Poster Boys The Cicero family of Baltimore doesn't miss a beat as Globe's retro concert ads again become the hottest thing around.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Forget the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

If you're looking for rock and roll's past in its funkiest, rawest Day-Glo glory, look no further than Globe Poster on Byrd Street in South Baltimore.

When it started in the early '30s at 113 Hanover St., Globe mainly produced posters for vaudeville acts, movie theaters, burlesque houses and carnivals.

But as rock and roll broke out in the '50s, the company heeded the calls of music promoters, who grew to depend on the trademark Globe Poster look: strips of alternating fluorescent colors, floating black-and-white photos, and solid black type, often in different styles.

It's marketable pop art, advertising some of the best-known and not-so-well-known performers of the past and present in the fluorescent ink known as Day-Glo, whose use the company pioneered. Ike and Tina Turner, B. B. King and James Brown are among Globe's well-known subjects.

Today, Globe does promotions for the Cellar Door and Dimensions Unlimited in Washington and for many others, advertising such artists as Beck, Ani DiFranco and modern reggae acts.

Since 1975, Globe has been a family-owned business run by Baltimore-area native Joseph Cicero Sr., 81, and his three sons, Frank, Bobby and Joey.

"We are preserving something that was in the past, but also we know that we're paving the way for the future as well," says Frank Cicero, a Monkton resident. "Since I've been here, we've introduced two generations to the art of posters. I think that the generation today has more respect for posters than 20 years ago as a preservation of an art form."

The posters advertise events all over the South, including Texas, as well as in Chicago and throughout the Midwest -- all over the country except west of the Rockies (freight is too expensive).

But the posters are especially prominent in Washington, where they hug streetlights and dominate building-sides in Warhol-like repetition.

The best place to see the posters is in the warehouse itself. It's an accidental rock and roll museum. Thousands of vibrant, significant posters fill the fluorescent-paint-splattered space. They're tied up in bundles, pasted on walls, dangling from rafters, stacked on towering racks or simply strewn on the floor.

Look closely, and you may make out Percy Sledge peeking out of a pile, Parliament Funkadelic peering up from the floor, or Janis Joplin jutting out from a cabinet.

The Ciceros are eager tour guides, pausing to explain everything in the warehouse, including the age of the antique-looking letterpresses, which they occasionally use (they date back to the early 1900s). They politely allow each other to speak on their respective specialties.

It's easy to tell why they're so good at this business.

Like a poster, which needs several elements -- colors, photos, distinctive type and accuracy -- to be successful, Globe excels because of the niche each family member fills.

Frank, 53, is the manager. Bob, 50, is the jack-of-all-trades and computer geek. Joey, 55, is the numbers man. And Joe Sr., who started out as a Globe employee in 1935, is the expert. He has, after all, had 52 years of experience. He technically retired eight years ago.

"They gave me a retirement party," says Cicero, a Towson resident. "But I fooled them. I came to work the next day."

It's interesting that the product Cicero started with more than a half-century ago has taken on even more significance today: For a retro-rabid country, concert posters are not only business but also pleasure.

Just shine a little black light, and you've got everything: fashionably dated stars, music and hypnotic colors.

Any college student would die to have a Globe poster on his or her dorm or apartment wall. Set a bunch of rock fans loose in this warehouse, and they would become as lively as the posters themselves.

"There really is a need out there with the young generation. It really is phenomenal," Frank says. "Friends of ours wanted one or two of these posters for their kids' dorms."

But the demand is more pressing than a few phone calls from friends. Globe posters have shown up at Sotheby's auctions. And collectors from as far away as Australia are calling Globe, wanting to know if they have any old classics lying around and if they intend to issue reprints. As a result, Globe is issuing "Globe Poster Classics," featuring, among others, reprints of Al Green, Howling Wolf and Otis Redding posters. Collectors have paid between $200 and $2,000 for the originals, but the reprints will go for $10 to $75. And for bulk purchases, the Ciceros will strike deals with retailers.

To produce the classics in the identical fashion as the originals, the Ciceros are reviving aging machinery, like the hulking letterpresses.

