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Originally published Sunday, July 7, 2013 at 5:02 AM

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‘Legends of the Blues’: new portraits of the blues masters

Following in the footsteps of R. Crumb, artist William Stout’s lively new “Legends of the Blues” catalogs handsome illustrated portraits of America’s blues giants, along with handy biographical information and trivia. There’s even a CD.

The Washington Post

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‘Legends of the Blues’

by William Stout

Abrams ComicArts, 223 pp., $19.95

In his new book of portraits, artist William Stout renders the blues in just about every color. Lucille Bogan smiles amid bubble-gummy swirls of pink. Willie Dixon radiates amber rays. A rosy-cheeked B.B. King sits framed by a fog of red that approximates the hue of molten maraschino cherries.

And those are just three of the ink-and-watercolor illustrations that fill Stout’s “Legends of the Blues,” a colorful little tome that piggybacks on “Heroes of the Blues,” a catalog of American musical greats illustrated by underground comics legend R. Crumb. Before they were bound in book form, Crumb’s illustrations were issued as a series of trading cards in 1980. Two decades later, Shout! Factory records began licensing some of those cards to adorn various album covers.

Crumb, however, hadn’t sketched every last American who ever sang a sad song. When Crumb declined the label’s request to draw more, Stout was enlisted to execute a few illustrations in a similar style. Ten years and 100 portraits later, Stout has now published this handsome crash course in American blues music.

Many of Stout’s illustrations are as evocative as they are attractive. Washboard Sam poses in front of a clothesline of drying laundry. Chuck Berry — who helped mint rock ’n’ roll with “Roll Over Beethoven” and other tunes — flashes a grin in the foreground while an upside-down sketch of Ludwig van B. lurks behind him.

Opposite each portrait is a short biography, which also lists notable songs and assorted trivia nuggets. Did you know boxer Sonny Liston was B.B. King’s uncle? Did you know the Rolling Stones bought Mississippi Fred McDowell the silver lamé suit he was eventually buried in?

What did all of these people’s music sound like? Good news. There’s a 14-track CD tucked in the book’s back cover.

Chris Richards is The Washington Post’s pop-music critic. His email address is

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