Friday, December 19, 2008

Album Cover Art Stories

As always, I want to thank Michael Goldstein at for the exclusive reprint rights to these great rock and roll stories:

Cover Story - The Grateful Dead's "Dick's Picks Vol. 25-30", with design/photography by Bob Minkin

Cover Story for January 11, 2008

Subject – Dick’s Picks, a series of CD releases by The Grateful Dead on Grateful Dead Records, with cover images by Bob Minkin

In these days of declining record sales, many people who report on the music business wonder aloud how it is that musicians are supposed to be able to survive (and, even, make a good living) without selling millions of CDs or digital downloads. Throughout the short history of Rock and Roll music, there have been a few great examples of musical acts that have connected with their fan bases in such as deep way that they have been able to build and support their careers (and their families) on the sales of the wide range of related enterprises, with touring being the most obvious (and, done right, a very profitable) method.

The consummate touring band, The Grateful Dead is a great example of such an act. For 30 years, from 1965 to 1995, the band played almost constantly, traveling throughout the U.S. and Canada, as well as Europe and, in 1978, in Giza, Egypt, near the Great Pyramids. All during this time, the band lived in an open marriage with its fans, allowing them to record and share their music and, in some cases, providing the throngs of Deadheads who traveled with them from show to show with the necessities of life (free food, shelter, first aid and, quite often, music).

And while this didn’t translate into commercial success in a traditionally-measured way (for example, it took nearly 30 years for American Beauty and Europe ’72 to go Double Platinum, with only one recording – Skeletons from the Closet – going 3X Platinum, and that after 20 years!), the band made a VERY good living from touring and merchandise, and they were very wise to record (on audio and, when possible, video tape) nearly every concert to be put into a vault for use later on.

Beginning in the early 1990s and continuing to this day, the band made good use of their archives by releasing three series of live concert recordings. Two of these series use the multi-track recordings made, remixed using the newer technologies now available. The third series, titled Dick’s Picks, were based on more rudimentary 2-track recordings – more like what would have been recorded by fans at these shows. The series was launched in 1993 and was named for Grateful Dead archivist Dick Latvala, who personally worked with the band members to select the shows for the series and then oversaw production until his death in 1999, after which the new archivist, David Lemieux, took over these responsibilities until the series was completed in 2005.

And although the Dead has fairly-well fully-embraced the new Digital Age – offering their new, internet-only “Grateful Dead Download Series” both on their site and through iTunes – the packaging of “traditional” products in high style continues to be a priority for the band. While early records featured the artwork of some of the leading artists of the San Francisco psychedelic and underground scene – Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, John Van Hamersveld, Gilbert Shelton, Philip Garris and others – they chose a long-time fan, artist & photographer Bob Minkin, to create the look of the last 11 volumes of the Dicks Picks series. How this opportunity for a Deadhead to leave a lasting mark on the products for his favorite band is the subject of today’s Cover Story. Read on, dudes…

In the words of the artist, Bob Minkin –

According to Bob - "As a long-time Deadhead, I began photographing the Grateful Dead for fun. In 1977, I had the opportunity to show my work to the publisher of Relix Magazine in NYC. From then on, my photography and artwork was published in almost every issue of Relix - even to this day.

My relationship with the magazine allowed me to get credentials to photograph many artists, and so in the 1980's, I contacted Grateful Dead Productions directly and they began using my photography for calendars, books and, later, the internet. Although I was also graphic designer with my own business, The Dead's organization primarily knew me as a photographer.

That all changed in 2000 when they were looking for a new packaging designer. A friend who works for Grateful Dead Productions recommended me to fill that role. I made a presentation and they were impressed and hired me to create a new look for the CD cover and other packaging for the 25th Dick's Picks. Dick's Picks is a numbered series of live concert releases that were hand picked by the Dead's archivist, Dick Latvala, and so the criteria was that the design had to lend itself to a numbered series.

Number 25 was a stand-alone design, but my client was so pleased with that package that they hired me to design and produce all of their subsequent CD, DVD and box set releases. The artist's management provided me with no visual direction at all. It was wide open for me to come up with an array of possibilities for them to consider.

The next 11 releases that I created were divided into two series with different designs. For Numbers 26-30, I created the 'stamp' series. As a fan of the band, I was already immersed in their imagery. Their song lyrics conjure up visions of the Wild West, trains, hobos, poker games, dancing bears, roses, outer space and so on, and since these were live concert recordings, microphones, tape reels, the venue and location could all play a part in the visuals.

I had proposed a few different themes for the series – a 'road case' theme, a 'space' theme, and a theme based on postage stamps. Here are some comps of the designs I had proposed -

My client ultimately chose the 'stamp' design. The idea was to make the CD look like a mailed package, complete with stamp and postmark. The postmark would reflect the date of the concert recording and the stamp would be evocative of the Dead's imagery.