"I am more interested in the old forms of printing than the newer ones," says Bob, a Pasadena resident. "I would never have thought we'd go back to letterpress again. And here we are, years later, resorting back to something we wanted to get away from because it was archaic."

To earn money for vacations in Ocean City, the boys worked on those same letterpresses at Globe's second location, at the Candler Building between Lombard and Pratt, during the summers of their teen-age years.

For the elder Cicero, the revival is a nostalgia trip, reinforcing just how much things have changed.

When Cicero started at Globe, he was a form pusher, moving wooden letter-blocks back and forth and washing them off. Then he moved on to the press. From there, he worked in the composing room, setting type. In 1954, Globe was bought out by co-owner Norman Shapiro. Shapiro made Cicero shop manager, his "right-hand man."

Offset, silk-screen and automatic printing were the first modes to replace letterpress at Globe. But the biggest transition came in 1989, when the Macintoshes arrived for layout and design. It took a while to extract the authentic Globe Look from a computer.

"It didn't flow right. It just looked very stacked where you would just place items here and there," Bob says. "It just didn't flow into a poster."

For Joe Sr., the fact that computers can do everything, including practically eliminate manual laborers and compositors, is a little scary. He prefers the old ways.

"You see, the computer takes a lot out of it," he says. "In the shop, you put your hands in it and you set that type up, and you set it up the way you wanted it. You did everything yourself."

But no matter how modern the technology is, Globe will never lose its sense of history.

Even more enviable than the company's posters are its photo archives of Globe Poster subjects, which the Ciceros have compiled over the years.

"The sad thing about it is he was a nice-looking person," Bobby says, surveying an old picture of the Jackson 5, starring an Afro-crowned mini-Michael. "Now it's hard to tell what he is."

But the Jackson 5 is one of the more familiar acts in this yellowing picture-book, whose aged pages are falling out. Many pictures feature long-forgotten bands -- the Herculoids, Little Helen, the list goes on.

"You could probably blackmail someone with these pictures," Bobby says. "Who are these people?"

Shaggy-haired casualties of the British Invasion and a variety of something-or-other-ettes, who are perhaps remembered nowhere else than in this book, animate the pages.

The posters, like the pictures, tell tales of young stars, rising and falling with the tide of popular culture.

One in particular features Paul Anka on the bottom Day-Glo strip underneath a stack of lesser-known performers. Anka wasn't in the same place after the 90-day tour for which the poster was designed.

"He was real good, Paul Anka. He was only a young kid. We'd put his name up a little higher as he got popular. It would hold us up because the promoters would say, 'Don't do anything till we tell you.' And we couldn't do anything until he says, 'Put Paul up higher.' And we put Paul up higher," Joe Sr. says. "You see what Paul is today. He's Canadian. He's great. He wrote songs for Frank Sinatra."

On a pink and black poster, Sonny and a pre-nose-job Cher are second-billed to Gene Pitney.

"Globe's whole structure and the reason Globe existed is that we took somebody who was nothing and brought him -- I'm not saying we brought him, his talents brought him up -- but we advertised him from when he was nothing to when he got almost big," Bob says. "And when he got big, he didn't need Globe anymore."

Globe is most famous for modernizing posters for urban blues musicians, such as Al Green and Albert King. Until Globe revolutionized the representation of black-oriented entertainment in the early 1970s, the posters tended to be plain and monochromatic.

Back then, the boys knew about the musicians they were representing. Now, they're not so sure.

"I don't know half of the groups that are in. They name people and I'm going: Is that the name of a group? Is that a person or is that a thing?" says Joey, who lives in Annapolis. For instance, he had no idea who multiple-award-winning pop star Beck was.

But the new Beck poster, with its scattered stars, Day-Glo orange and green colors and offbeat type, is a real standout. It's a testament to the durability of the Globe Poster style.

"I'll tell you, I do love the Beck poster even though it's not a classic," Frank says. "It's a classic in it's own way, I guess such a neat poster."

If it ends up on the warehouse floor in 30 years, alongside its vintage predecessors, we'll know it's a Globe classic.

Pub Date: 12/03/97

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