The Art of John Van Hamserveld: Era of Cool at the Pacific City Gallery in Huntington Beach, CA; Jan. 31 in Conversation with Henry Diltz Event;
Crazy World Ain’t It. The Life and Times of John Van Hamersveld documentary selection for the 2020 Toronto Documentary Short Film Festival in spring.
Legendary Visual Graphic Artist and Art Director Discusses The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour American Pressing, The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, Jefferson Airplane’s Crown of Creation, The Doors’ American Prayer, his authorized and iconic posters for Jimi Hendrix and Cream.
John Van Hamersveld’s pop culture artistic journey began over 50 years ago with the Endless Summer movie poster. 300 album covers followed, including designs for the Beatles’ American pressing of Magical Mystery Tour, Exile On Main Street, the Rolling Stones portrait of confinement and escape, Jefferson Airplane’s self-empowering Crown of Creation, Grateful Dead’s discovered Skeletons in the Closet, Blondie’s inviting Eat to the Beat, and the Hotter Than Hell from KISS.
Van Hamersveld created the LP graphics for Bob Dylan’s soundtrack to the movie Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. John also did the cover art for The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band LP.
While helming the art department at Capitol Records from 1965-1968, John put together the Beach Boys’ Wild Honey LP cover along with 54 album packages for the label during his tenure at the famed tower building in Hollywood.
In addition, Van Hamersveld collaborated with illustrator Rick Griffin for the Max Buda and Chris Darrow Eye of the Storm pairing, and then years later did the graphics for This Is What You Want from John Lydon’s PIL.
His landmark 1968 Pinnacle Dance concert posters held at the Shrine Exposition Hall in downtown Los Angeles had a monumental influence on pop culture designs for generations to come, including artist Shepard Fairey
Van Hamersveld’s art can be found in The Smithsonian, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, Experience Music Project, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
John Van Hamersveld, Coolhous Studio, 50 years of Graphic Design was recently published by Ginkgo Press as a 304-page coffee table book. Shepard Fairey penned the introduction. gingkopress.com/03-gra/van-hamersveld.html.
Concluding on Jan. 31 is an exhibition The Art of John Van Hamserveld: Era of Cool at the Pacific City Gallery in Huntington Beach, CA.
John Van Hamersveld and photographer Henry Diltz will appear for a joint conversation in Southern California on Jan. 31 at 7:00 pm in the El Segundo Public Library.
Also now screening for 2020 is the long-awaited film documentary, Crazy World Ain’t It. The Life and Times of John Van Hamersveld directed by Christopher Sibley. It had a world premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
The movie has just been honored as a selection for the 2020 Toronto Documentary Short Film Festival in spring.
Van Hamersveld is discussed and examined by Shepard Fairey, world surf champion Shaun Thompson, Jeff Ho of the Zephyr Surf Team, designer Louise Sandhaus, Jim Fitzpatrick, Steve Olson, Gary Wong, Carole Caroompas, Chaz Bojorquez, Quentin “Shplinton” Thomas and myself.
Born at the John Hopkins University Hospital, Baltimore, MD, in 1941 and immediately raised in the South Bay section of Southern California, Van Hamersveld is a graduate of Art Center College Of Design and Chouinard/California Institute of the Arts.
During the last decade Harvey Kubernik and John Van Hamersveld collaborated in a series of phone interviews and email communications from Hamersveld’s San Pedro-based studio, coupled with information from John’s book, 50 Years of Graphic Design, published by Ginkgo Press in January, 2013.
Q: Why do you do art?
A: I moved from my parent’s eastern establishment at nine years old to grow up as a surfer in Southern California chasing surfers and waves from 1953 to 1960. At 19 years old, I quit surfing and moved to Art Center College on 3rd Street in Los Angeles for art school in 1961-1962 to study art and design there.
“As the end of the spring semester unfolded into a job my father created at Northrop Aviation working in the publication department. That summer I invented a surfing magazine called Surfing Illustrated, and later ended up working as an art director of Surfer Magazine in the new surf industry, and created the Endless Summer Poster, and the Clark Foam trademark for new foam surfboards.
"I came to a realization that I had left a surfing career for the urban art scene in 1965. The Endless Summer Poster was becoming a hit in New York City and distributed around the world. I had forged a career out of art school and the art and entertainment business. It seemed that everything I dealt with was my same age, was my generation, so everyone could relate to one another.
Q: The Rolling Stones in 2022 will celebrate the 50th anniversary of their Exile On Main Street double album. You designed the artwork. How did it happen? Guide me into the creative process for delivering those visuals to the marketplace?
A: Most people don't understand the politics behind the development of album cover of the past. First of all, the album was like buying a piece pop culture fashion, constructed by a graphic designer reflecting the music culture. Like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Band, or Andy Warhol's Banana for the Velvet Underground, or Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. Then came the Exile on Main Street cover from the Stones in 1972 that turned heads.
