducted just a few days ago.

As you can imagine, Mr. Royer has spent decades answering the same queries about his work with Jack Kirby and with Russ Manning, so that’s quite a well-trod line of investigation. We like to approach things a bit differently here at WOT; having long been intrigued by Mr. Royer’s evocative series of LP covers for the Cruisin’ anthology series, beginning in the late 1960s, and frustrated by the lack of solid information concerning said contribution, I figured I’d take a hand, and reached out to Mr. Royer.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Cruisin’ Series, here’s the pitch: « Cruisin’ is a year-by-year recreation of pop music radio during the years 1956 through 1962 [the years of 1955 and 1963-1970 were produced later]. Each album is not just a collection of the top pop music of a particular year, but a total recreation by a top disk jockey (of that year) doing his original program over a major pop music station. That means actual commercials, promotional jingles, sound effects, newscast simulations and even record hop announcements in addition to the original records themselves. »

« Cruisin’ producer Ron Jacobs monitored thousands of feet of tape, travelled over 10,000 miles and rooted through forgotten files and cluttered basements for old commercials, station promos and jingles. »

« What’s so special about these album covers? », you may ask. I’d posit that they’re unique in the sense that, while they each work as standalone pieces, together, they form a quite impressive comic strip, one in which a year or so elapses between panels. Just about every detail has its place, imparting information plainly or quite subtly. Characters come and go, years apart, sometimes entirely offstage, often never speaking a word. It’s graphic storytelling at its finest. And the LPs are pretty spiffy too.

Now that you’re up to speed, shall we begin? Mr. Royer and I spoke on Tuesday, June 2018, and he was most generous with his time and his recollections. I assure you that the minutes simply fly in such gracious company.

Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1955 in its entirety here!
Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1956 in its entirety here!
Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1957 in far less that its entirety here. Sorry!
Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1958 in its entirety here!
Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1959 in its entirety here!
For this entry’s cd reissue, the cover artwork was inadvisably cropped, quite obscuring the political differences between Kevin Buchanan III (front) and Eddie (in uniform). Mr. Royer’s least favourite cover, incidentally. Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1960 in its entirety here!
Read the liner notes, or hear Cruisin’ 1961 in its entirety here! And remember, « if you say ‘Woo Woo Ginsburg’ with your order, you get another Ginsburger free of charge! »

Who’s Out There: Mr. Royer, How did you happen to be selected for the job in the first place?

Michael Royer: In 1966, I was working for Grantray-Lawrence Animation on the Marvel Superheroes limited animation cartoon series. And I believe that a man named Paul Gruwell… If you look at the record album, he’s listed in there as the art director… I’m listed as the artist and they misspelled my name.

WOT: Of course. We’ll set that straight.

MR: Paul was one of the guys working on the series and I did some work with him on an outside project he was doing, where he was doing… I guess you could call them slide shows, on the history of the Mormon church.

I was working on these things, and he knew someone at the record company who had this idea for the history of rock ‘n’ roll. And for the life of me, I can’t remember what the young man’s name was. But he’s the cover of one of the records, where he’s coming out of the backroom, through the beads [Cruisin’ 1967]. It’s like a head shop, or something…

WOT: Would that be Ron Jacobs? He was the producer.

MR: Yeah, yeah.

MR: So, anyway, the first batch of covers that went through, I believe, 1968… and the last cover had Peg and Eddie, who were reunited, with her little boy from her fist marriage. And they’re in the front seat of a van, in a traffic jam leaving Woodstock. That cover was never printed.

WOT: No wonder I’ve never seen it!

MR: Anyway, the covers that I did, how many was it? ’54 through…

WOT: Fifty-five. ’55 through ’70, plus one that’s “The Cruisin’ Years”…

WOT: How much latitude/wiggle room were you given? Were research materials provided or not? Were specific cultural signifiers specified, or did you get to pick (or a mix of both)?

MR: Anyway, on those ones that I did in the late Sixties, early Seventies, Paul Gruwell gave me little three-or-four square inch thumbnails… on the covers that he wanted me to do. All I got was his, in my opinion, so-so little thumbnails, which I guess gave him the reason to call himself ‘art director’…

WOT: I was going to ask if he could draw.

MR: I had to do all the research. Each cover had to feature certain items that definitely said that it was that year. Like newspaper headlines, magazine covers…

WOT: Movie marquees…

MR: … automobiles, and I had to look up all that. I went to the library, as we didn’t have “online” then. Ah, on one of the covers where I need the dash, I believe, of a ’57, or ’58 Chevy, I had to go to a used car lot in South East Los Angeles, and with my Polaroid camera, I asked these two big guys in their double-breasted suits if I could, uh, photograph the interior of one of their cars, and they looked at me like… « Okay, white boy, you’re crazy if you wanna shoot it, but we’ll let ya, you know. »

WOT: People do like those odd requests.

MR: It was very interesting researching the cars, and making sure that, even if they were shown from the basement [Cruisin’ 1963], out parked at the curb…

WOT: They had to be accurate.

MR: … you could still tell that it was a Studebaker. You know, and the jukebox had to be, I believe the Wurlitzer that was in places in that year [Cruisin’ 1961]. And so I did all of that. So all of the research materials were not provided by anyone other than me, and the special cultural signifiers had to be newspaper headlines, uh, I think the one where Peg and Eddie are in the basement [Cruisin’ 1963] café, and the Studebaker’s up on the street, there’s a newspaper that says something about “Cuban Missile Crisis” [Cruisin’ 1961 and The Bay of Pigs. 1963’s headline was the Profumo Scandal]

MR: It’s so long since I’ve looked at these, Richard.

Our interview continues in Part Two!