Tuesday, June 15, 2010

UnCovered Interview - by Michael Goldstein

UnCovered Interview - Over-Nite Sensation by Dave McMacken

UnCovered Interview - Over-Nite Sensation - a painting by artist Dave McMacken

Subject - the making of the cover of the Frank Zappa album titled Over-Nite Sensation, released in 1973 on DiscReet Records.

I credit my brother Bob for introducing me to Frank Zappa. While I was engrossed in my Black Sabbath, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Santana albums, Bob was happy to memorize every word of his George Carlin and Frank Zappa records, and since we had to share the stereo (located on top of my mother's player piano), I listened (and learned) while Bob would play Over-Nite Sensation almost endlessly.

I'd always been attracted to bands whose lyrics included doses of comedy and nod-nod wink-wink innuendo (beginning with The Kinks and, later on, The Sex Pistols), but this Zappa album was the first one where I just could not believe that I was hearing what I was hearing (and, at the same time, praying that my Mom was not listening as well). He goofed on TV programmers, Montana ranchers and sex, but these parodies were laid on top of really impressive musical beds - the Mothers band augmented by virtuosos including George Duke on keyboards and Jon-Luc Ponty on violin - and so the total package resonated with me in ways unlike anything I'd heard before.

The record proved to be much more popular to the mainstream AOR audience (than the 16 records he'd released since his 1966 debut titled Freak Out!) and, therefore, became FZ's first gold-selling LP. Of course, this popularity confused those self-appointed protectors of pure Zappa-ness (who branded the record as being too commercial - I mean, he'd go on to perform "I'm The Slime" on SNL, for goodness sakes! - Click here to view ), while others who'd always appreciated his clever word-play thought he'd abandoned the Intelligentsia to gleefully muck about in some of the slime he was singing about. Whatever. I just thought that he was having fun (while telling you exactly what he was thinking/fantasizing about) which is, after all, the reason most of us joined bands in the first place.

Another thing about Zappa was clearly illustrated by the artwork he commissioned for this record - he appreciated the opportunity to use the record's packaging to give fans even more to talk about along with his music and lyrics. I touched on his portfolio of cover art a couple of years back during my interview with Jerry Schatzberg about the hilarious Sgt. Peppers parody he helped produce for We're Only In It For The Money and have long been a fan of Cal Schenkel's body of work but, just as the composer's music would continue to take new and exciting turns, so would his cover art.

To continue this tradition of album art excellence, they (Zappa and Schenkel) would turn to the illustrator that had helped them with the promo artwork for the soundtrack album for 200 Motels, artist Dave McMacken. Dave had recently set out on his own after a somewhat messy break-up with his former studio-mates, so this opportunity couldn't have come at a better time, and Dave was up for something new and exciting in his career. As you'd expect, the job - and the resulting image - pushed cover art - and the illustrator - to new extremes, so if you'd like to learn the story behind "the making of" Over-Nite Sensation, "don't touch that dial"!

In the words of the artist, Dave McMacken (interviewed late March/early April, 2010) -

After getting out of the Art Center College of Design in LA in 1967, I joined up with Craig Butler, Art Snyder and Patti Mitsui to form a design studio called "The Institute For Better Vision". We specialized in rock music and film projects and did a number of projects together including Sweetheart of the Rodeo and Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde for The Byrds, Pickin' Up The Pieces for Poco and, finally, all of the promo graphics - including the record cover, billboards, movie poster and whatever - for Frank Zappa. At this point in time, Bizarre Records was becoming Discreet Records and Cal Schenkel was Frank's in-house artist. Frank and Cal were putting the wraps on 200 Motels and were looking for an artist to help them, so we heard about it and met up at Murakami Wolf Swenson Films in Hollywood - just off Sunset Boulevard - and showed Cal my work.