“One day (photographer) Norman Seef and I met the Rolling Stones in Hollywood. A beautiful girlfriend I had met earlier on ‘the scene’ in London, Chris O’Dell, was now Mick Jagger’s personal assistant. And so in early 1972, the Rolling Stones approached Norman and me to work on the design of a songbook with photographs for Warner Brothers. At this stage, I didn’t know that I would be packaging Exile on Main Street. The Stones were in Los Angeles at Sunset Sound studios, finishing the record. Our first meeting was set to be in Bel Air, where they were staying.
“Perhaps the most memorable photograph on the cover is one of a guy holding three balls in his mouth. Marshall Chess, who was then the Stones’ manager, needed an image for billboards and other advertising; I had a great idea. ‘Look-it,’ he said, ‘Why don’t we take the guy with the balls in his mouth. That is the most amazing photograph I’ve ever seen. And doesn’t it look like Charlie?’
“Keith was sitting on the couch across from me. He was looking at me in his mirrored sunglasses while smoking a joint. He looked so healthy, handsome, and rested. Then, to my surprise, Robert Frank (the photographer and film-maker well known for his late 1950s book The Americans, with a foreword by Jack Kerouac) walked into the room with a small Super 8mm Canon camera. Jagger and I smiled. ‘This is a very hip day,’ I said to myself.
“I knew Robert from a meeting in New York in 1968. I knew of Frank, and said to Jagger, ‘Hey, why not use Frank for the album cover?’ This then was when the concept was launched in Jagger’s mind. Frank and Jagger had a conversation and later went off to seedy Main Street in L.A. to take photographs of the band, and this was when the Stones in ‘Exile’ and ‘Main Street’ came together as a title.
“At the request of Marshall Chess, Norman and I came to a second day of meetings. We walked through the living room of the villa, down to the far wall in the dining room where Mick and Keith were waiting with Marshall. Marshall started the meeting, and Norman handed another album cover by another designer to him. The cover was passed to Jagger for approval. He rejected it. Marshall then handed me a Robert Frank front photo collage. The tattoo-parlor-wall cover image was from Robert’s photo documentary The Americans. Mick, on my right, looked on for both of us to agree, so I nod. This then became the famous photo-composition for the Exile on Main Street album cover. As the meeting progressed, the other pieces of the package were handed to me.
“During the meeting, Marshall asked me what we would do with Norman’s photos, given that Frank’s photos were the agreed-upon ones for the cover. Marshall had Norman’s images from the late-night photo shoot. They were the sequences in which Keith arrived at the very last minute for the shoot. Everyone had been waiting for him to show, and then he arrived with his pants hanging off his butt. With Keith’s arrival, the group was ready to go on with Norman’s session (‘This is a one-time shot!’ someone said). Lights, smoke, and confetti were readied, and a sequence was attempted, but then, by accident, Keith began to fall all over the set, creating a disaster. All else failed, and our budget then had been used up.
“Suddenly Keith said from across the edge of the table, ‘Make some postcards,’ showing us with his hands an accordion-folded-style collection of postcards. He then proceeded to almost lose his balance and fall over onto the rug. I said to Mick, ‘Let’s take that as an idea and do it.’ He agreed and Marshall said, ‘Done.’ Marshall and Jagger handed me a stack of photos made by Frank over the weekend. I left with the visual ingredients to go to my place at the Chapman Park Studio Building.
“The last step of the approval process stopped at Ahmet Ertegun’s office at Atlantic Records. He was the label’s ultimate authority and so when this kind of art and aesthetic made it past his eyes I knew that all would be OK. In the eyes of many in the industry, they were all shocked by the ugly, rough, tuff, beat look of the package and that it was not funny or real humorous (to anyone but a Johnny Rotten).
“So, as the result of Jagger and I sitting side by side in 1972 at our meeting, my arrangement of materials that would go beyond Frank’s photo style, creating an identity that would become the basis of the punk fashion movement.
“To the spectators, critics, and others in the establishment, I had made a package that was not glamorous. It was not a friendly image to put on display in the record stores, but it was that image that established the anti-establishment look of punk. It took years to recover from the cover’s graphic statement, with new generations of punks exploiting the graphic concept to this day - still ripping and tearing and drawing all over things with their own graffiti.
“The album cover art images from the past, as part of our culture, were styled for fashion and archetype.
“In 1984, my friend John Lydon said to me, ‘The Stones’ Exile package set the image of punk in 1975 - we used that graphic feel to communicate our message graphically.’
“In the 70's, I do feel that 12x12 album covers were an all-inclusive image of cultural style in the visual fashion of the sixties and the seventies. I was, therefore, a well-known designer of cultural images which were created as reflections of that culture. These were then watched closely by other design teams and designers who copied me their pursuit to find new images. Today more than 100,000 artists are using a ‘Ripping and Tearing’ style and graffiti in their work.
