In the summer of 1992, when Doug Dunbebin was a graphic artist living in Beltsville, Md., he designed a logo for the Clinton-Gore campaign that would become the iconic image of the 1992 and ’96 presidential races.
Two decades later, Dunbebin, who now lives in Burlington and owns Alphawave Designs, has learned that he’ll finally get some long-overdue recognition — and hard cash — for his artistic efforts. Last week, the Clinton Museum Store in Little Rock, Ark., agreed to sell T-shirts bearing Dunbebin’s original design: an electric-blue-on-black illustration of Bill Clinton blowing his tenor saxophone below the slogan “The Cure for the Blues.”
In June 1992, then-candidate Clinton appeared on “The Arsenio Hall Show” playing a bluesy sax version of Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel.” The performance was a seminal moment in Clinton’s career, earning him invaluable street cred among young, hip and minority voters.
Weeks later, Dunbebin, then 30, capitalized on Clinton’s newfound coolness and printed his design on several dozen T-shirts, then asked friends to sell them at the Democratic National Convention in New York City. The shirts were an instant hit.
Dunbebin was soon spending all his free time printing shirts for the Clinton-Gore campaign offices. In all, he sold more than 45,000, and donated all the proceeds — $30,000 — to Habitat for Humanity.
But Dunbebin soon discovered that the Clinton-Gore campaign store in Little Rock was selling bootlegged knockoffs of his original design on T-shirts and pins, with a slightly altered slogan that read, “Sure Cure for the Blues.” Dunbebin asked the store to stop selling the pirated versions immediately, but the sales persisted.
Faced with no other option, Dunbebin retained a Little Rock lawyer who sued the campaign, and the 42nd president, for trademark infringement. Slick Willy managed to wriggle free as a defendant — evidently, the Clinton-Gore store was an independent contractor unconnected to the campaign itself — but Dunbebin recouped $5000 in damages.
Years later, after Dunbebin’s design was used again for Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign, he got to meet the president face to face. Clinton shook his hand and autographed his design on a poster.
Eight years ago, Dunbebin and Connie Fails, manager of the Clinton Museum Store, failed to ink a deal to sell the “Cure for the Blues” shirts. But just weeks ago, while cleaning out a closet, Dunbebin came across some of his original correspondence with Fails and, without really knowing why, checked an old business email account.
Coincidentally, just days before, Fails had sent an email asking Dunbebin if the Clinton Store could once again sell his shirts — this time using the real McCoy — to coincide with Little Rock’s Riverfest music and arts festival. A deal was struck, and Dunbebin came up with a new commemorative version of his original design.
“It’s kind of exciting to see them coming back after 20 years,” says Dunbebin, who plans to donate at least 10 percent of his profits to charity.