I looked through my childhood postage stamp collection and found beautiful stamps form South America dating from the 1930s-40s. When I scanned and enlarged the stamps, the detail was incredible. Working in Photoshop, I manipulated the images to make the postage value conform to the series number of the Dick's Picks. Then I replaced the central image and merged it seamlessly into the original stamp design. Two of the central images were from photographs I shot - the skeletons on #26 were taken in Mexico, while the rose on #30 was taken in my garden. The others I found in my collection of 'old stuff'.

I scanned wrapping paper for the background and created a 'postmark' in Adobe Illustrator. I imported the postmark into Photoshop and incorporated it into the paper scan and added shadows and de-bossing effects to make it look real. In the end, everyone was extremely pleased with the results, so much so that they hired me as their principal designer for their new releases over the next five-year period. Nothing wild took place during the development process - it was all very business-like - but it was and still is thrilling for me to work with my favorite band."

About the artist & photographer, Bob Minkin –

In 1974, when Bob brought his Kodak Instamatic camera to a New Riders Of The Purple Sage concert at New York City’s Academy Of Music, he had no idea he was about to embark on a lifetime journey.

A graduate of New York City's School Of Visual Arts, Bob earned his BFA in graphic design and photography. He was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, and currently lives with his family in Marin County, CA. He is a partner in Minkin Design, a full-service web design and graphic studio.

His photographs have appeared internationally on CDs and DVDs, and on the covers and insides of many magazines and books. Clients have included Time Magazine, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Guitar World and Grateful Dead Productions.

As Bob tells it – “When I was 13 years old, I fell in with a clique who turned me on to the music I still love today. By 1974, I was going to concerts by Eric Clapton, Grateful Dead, Johnny Winter, Mountain, NRPS, and others. Greatly impressed with this new world, I wanted to capture a memory or keepsake for myself. I began taking my camera to almost all the concerts I attended.

Living in NYC afforded me the opportunity to hear plenty of live music. It became a hobby, an obsession and I went to many shows, seeing not only bands that I was familar with, but exploring new bands that were unfamilar to me - The Plasmatics, Todd Rundgren, Ramones, B-52s, Talking Heads, etc.

By 1977, I had already amassed a considerable portfolio. At that time - through a chance encounter - I hooked up with Relix Magazine, then a Grateful Dead fanzine. My photos were published in Relix and I began gaining official access, that is, photo passes to many concerts. I continue to work with Relix to this day.

<- Bob and his favorite guitarist

As time went on, I expanded my contacts in the music industry. Working with Monarch Entertainment in the Northeast, later Bill Graham Presents when I moved to San Francisco. During the 1980's I began a close relationship with Grateful Dead Productions which continues to this day in the form of my role as their package designer for most of their CD and DVD releases.

I still do a lot of photography, of course. When shooting, I like the beauty of natural light and try to be as unobtrusive as possible, allowing my subjects to be their natural selves. Capturing the definitive peak moments of an event is what I strive for.”

Bob’s design studio - Minkin Design - opened shop in 1990, the year Bob and Anne Minkin escaped from New York and settled in the San Francisco Bay Area. The two talented designers met at Manhattan's School of Visual Arts, graduating with BFAs in Graphic Design and designs on a future together.

Their entrepreneurial start in California after stints in the NY corporate world netted them clients ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500's. In addition to many long-term client relationships, they developed a full network of support people and services, along with the ability to successfully manage any marketing communications project, no matter the size or complexity.

Their Philosophy
1. Listen and learn
2. Respond creatively with clarity, function, usability and good looks.

To see more of Bob Minkin’s current work, please visit his site at -

To see more of his work as a photographer, please follow this link -

To see Bob’s work available through RockPoP Gallery, please follow this link –

To see all of the Grateful Dead-related items in the RockPoP Gallery collection, please click here -

All images featured in this Cover Story are Copyright 1993-2005 and 2006, Robert Minkin and Minkin Designs - All rights reserved. Except as noted, all other text Copyright 2008 - Mike Goldstein & RockPoP Gallery ( - All rights reserved.

New Prince Tracks Previewed on Los Angeles Radio

Los Angeles' Indie 103 had the privilege of previewing Prince's new album, in it's entirety, with the musician himself before getting permission to preview four of the new tracks on-air. According to reports, the album is a very guitar-heavy rock record.

At this time, there is no release date for the album as Prince is without a label, and he's happy that way. According to a radio station spokesman, Prince “wants nothing to do with record labels, so he’s meeting with people to figure out how to operate at his level without a record label.”

Rolling Stone reported on the radio preview of the four tracks:

A cover of Tommy James & the Shondells' Crimson in Clover with altered lyrics and vocal effects.