“At least Johnny was nice enough to explain what his intention was then…”
Q: Drawing the Jimi Hendrix Pinnacle Dave Concert Jimi Hendrix Show at the Shrine Exposition Hall in Los Angeles. How did it start and explain in detail the construction of this iconic image.
A: Making the classic rock poster: I knew I had to get the drawing done. There were a couple of starts, but on the morning of December 28, 1967, as I sat down at the drawing table inside my second- story Coronado Street Studio, I started a new kind of drawing for the poster. The morning light came in through the large front window of the studio corner, casting the light across the table, spreading over the paper. With my black Pentel pen in hand, I began drawing from the image in my mind the portraiture of the head of Jimi Hendrix with wired hair, styled in his fashionable coiffure from London, like the Cream. I put the drawing in a drawer for a week to think about it. My partners had booked Jimi Hendrix and the experience for the Pinnacle event at the Shrine Auditorium. The drawing was incorporated into the design of a Shrine Exposition Hall event to promote the famous February show. The poster was distributed locally and then nationally, and later worldwide.
Q: Your Velvet Underground and Chambers Brothers show poster is quite popular.
A: I had been drawing with Rick Griffin and Victor Moscoso in San Francisco as they were making the beginnings of the ZAP® style for comix during 1968, in their transition from rock poster to comic strips. One after I grabbed a Velvet Underground press kit and made print high contrast print and pasted into the poster composition. I drew the letterforms and the pattern to make it all one piece of art. This was the way I worked then. Year later I was at The Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. The head curator said they collected the poster for Andy's archive.
Q: You designed the LP cover for Jefferson Airplane’s Crown of Creation.
A: I met with Bill Thompson, the new manager of Jefferson Airplane, at the Pinnacle White House in Los Angeles. He wanted to talk to me about an album cover to be created for the band.
“Bill Graham had lost his deal with them in his own confusion of the times. Thompson was packed with energy to take the challenge. I had already met Grace Slick, and the band had done a Pinnacle show and my poster had been distributed and was a hit.
“One night, Grace Slick and Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane stop by my house on smiles. They give me a lid to keep me going while I work on the design for their upcoming Crown of Creation album in July of 1968.
“I place the memory of this unbelievable evening in my precious suitcase of dreams. The idea of creating this album cover sends me higher into a new orbit of ecstatic possibilities. I realize I'm part of the underground media in the new cultural revolution. At the age of 26, I'm recognized as an independent creative director. Far out!!
“Flashback to December 31, 1967: Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, for Bill Graham’s Doors’ concert. I checked out the show backstage with The Family Dog poster artist Stanley Mouse. His best friend, Bob Seidemann, the captor of Janis Joplin’s most memorable images, arrived. He escorted Janis, the rock goddess herself, along with the extraordinarily beautiful Grace Slick. It was almost midnight. The Doors and Jim Morrison were on stage with the music as a roar of a jet plane.
“We slipped in between the curtains and created our own New Year’s Eve party. Drinks and puffs were shared. We constantly checked our watches – when you’re stoned, time isn’t the only easy thing to lose. As midnight arrived, the audience cheered, and we all kissed and embraced.
“During late 1967 and through ’68, I was the co-promoter with two partners of the Pinnacle Dance Concerts in Los Angeles at the Shrine Exposition Hall and drew and designed the event posters.
“We would book Big Brother and The Holding Company, and they would stay at the Hollywood Landmark Hotel on Franklin Ave.
“Albert Grossman had a young manager from New York City with the band at the time. The Big Brother group would bring Janis to the shows. After her set with the band still on stage, she would leave the stage and run to the back of the Shrine Hall, into the audience, all in a sweat, her skin was like purple and reddish pink, like neon, the rough surface of her complexion, crazed and exhausted.
“She then goes to the couch in the dressing room and finishes off the bottle or two of Southern Comfort and passed out. As the group reorganizes, we would want to go to parties after the two shows. The band would pick her up and put in the car and in a couple of cars we would arrive at a party and someone picks her out of the back seat, and takes her into the party and put on the couch.
“The party would go through the night and Janis would be passed out. At the end of the party, she would be moved to another couch, back seat, or the next party, or back to the hotel, always passed out.
“The Pinnacle poster for our Shrine concert with Albert King and Pacific Gas & Electric I assigned to Rick Griffin and Victor Moscoso. The poster is their beginning of the ZAP style with R. Crumb, their first comic strip.”
Q: You did a Blondie album cover for Chrysalis.
A: 1978 at the Willoughby Studio, near Elektra Records is where I would do album covers between a multitude of design project for corporates. Norman Seef was a photograph friend who counted on me to solve his graphic design solutions if he couldn't do it himself. We had worked together in the years before as the record executives want more profit and decided it was down with the 12x12 vinyl package and up with selling CDs to the masses. Norman had photographed Blondie and the band and cut them to move the heads together and heavily retouch and too sophisticated for punks.