They decided to try me and asked me to do a comp of a section of the cover that would feature Frank in a "pulp-style look", looming over the populace and "bingo", 200 Motels (editor's note - this comp would later be reworked to be used as the cover of the Zappa EP for Rhino titled Rare Meat, see image, below). Cal was a very calm character, a great artist for Frank, and I was honored to work with him, FZ and Murakami Wolf Swenson Films. Cal and I bumped into each other all of the time while he was doing animations and I was doing backgrounds. Zappa always amazed me - he was very disciplined, stern and could be abrupt - but his talent dropped my jaw. One time, he and Gail invited me to dinner and he took me to his basement studio and showed me his quadraphonic sound system and all his guitars, drums and pianos. Gail kind of scared the crap out of me and I had to bail to go feed my dogs. 200 Motels turned out that that was my last work with "The Institute", because right after the movie project was done, we dissolved the company then and there during an argument that included throwing furniture and each of us calling the others all kinds of cool names.

Fast forward a couple of years and Frank calls and asks if I want to paint another cover for him. I nearly fell off my chair. He wanted to get started immediately and so that night I listened to a truly bizarre take of the scene that Zappa imagined. In fantastic detail, he proceeded to tell me the story of Over-Nite Sensation and that the cover painting was to be done in a formal, realistic "Dutch Master" style, with the objects in the painting to be portrayed as visual elements from the story.

The painting captures a moment in the life of a band roadie on tour, with "Over-Nite Sensation" being a reference to the horniness of bands on the road. The space we're looking at is in a true perspective, but they're in a mirror and the object on the viewer's side are in reverse. Our focal object is a grapefruit, the symbol of a sexual object, and the grapefruit's been penetrated, with "cum" oozing out of it. The fire extinguisher symbolizes the completion of the act of intercourse, and even the frame is a sexual fantasy, starting off in gold and going to rot. All of the other items - the Holiday Inn, the food, maps and oozing TV - represent the doldrums of being on the road.

I took tight notes during this session - I wasn't given a written assignment or description - and worked on this painting for 2 months, meeting many times with Frank to discuss the work in progress. I started with a pencil and it evolved as we went along, with Frank adding more as "more was always better"- it is really cool when the musical act is also the Art Director and owns the production company! During the process, we had one meeting with Chris Whorf at Warner Brothers just to include the record company at some stage during the development and I showed him the pencil sketch I'd done. He loved it and picked it up and was going to leave with it to use it as the final art. In hind-sight, it might not have been such a bad idea, but there was no way that I was going to miss out on the fun I was having, so I retrieved the sketch and went off to Illustrationland to continue my work. I did the final painting using casein paints, which were a cool mixture of oils and acrylics and had the lovely aroma of vanilla. They later discontinued these paints and I new paint exclusively in acrylics - they're way less fussy.

In the end, I had all the time I needed, and that helped this job become one of my favorite experiences ever. Since we all knew each other, this post-200 Motels life was easy. Cal and I became good friends, with both of us living close-by in LA. I loved the rock scene and even though Frank was all business, all the time - in the art and in the music - I'd show up at Frank's studio in Glendale and offer him a beer - which he never accepted - and I'd get to work, hanging around listening to The Mothers rehearse. Frank would show George Duke how to lay down some music and then jump over to Aynsley Dunbar's drum kit to do the same - prodding and pushing them to produce what he wanted - really fun stuff but, at times, it was a bit much for me. My black lab "Shakespeare" was a buffer for my shyness, since she loved all of the attention, but sometimes I just wanted to finish my work and go home...

When I was done with the project and my clients were happy, I looked back on the time I'd spent with everyone associated with Frank Zappa and realized that the experience would have a colossal effect on my work going forward. It indeed has lasted all of my life - I worked for Frank Zappa - there's no need to say anything more.

About the artist, Dave McMacken -
Dave left Newport, OR in the Fall of 1963 and rode the Greyhound to Los Angeles to attend the Art Center College of Design, graduating in 1967. He started his career in advertising as a junior art director at Sinay/Lipson in Hollywood, during which time his college draft-deferment status came to an end and, with the prospect of Vietnam looming in every young man's lives, he applied for C.O. status and the draft board in Newport granted his request, sending him to work as a psychiatric tech at LA County Hospital for two years. Afterwards, he met up with his college buddies and started "The Institute For Better Vision".