Colonized Mind, with lyrics accusing record companies of theft.

Wall of Berlin, which RS said had a vibe similar to the third side of Jimi Hendrix' Electric Ladyland.

4ever, a slow love ballad.


No fleeting fad

By Craig Mathieson

In 2008, few records sounded more timely — and yet somehow timeless — than the self-titled debut of Seattle's five-piece Fleet Foxes. An elegiac mix of folk-rock melodies and contemplative harmonies blessed with a stillness both stern and beautiful, Fleet Foxes tied together strands of America's history, musical and otherwise, at a time when the country was up for grabs.

"There's a certain subversion of the actual America that happens in an election year — you hear a distorted version of the country, the Sarah Palin version of what America is," says Robin Pecknold, vocalist and chief songwriter of Fleet Foxes.

"The great deception of the 21st century is the Republicans convincing the working class they're on their side when there's not a single policy you could point to that illustrates that."

Seated in the Seattle office of Sub Pop, the band's record label, Pecknold is quietly spoken but certain of what he wants to say. Still in his early 20s — the facial hair favoured by the group adds a few years — he has made an album about personal faith in times of crisis and how a nation's upheaval is felt on a personal level. As Canada's the Band once did, Fleet Foxes touch on the past to detail the present.

"In terms of the message on the record, it's about family and finding a genuine space to live in," Pecknold says. "With America, you're dealing with a very difficult country. For America to change for the better it would need to become a colony of Norway. There's a tonne of stuff written into the American mindset that is outmoded but difficult to transcend."

Their grooming, combined with Pecknold's oft-stated admiration for Bob Dylan and Fleet Foxes' pastoral sound, have left the outfit with the tag of hippies.

But this does them a disservice — you can as easily hear the 1860s as the 1960s in their music, with Pecknold's use of somewhat formal language and the group's invoking of the folk tradition.

"The record wasn't meant to evoke the 1960s in any particular way. The weirder, older American stuff is more interesting to me," says Pecknold.

The youngest of three children, Pecknold grew up the son of progressive parents. His mother was a school teacher and his father built everything from boats to guitars. Much has been made of what he learnt by going through his parents' collection of vinyl, but the robust discussion at the family dinner table was just as important. It left Pecknold with a quiet confidence and ready determination, qualities he shared with his best friend from high school, Skye Skjelset, who is now the guitarist for Fleet Foxes.

"I suppose music is kind of cyclical and that people are more interested in hearing a certain thing at a certain time," Pecknold says. "But all that stuff is someone else's game because we'd have made the same record no matter what."

This year alone, Fleet Foxes have toured North America three times and Europe twice. Near unanimous critical acclaim has also translated into healthy CD sales. Fleet Foxes has sold about 400,000 copies worldwide.


Click on link to buy vinyl LP!

Insound LP+MP3! Purchase the vinyl format of Fleet Foxes and you'll receive a link to download the MP3s for free immediately after check-out! VINYL FORMAT. Seattle's Fleet Foxes traffic in baroque harmonic pop. They draw influences from the traditions of folk, pop, choral, gospel, sacred harp singing, West Coast music, traditional music from Ireland to Japan, film scores, and their NW peers. The subject matter ranges from the natural world and familial bonds to bygone loves and stone cold graves.

Music News & Notes

Doors Documentary Revisits 'Strange' Days

The Doors documentary "When You're Strange" will premiere Jan. 17 at the Sundance Film Festival.

Written and directed by Tom DiCillo, "Strange" utilizes a wealth of previously unseen footage to chart the band's beginnings at UCLA's film school through to frontman Jim Morrison's mysterious death in 1971.

Describing the movie to Billboard earlier this year, Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek said it was "the anti-Oliver Stone," in reference to the 1991 film "The Doors." "This will be the true story of the Doors."

Rhino will release a soundtrack to "When You're Strange" next summer.


U2 to release new album in March

Irish rockers U2 have named their new album "No Line On The Horizon," and will release it worldwide in early March, their label said on Thursday.

The quartet's 12th studio album was originally expected to be released by the end of this year, but the band announced in September that it would keep writing more tunes. Recording took place in Morocco, Dublin, New York and London.

Interscope Records will release "No Line On The Horizon" internationally on March 2, and a day later in North America.

It marks the follow-up to "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb," which was released in late 2004 and went on to sell 9 million copies worldwide, according to Interscope. It also garnered U2 their second album of the year Grammy, following 1987's "The Joshua Tree."

The new album was produced by long-time collaborators Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, with additional production by Steve Lillywhite. Tunes recorded in 2006 with producer Rick Rubin, the man behind Johnny Cash's comeback, have been jettisoned.