"He had his assistant drop him drop it off for me to look and give him an opinion. I decided to tilt the photo as a diagonal the design a custom hand drawn letters as if it were a logo. I had been work with High Tech areas of design clients in the culture, so I added a white line grid for the back ground to combine the elements into a contemporary fashion giving Blondie’s Eat to the Beat video ... high- life of Studio 54, of which Blondie members famously partook.
Q: Earlier this century you were commissioned to create a new Cream poster for their reunion shows in the UK and for the cover of the live DVD culled from the event.
In 1968 you originally created a poster for a Cream concert at the Shrine Exposition Hall in Los Angeles.
A: In my history of new drawings at the Coolhaus studio, in Santa Monica, the flow from my pen and ink on paper is a personal adventure. I worked with Eric Clapton's merchandising manager. Cream wanted me to draw the 1960s Cream Portrait from when they were young. I referenced back to my studies from art school, when he had studied the drawings of Hokusai, the Japanese artist who worked in the 17th Century, whose work was described "as pictures of the floating world." I drew from other master drawers as well to help in the process, one of whom was Audrey Breadsley of the Art Nouveau era.
“The Cream drawing was designed into the poster format and sold out as a limited art Poster edition. My wife Alida and I toured with the poster to 17 Tower Record stores across the US and Canada. On this tour, we met with and sold the poster to a new market of buyers. With the help of Alida's Post-Future art company, I continued during the most recent 7 years to publish posters and fine art prints including the Eric Clapton posters.
Q: You have seen the growth of surfing over a half a century. What did it used to be and what has it become. Your Endless Summer design and the Bruce Brown movie has always been a constant organic marketing message.
A: Surfing was almost free where your mother paid for the Paraffin wax that was 25 cents, is now $5.95. And the surfboard that was $75 dollars then. Now is $375 to $750. Now you have to have a couple thousand dollars for the board, the rubber suit, someone's car, lunch, money for gas and for parking lot, and be patient for all the surfers in the water around that want the same wave, somebody to pay the doctor bill for when you get sick from the ocean waters while surfing.
“I left surfing as I thought it was a sport and not a profession for me. In the interview at Capitol Records I showed the Endless Summer Poster and the art director reached across to his bookcase and ironically had a copy of the Endless Summer soundtrack album with the poster on the cover. They gave me a job because the image and the movie was a national hit in the pop culture.
Q: This image is worldwide.
A: It's not that I see the poster in places. It is the streams of people over the decades that tell me of their sister, daughter, aunt, uncle, father having had the poster in their college dorm room.
Q: You have seen the birth of the digital world as someone who started out with pens and pencils drawing from the late 1950s. Can you comment about how you embraced this technology initially, and aspects of the digital world that inform your work? Where is the digital medium going in the art world and how have you employed or adapted it?
A: Meeting Steve Jobs and Next Computers: In 1989 I got a call from the Next Computer office to try out a NEXT CUBE, this merged into the mid of 90s as the digital age. Apple presented the iMac with Google took off the internet presenting new digital graphic world to everyone. By taking away the old machines of analog and replace it with digitizing and electronic devices. In the beginning of the new decade of 2000 I created a digital movie in CAD design, a visual campus the size of LAX as a digital movie.
“Google as company had shifted all information to content into a huge earth like bubble wrapped around the world with servers referencing text and pictures from content back to 1000 B.C. that had been a part of my education and my life. With new visual media changing came the TVHD networks with a more abstract of sci-fi world not unlike the famous Plato story from 380 B.C. called ‘Plato's Cave.’ Where viewers see shadows on the wall and believe what they see and read, where our civilization finds everything on the web as real even if it is synthesized as a model or stage set with a mannequin-like fashion to everything. Media the illusion could be real and produced by anyone with a machine.
Q: You were one of the first artists to understand and comment on, let alone discuss the combined worlds of fashion and music. Talk to me about fashion. Why has it become even bigger this recent century and how do you view fashion from the eye of an artist. You did early campaigns and designs for Contempo Casuals, and other clothing companies.
A: Fashion is a word meaning "Trend", and Style is about individual having a personal look and image. Example: I created a campaign for the JIMMY'Z clothing line in 1984-87 that came to be a look, made up of style from the Malibu Lifestyle. I focused the image on the look of the individual there a real surfer individual photographed in JIMMY'Z clothes in the Malibu in environment, and in black and white. The hundred of thousand dollars in ads created a market look and the business phenomena in the trade, the clothing company did 125 million in sales of the 4 years I was the consultant. I put Day-Glo colors into GOTCHA clothes and it become a hit that year in the trend.
"So let's look at the Fashion, or trend taken for from individual style. I used to say… The musicians came to the art school to see the style of the hip artists, studio and gallery setting. They would copy the style to be fashionable in the hippest ways with instruments and theatrics to create the drama on stage. The artists were bohemian, beat, rough, rebellious to claim their place in art history. The musician played the soundtrack to the fashion becoming a trend. I made and trademark and label, that led to designing the storefront image of Contempo Casual, from there the corporation build 224 stores in malls around America. Some in the discussion about the labels and the audience it all becomes a copy culture of fashion archetypes.
