Our man in Montgomery, host of the wondrous Sinner's Crossroads program, and well-groomed bearded menace of the airwaves, Kevin Nutt checks in this month with the following:
Sometime in the late 1950s, Savoy Records began commissioning a mysterious and still unknown artist to produce paintings for the cover art of Savoy's gospel LPs. His name was Harvey. That's how he signed his paintings. Harvey. Part thrift store knock-offs and part proto-Outsider sacred weirdness, Harvey ended up producing covers for at least 175 LPs for the Savoy, Regent, Gospel, and Sharp labels. He even did some jazz covers including Sun Ra's "Futuristic Sounds" LP. The story goes that someone at Savoy would send ideas to Harvey who would soon return a painting. He was always paid in cash and no one at Savoy even knew who he was or where exactly he lived. His true identity remains a mystery to this day.
I first encountered the Harvey phenomenon at a record show in the late 1990s in Birmingham, Alabama. Looking through a dealer's gospel records I was stunned to see a $50 price on a pretty common Davis Sisters LP that usually went for maybe $5. "What's with this?" I asked the dealer. "It's got a Harvey cover," he said. I looked at the LP cover. "A Harvey cover?" I said to myself slowly gazing at the cover as if for the first time. I had dozens of Savoy gospel LPs and I'd never really noticed the cover art. I felt a vague sense of befuddlement. The dealer wasn't even a gospel guy. What was he doing telling me something?
By 2003, though, Harvey covers on Ebay were selling regularly in the $50-$80 range. Likewise at too many record shows. I hated to admit it, but by this time, I'd caught the Harvey fever, too. It was just too intriguing. I even went through my collection and filed my Harveys in order of the ones I liked the best. There's a great web page up now filled with Harvey scans and with some information on the continuing search for the true identity of Harvey. Part of me hopes we never find out Harvey's true identity. I'm not sure if it'd take away from the aura of the covers or not, but I like the tinge of mystery that comes with looking at the covers now while listening to The North Philadelphia Jrs. or The Flying Clouds of Montgomery. (Click either artist name to stream Real Audio from the Sinner's Crossroads archives.)