Tour plans have not been announced. The "Vertigo" world tour for the last album ran from March 2005 to December 2006. U2 is partnered on touring and merchandise with concert promoter Live Nation Inc, which said earlier on Thursday that it bought back the band's stock in the company for a guaranteed $25 million -- $19 million more than the market price. Interscope is a unit of Vivendi SA's Universal Music Group.


New Vinyl Release

Brooklyn, NY's indie-folk duo Ida have announced that currently label Polyvinyl Records will release the band's first three full length albums on vinyl for the first time. Tales of Brave Ida, I Know About You, and Tales of Small Places will all get the standard Polyvinyl vinyl treatment with double gatefold jackets, 180 gram vinyl, and a digital download coupon.

Classic Rock Videos

Tommy James & The Shondells - Mony Mony (1968)

Album Cover Art

Let's continue with our look at the list of the dirtiest and sexiest album covers, this time #4 on their list (Gigwise comments in quotes):

4. Devo: ‘Hardcore Devo – Vol 1’ – "General madcaps Devo haave always been a band that have loved to play with imagery and ‘Hardcore Devo – Vol 1’ is no different. In some kind of S&M ritual a naked woman goads the band members who are in full body strait jackets writhing on the floor. Very disturbing stuff!"

Hardcore Devo: Volume One (1990) is the first of two albums of demos released by the post-punk/new wave band Devo. It is currently out of print.

The Hardcore Devo albums are a collection of 4-track basement demos recorded by the band between 1974-1977. Many tracks are earlier versions of some of Devo's best known tracks, which would later be re-recorded and used on subsequent Devo records [eg. 'Jocko Homo', 'Mongoloid']. However, a majority of the tracks on the two albums are demos which were never re-used and remained unreleased until the Hardcore Devo compilations.

I say, whip it...whip it good!

This Date In Music History-December 19


Folksinger Phil Ochs (1940)

Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire is 67.

Ten Years After guitarist Alvin Lee (1944)

They Are Missed:

Zal Yanovsky of the Lovin' Spoonful was born in 1944.

The late Charlie Ryan ("Hot Rod Lincoln") was born in 1915.

In 2000, Pops Staples of the Staple Singers died following a concussion.

Michael Clarke of the Byrds died of liver failure in 1993.

Later hailed as the father of New Orleans R&B, singer and pianist Professor Longhair was born in Bogalusa, La. in 1918. Died January 30, 1980.


In 1957, Elvis Presley was served with his draft notice while home at Graceland for the Christmas holidays. He was sworn in as a private in the U.S. Army on March 24, 1958, and later sent to basic training in Fort Hood, Texas. Shipped to Germany, he served in Company D, 32nd Tank Battalion, 3rd Armor Corps, from October 1, 1958, to March 1, 1960.

"Over and Over" (The Dave Clark Five) was a hit in 1965.

Bobby Darin recorded "Mack The Knife" in 1958.

Today in 1964, the song "Come See About Me" by the Supremes topped the charts and stayed there for 2 weeks.

"Beatles for Sale" spends its first week at #1 in the U.K. album charts in 1964. It knocked "A Hard Day's Night" off the top spot, where it had spent the last 21 weeks.

Neil Sedaka’s "Calendar Girl" was released in 1960.

In 1960, Frank Sinatra recorded his first session with his very own record company, Reprise Records. Frank did "Ring-A-Ding-Ding" and "Let’s Fall in Love."

Ron Woods joined the Rolling Stones in 1974.

In 2006, the FBI released documents related to their investigation of John Lennon in the early ‘70s. The Nixon administration thought Lennon, an anti-war (Vietnam) advocate, was aiding left wing causes and therefore an undesirable alien. Unsuccessful deportation efforts ensued. While Lennon had contact with representatives from radical organizations the FBI could find no evidence that he was a member or financially supported these groups.

Carl Perkins recorded "Blue Suede Shoes" in 1955, a song that he wrote after seeing a young man get angry at his date for scuffing his shoes. Even though we often remember the Elvis Presley version the most, it only made it to number 20 on the US chart, while was Perkins' original went to number 2.

In 1956, Elvis Presley made US chart history by having 10 songs on Billboard's Top 100.

As if Disco wasn't bad enough, the US Pop chart reached a new all time low in 1975 when "Convoy" by C.W. McCall earned a Gold record. The novelty tune tells the story of interstate truck drivers and their run-ins with the law.

In 1979, Elvis Presley's personal physician, George Nichopoulos, was charged with 'illegally and indiscriminately' prescribing over 12,000 tablets of uppers, downers, and painkillers for the Rock and Roll star during the 20 months preceding his untimely death. Although he was acquitted this time, he was charged again in 1980 and again in 1992 and was stripped of his medical license in July 1995.