Q: You've recently lectured and discussed the role of artist as entrepreneur. Can you expand on this and this century does the artist need to embrace the entrepreneur spirit. What is the secret so the commerce, the entrepreneur does not get in the way of the art and the vision created?
A: The Artist has to do the work to create the product. The businessman commissions the product to sell and pays a small price for the value of the rights and esteem of what the product is to the market. So there are two business concept here. The bottom-line is who is the best manager and seller of the product.
“In my case the Artist and the entrepreneur is a political position in business where your work in subject to rights of which you have to sell to a corporation to collect a fee, which is a token percentage and lose ownership to your work. The Artist entrepreneur finds the capital and takes the risk and publishes and sells the work at wholesale and retail. The Artist collects the loin share as the profit and pays for the manufacturing. Working with galleries the Artist lends or speculates with the gallery, and keeps half of the sales. The business of the MBA entrepreneur is to sell the idea a many times as possible to gain a market position that is a wave is politics. The bottom-line of MBA is to create equity was the company and find someone to buy the equity, to create a profit. Then transferring the company over and coming back to manage the process with a salary, having been bought-out. So we can understand here the ARTISTS idea has been old and the owner has transfer the rights and equality to another party in the market. You can understand the artist and the entrepreneur are alike.
Q: Can you give some advice to new artists on what they should do if they choose to be artists and what they can expect?
A: Just learn how to do the work, and there's a lot of work out there to copy to make a living for someone who will order it.
Q: You were one of the first artists to be involved in billboard art. Several of your album cover designs were reproduced on billboards. Plus, you created subject-specific art faces for radio station KRLA. Discuss the billboard as an exhibition platform and the KRLA campaign.
Mick Jagger wore one of your t-shirts of the slogan and you took his picture wearing it.
A: Johnny Face billboard came from a Crazy World Ain't It that was sent to KRLA. The market executive there related to it. He came by the studio for a meeting at my Chapman Park Studio. We discuss the idea of a billboard communication. I called my printer and discuss the idea, or course the client didn't want to pay for it. So the printer and came up with a scheme called FUTURES. We found three companies to trade. One had radio time. The other had motorcycles and the most impotent was 224 Foster & Kleiser billboards.
Q: The artist Shepard Fairey has touted and praised your work for years and your influence on him. I saw one of your signed posters at his office studio and he called you The Godfather.
I did an interview with him earlier this decade and he happily told me, “My old work was more derivative to my influences like Jamie Reid, Sex Pistols’ posters, John Van Hamersveld. Eventually Barbara Krueger and Robbie Conal. These different influences began to synthesize to what I do. So you want to think some of it could be chance but there is part of me that it’s the idea that I’m responding to an energy that these people have created that then somehow intuitively recognized in what I am doing.”
A: Shepard Fairey came to Richard Duardo's Atelier, the master printer I had worked with for 25 years. It was a day in 2003, where Richard said Shepard wanted to apologize for having appropriated my Hendrix Pinnacle Poster from 1968.
“He had borrowed the style of the icon and made his own called the Obey Giant poster. With that, Shepard continued design forms in the print lab, after I had finished my products. Shepard made fine art screen prints like of the famous large ‘Pinnacle Indian’ in a square that month.
“Shepard from that point went on to create his kind of Endless Summer icon in a large format like my fine art prints for his audience of buyers and collectors then.
"Duardo took him into his printmaking process shared in the print shop and Shepard appropriated his punk heroes as portraits from photographs to create a line of prints for shows in galleries around the city and nation. Duardo did trade with Shepard, and some of my prints I had made with Richard are hanging in Shepard's home.
“Shepard Fairey was schooled in the east and looked to Southern California as a new place for him to work in a free environment.
Q: A few years ago, the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour was released in expanded DVD format. It just celebrated a 50th anniversary. Can you reflect on the artwork on the American market soundtrack album at Capitol Records? Talk to me about concepts, layout and stripping in lettering.
A: It all starts here with Brian Epstein gone from his role as manager of Beatles product. The boys are in photographs on all of the album covers and the press and on the cover, as usual, is what the company agrees to sell at the rack jobber level, meaning the bins at the store where the buyer sees the product and identifies with it. The sampling of the music is on the radio, but photographs and film image of the band always reinforce sales. EMI supplied the cover to Capitol Records in the contract between the two companies.
“I started with The Endless Summer Poster in 1963 as a graphic design student, later being reconstructed for a Sandals soundtrack for Bruce Brown’s The Endless Summer movie album created by World Pacific in 1966.
“I was on my Summer Vacation from Chouinard Art Institute and needed to connect with a job. So at the suggestion of my new teacher friend Pat Blackwell and the young artist Ed Ruscha were artists in the Ferus Gallery art scene. Pat Blackwell, Ed Ruscha, Joe Good and Jerry McMillin were the Oklahoma Boys who came to L.A. to be artists.
