Robert Crumb is a curmudgeon nonpareil, and a man of idiosyncratic fetishes. One of them is the music of Leroy Shield. Until the 1990s, Shield, a prolific composer/conductor most of his life (1893-1962), was relatively unknown for what was arguably his greatest musical achievement: composing hundreds of themes for the 1930s Hal Roach comedies of Laurel & Hardy and The Little Rascals. In the early '90s, a Dutch orchestra called The Beau Hunks (christened after a L&H feature) recorded three albums of Shield's compositions from the Roach era, thus reviving a prodigious legacy.
After the Hunks released their first album in 1992, Crumb wrote them a fan letter, exclaiming, "This is music I've been looking for all my life!" He later elaborated: "Shield's music first got me interested in old music. I was hearing it on TV when I was a kid. I searched for that music." His hunt was a predestined dead-end because, until the Hunks recorded the Shield themes, they had never been commercially available. The composer hadn't even received screen credit. Along with legions of Roach film fans, Crumb was elated to discover the reconstructed versions. "It's my favorite music of all time," he affirmed. "I never get tired of it. I guess Shield was not too concerned with getting credit. He just did his job, then went out and played golf. There's a certain kind of Indian shaman that works his magic behind the scenes. I guess that's what Shield was."
Crumb was so enamored of the Beau Hunks' masterful performances of the Shield charts, he rendered a portrait of the composer (at right) and offered it free of charge to the band to use as CD cover art.
Now Steve Cloutier, working with Shield historian/graphic designer Piet Schreuders, has launched a new site devoted to the composer.
"The site's purpose is both a tribute and the means to satisfy a widespread curiosity that many have about the composer," Cloutier emailed. "Piet's diligent research and advice have been the most important ingredients in building this site. Thank heaven the Beau Hunks recorded this wonderful music. Leroy Shield's name could well have slipped into obscurity."
UPDATE (August 10): A short video that demonstrates how Shield's music filtered into your subconscious via Roach comedies.