“Pat had been Ed and Joe’s teacher at Chouinard Art Institute that had become Disney’s CalArts. That summer I started working at Gollin & Bright a design agency as a designer, the building was next store to the Ferus Gallery. I worked there from June to December and had been laid off at the end of 1966.
“I was having a moment at lunch with Pat, Ed, and Joe talking about getting some illustration work I could do at my studio across town in art school neighborhood. Pat said he had been doing some freelance work with a George Osaki head of Arts Services at Capitol Records in Hollywood. The idea went around in my head, Hollywood & Vine, was not in the art scene like the Las Cienega Boulevard world I had been working in then
“At the meeting in Capitol Records office with my portfolio of surf magazines and new The Endless Summer Poster 40x30 day glow color silkscreen poster, it was distributed by Personality Posters in New York, and the poster immediately connected us with surfing and surfers, but me not really understanding at the moment the campaign poster was seen everywhere since 1966.
“In the Capitol office speaking with George, on the 6th floor of the Welton & Becket architecture inside of the circular late-modern building, Capitol building, that looked like a stack of records, quite a different moment from where I had been over the years as a surfer and artist.
“When George saw The Endless Summer poster he immediately reached over to his modern white pristine Italy design bookcase and picked out an Endless Summer Poster on the front of The Endless Summer soundtrack album. It was the moment I was assumed to have designed the album cover. At that point in the meeting, I become an album cover design of popular culture packaging and promotion. I was not just an art student.
“He had a slight Hawaiian pidgin accent and spoke quickly as in a hurry getting the word out and asked if I wanted a job and said he would call me for an appointment for a meeting in three weeks.
“Back at the Coronado Studio, I waited for two weeks to get the call from George Osaki. In that day there were no answers but for the rich corporate world. I was there in the studio when the call came in and I had to organize myself to go to the appointment.
“I drove over to Capitol and stood in the elevator while I was taken past the 6th where I met George to the executive floor on the 8th floor there at the opened door and went to the right and down a hall to an open door. As I look as I was arriving to go into the room their stood Brown Meggs, the vice president of CRDC, Capitol Record Distribution Company.
“He was in his dark blue suit and thin tie, groomed to a tee, a Yale graduate, I looked like the artist for Art School as he makes contact with my eyes and says, ‘I am going to hire you and you can't turn the job down!’
“I am a little shocked, by understanding the offer. So I say ‘YES,’ because of I need a job to pay for my studio, after losing the job in the Las Cienega West Hollywood art scene.
“The back story to my Brown Meggs relationship was a reality that he had seen The Endless Summer campaign in the New York market while at the New York office of Capitol Records. Meggs saw my poster displayed and distributed.
“There were five art directors on the floor or the art department with secretaries. We were constantly busy with album cover campaigns. I was Brown Meg's personal art director in the art department. George had four designers working for him. One was Rod Dyer, Roy Kohara, Roland Young and John Henley. They were always busy with album cover designs and campaign materials.
“They would shoot photos of young models in fields and parks to make covers of Capitol’s oldest catalog of releases. The rack jobber who filled the bins at the store loved the look of females that had come from Nina Blanchard Agency the top agency. Most of the models were young just starting to get a break in their business. Some girls were on the staff at the office with a desk job.
“But things were changing with the newer music acts and record cover had come to a new level of manufacturing and supply and demand. Car tapes and cassettes became a product at the record store, so the 12x12 was now a promotional image.
“In London, New York, Chicago, L.A. and San Francisco became the pop culture for a fashionable scene you could watch on TV, The Ed Sullivan Show with the Stones or the Beatles, and the tours through the U.S. stadiums. The press was hopping with information of the young culture I was a part of.
“But at the end of the day, I had to go back to the studio and do my personal work as the artist I was trained to be. So the conflict started. There was the Hollywood Scene and then there was the reality of producing my own art and keeping up with the art scene. The senior executive of the art department was Marvin Schwartz, was an Art Director of Angel and Capitol Records for 35 years and he would tell me to slow down. He and Brown Megs were my bosses, who told me to... ‘Just make sure you are here every day.’
“One day while in my office Brown Meggs called me and said... ‘Come up to my office!’
“We’re in his office face to face. The door is closed behind me. Brown tells me of Brian Epstein’s suicide who managed the Beatles. This was August 1967.
“In 1963 Epstein played an advance pressing [on Parlophone] of ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ to Meggs [when he was director of east coast operations for Capitol], and they released and actively promoted it in the U.S. after the label passed on the group’s first four singles.
“Brown reaches over to the desk for a small EP album cover, and shows the cover to me and says this is the Beatles new album we received from EMI. He says, ‘How can I sell this to the stores? I am the Vice President of the CRDC. What do I do with this?’ John, you are my art director!’
“We begin to sit down as I am thinking on my feet at this point he sits down in his chair in the executive small office room on the curve of the building. He says, ‘The news on this Magical Mystery Tour video movie for the BBC is a flop! What do you think you can do to put this together with the tune titles to sell it to the consumer?’
"I say, ‘Okay, I’ll take it home tonight and figure it out!’ So I am sent home to do the work at my studio as a private contractor, separated from Capitol Records staff, or art department where my day job office is. I sit there in my studio the first night wondering how to solve the problem.
"The difficulty of being an artist, and then having to work for Meggs as a graphic design/art director for him personally. He would have George give me freelance work to take home to my studio and bill them, using my girlfriend to cash the check so Capitol accounting will not know.
“So, from Brown’s point of view, I was to bring the Underground Graphic look to the double EP that EMI in the U.K. had provided. The EP was customed and masked faces of the Beatles. The company had made all their sales on the Beatle portraits on the cover of their albums. This time they didn’t have a picture. So I created a graphic style that would complement the photograph. I was the graphic designer and made the judgment of what would help sell the drama of the package.
“The Magical Mystery Tour video movie on the BBC with magic bus idea was a flop. But the album soundtrack was their product to sell to the consumer packaged in a style to fit the times in the marketplace.
“At the Coronado Studio, the white walls define the room with two tables to work on. One table has the production work to the first Pinnacle Shrine Exposition poster to be finished to print in AD Print. I wander around for a few minutes and all of it comes to mind. I am thinking, I will flow the EP photo in the larger 12×12 square. I will get a funky font for the tune titles that is in contrast with EP typography.
“So I get out a pen from a drawer. Pull out a piece of paper and draw the background of clouds in black and white. I am still up later into the night to finish the drawing. The next day I send the drawing out for a photostat at AD Stat. The stat comes back to the Capitol office. I pick it up and go back to the studio, and on the way across from my studio was the art store, where I buy some ZIPATONE screen in large dots. So with the type and the supplies to walk into the studio to finish the highly political Magical Mystery Tour American cover.
“The single black and white drawing, and the black dots are layers, with the prototype in an arc photographically manipulation of the special optical camera like the machine. The position stat of the EP photograph is centered on the production board. This work is called a mechanical as a paste-up on a board. I call out the colors I want in process four-color. The American pressing of Magical Mystery Tour.
“The magic in this project is understanding the stripping of negatives and exposing them to make a comprehensive color key of the actual production instruction for printing. About 48 hours have passed, as I get ready to present the finished color key for Brown. The delivery to my office at Capitol arrives in a package from AD Stat. I pick it up and go to Brown’s office. He greets me kind of sober, as I open the package to show the contents. He’s excited with a big smile and says, ‘You saved it!’
“I call the printer and do not show it to them, just print it, put the vinyl in it and show it to the distribution. I left the office. I got my check in my girlfriend’s Honey’s name. Cash it! But I never got a published credit. I was paid by Capitol off their books.
“That was my night job to pay for my Coronado Studio, there where Pinnacle Dance Concerts was created with my psychedelic poster line, distributed by Personality Poster in New York. My Endless Summer poster was hot, and mostly sold out and reordered. After the Beatles’ MMT album was released I left the company on a leave of absence, Brown was befuddled that I had other things to do.
Q: There is the 1978 Doors’ An American Prayer album cover that helped bring Jim Morrison’s audio poetry, later coupled with the band’s music, to a new world.
Can you take me through the steps of creating and putting your initial concept of this LP cover together? How did you meet the band?
A: Funny you would ask, on one day as I paddled my surfboard out into the surf break, a voice cried out saying, ‘John!’ I looked over there was John Densmore the drummer for the Doors. I say, ‘You’re a little old to be learning to surf,’ as a humorous statement for him. We exchange a few words of recognition.
“Near my studio was Little Dume a right faced wave as a peak and line up I loved a ride in the evening when the wind dropped around 4 o'clock. It was a private beach, exclusive to the residents of the area. I had moved to Ramirez Canyon in Malibu and created a studio called Tech-Hut. An old friend from the '60s gave me a key to surf there. On another day I was down at the bottom of the small cove, having walked down the trail and around a high boulder that sits in front of the surf break, where you could meet friends. Down further was the beach area with more people sunbathing. Standing there I noticed John Densmore again.
“Densmore greeted me with a big smile as I set my surfboard on the sand and started waxing the deck. I smile back, then paddled out to the far point to catch she good waves in the late afternoon incoming tide, this is the way I like it. After a few waves and paddling around chasing peaks, I see strong one and paddle to get into it speeding across the peaks and bowls into the shore break onto the beach.
“As I walked up to my stuff and picked up my towel. Densmore came up and said, ‘Hammer, (he used my nickname in the surf culture) they talk about you on the beach. They say you're a famous surfer.’ I said back to him, ‘Well, you're learning to surf and you're the famous rock star, you're more famous than I am!’ He responded with, ‘No, you're more famous than I am!’ The talk was about how famous one was in the pop culture world of media and surfing. I stood there in my environment completely blown away by the dialogue. I wondered what would Morrison think of the moment with Densmore?
Q: Tell me what Morrison was like and your view of him in the business.
A: It was 1978 and there was the knock at the door, I looked through the round window like a ship porthole and there was keyboardist Ray Manzarek, drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger, and one of many managers and business partners of the Doors franchise. They had asked Electra Record to hire me to design packaging for An American Prayer, Jim Morrison's book of poetry.
“The project made me think about the early days, on Los Angeles; Westside in 1969 the time I saw Jim eating lunch at the Players, an outdoor restaurant on La Cienega just down the way from Elektra Records. There was Jim Morrison. ‘The Lizard King’ was a God among men on La Cienega. There he was, sitting out front, shirt off, his jeans worn low on his hips, showing the crack of his ass sitting on the chair, his long mane of curly brown hair riding down his back. Sitting in the sun has illuminated like some religious icon, on display for the underground gay cinema.
“Morrison was so affected, as if he were like the character in my surf life Dora at Malibu, but this was rock 'n' roll in the urban center of the new culture, and Jim was in rebel. Morrison's lyres greatly reflected the tension of the times-drug culture, the antiwar movement, and avant-garde art.
“With his early death Morrison has come to be seen as the voluntary victim of the destructive forces in pop culture. In 1978 Keith Holzman, Senior Vice President for Elektra Records, once told me that Jim was the smartest person he ever met in the record business.
Q: Discuss the process and the expedition.
A: It was 1978 at the Willoughby Studio along La Cienega Boulevard, and Elektra Records was a block up the street. I had to be corporate and wear a suit and tie at meetings where I would leave the studio at 10 am for a meeting. And then return to the studio in my suit at 4pm while directing the art department for the 10 airline magazines of the day as the Design Director of the East West Magazines.
“Meeting the Doors. There I am sitting in front of the Doors without Jim in the suit. They gave the assignment to find a photo of Jim for an upcoming poetry album. So they gave me a chunk of money and I traveled to New York City to meet with Richard Avedon, Joel Brodsky, Gloria Stavers, Art Kane, and Edmund Teske here in Los Angeles.
“In the end, the record company fired me to get their way with the band. So, the down and dirty of the whole situation was they didn't like the full bleed trim composition of Teske photo with Jim with a beard on the front cover. They wanted the back cover Brodsky photo of Jim on the front. So the art director at Elektra cropped the photograph and made the type on in black over white. I felt Jim was being a poet in this case, and he wanted to show his bohemian side, with words and his drawing.
“The album is not about rock ‘n’ roll. It’s about the inner working of an artist.
“The company Post-Future is the distributor of my collection. I tour with posters and prints with lectures and meetings with fans, or through the website Post-Future.com
“Today I do my work at the Cool Hous Studio, San Pedro, California and Post-Future sells my products.”
Harvey Kubernik is the author of 15 books. His literary music anthology Inside Cave Hollywood: The Harvey Kubernik Music InnerViews and InterViews Collection Vol. 1, was published in December 2017, by Cave Hollywood. Kubernik’s The Doors Summer’s Gone was published by Other World Cottage Industries in February 2018. It’s recently been nominated for the 2019 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research.
During November 2018, Sterling/Barnes and Noble published Kubernik’s The Story of The Band From Big Pink to the Last Waltz.
In 2019, The National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. have asked Harvey Kubernik to pen an essay on the landmark The Band album, now celebrating a 50th anniversary edition in 2019.
Kubernik’s 1995 interview, Berry Gordy: A Conversation With Mr. Motown appears in The Pop, Rock & Soul Reader edited by David Brackett published in 2019 by Oxford University Press. Brackett is a Professor of Musicology in the Schulich School of Music at McGill University in Canada.
Harvey joined a lineup which includes LeRoi Jones, Johnny Otis, Ellen Willis, Nat Hentoff, Jerry Wexler, Jim Delehant, Ralph J. Gleason, Greil Marcus, and Cameron Crowe.
Kubernik’s 1996 interview with poet/author Allen Ginsberg was published in Conversations With Allen Ginsberg, edited by David Stephen Calonne for the University Press of Mississippi in their 2019 Literary Conversations Series.
Harvey is featured in the 2014 book by Jeff Burger on Leonard Cohen Interviews and Encounters for Chicago Review Press. During 2015 the University Press of Mississippi published a Harvey Kubernik interview with D.A. Pennebaker in their book series, Conversations with Filmmakers, edited by Dr. Keith Beattie.
This century Kubernik wrote the liner note booklets to the CD re-releases of Carole King’s Tapestry, Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish, Elvis Presley The ’68 Comeback Special and The Ramones’ End of the Century.
In 2019 Kubernik served as a Consultant on a new 2-part documentary on the musical legacy of Laurel Canyon. Alison Ellwood is directing the documentary who helmed the authorized History of the Eagles. Broadcast date is first quarter 2020 on EPIX Television.