After The Institute split up, Dave took on a number of freelance assignments for clients such as Peter Whorf (ABC Jazz), Chris Whorf at Bizarre (Frank Zappa, Bootsy Collins), Nancy Donald and Tony Lane at Columbia (Weather Report, Flo & Eddie) and Roland Young at A&M Records (Tom Scott, Louis Armstrong, The Tubes, Peggy Lee, The Carpenters, Horizon Jazz, etc.). It was also at A&M that he met his wife, Judy, who worked as a creative secretary for the Art department there.

Other album cover projects of note include AC/DC's Ballbreaker, Warrant's Dog Eat Dog, Freak Show for The Bullet Boys, Black Market for Weather Report, Reel Music for The Beatles, The Joker for Steve Miller, 1941 for Steven Spielberg's film of the same name, and Leftoverture for Kansas. He also did work for The Temptations, Jackyl, Bedlam and The Beachboys.

Non-music clients have included the JWT, Y&R and Arnold advertising agencies; Apple Computer, Microsoft and E/A in consumer electronics, Harper Collins and Simon & Schuster in books, and a large number of travel posters for various locales' tourist bureaus. His film work includes assignments painting backgrounds for the animated films Puff The Magic Dragon and FernGully:2.

Dave currently is working on campaigns for the California Avocado Commission and BBC Channel 4 in London. He lives in the Torrington, CT area with his wife and a large pack of dogs.
To see more of his work, please visit Dave's web site at http://www.mcmackengraphics.com/cgi-local/content.cgi

All images featured in this UnCovered story are Copyright 1971 - 2010 David B McMacken/McMacken Graphics - All rights reserved. Except as noted, all other text Copyright 2010 - Mike Goldstein & RockPoP Gallery (http://www.rockpopgallery.com/) - All rights reserved.

This Date In Music History - June 15


Nigel Pickering - Spanky And Our Gang (1929)

Johnny Halliday - 'the French Elvis', major star in Europe. Jimmy Page, Peter Frampton and Foreigner's Mick Jones have played on his records (1943)

Muff Winwood - Spencer Davis Group. Became a producer and A&R man for Sony Records (1943)

Noddy Holder - Slade (1946)

Russell Hitchcock - Air Supply (1949)

Steve Walsh - Kansas (1951)

Scott Rockenfield - Queensryche (1963)

Michael Britt - Lonestar (1966)

Ice Cube (1969)

Gary Lightbody - Snow Patrol (1976)

Dryden Vera Mitchell - Alien Ant Farm (1976)

Billy Martin - Good Charlotte (1981)

They Are Missed:

In 1982, Pete Farndon, bass player with The Pretenders, was fired from the group, he went on to form a group with Topper Headon from The Clash. Farndon was found dead in his bath on April 14, 1983.

David Rose was born in 1910. He was the composer of "Little House on the Prairie" and "Bonanza." He won four Emmys and 22 Grammys in his career and was musical director for the Red Skelton show during its 21-year-run on the CBS and NBC networks. Died August 23, 1990.

Born on this day in 1941, Harry Nilsson, US singer, songwriter. The Monkees, Three Dog Night & Ronettes all covered his songs. He died on January 15, 1994.

Jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald died in Beverly Hills, California in 1996 (age 79). Already blinded by the effects of diabetes, Fitzgerald had both her legs amputated in 1993. Winner of 13 Grammy Awards, the 1956 'Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook' was the first of eight "Songbook" sets. Appeared in the TV commercial for Memorex, where she sang a note that shattered a glass while being recorded on a Memorex cassette tape. The tape was played back and the recording also broke the glass, asking "Is it live, or is it Memorex?"

Born today in 1933, Waylon Jennings, US country singer. Played bass with Buddy Holly in 1959. Jennings died on February 13, 2002.

Keyboardist Richard Bell, one-time member of Janis Joplin's Full Tilt Boogie Band, died in Toronto in 2007 at age 62. Bell is heard on Joplin's "Pearl" album. He also recorded with Joe Walsh and Bonnie Raitt.


The Platters sang "Twilight Time" on Ed Sullivan in 1958.

Jan & Dean's "Surf City" was released in 1963.

Kyu Sakamoto started a three week run at #1 on the US singles chart in 1963 with "Sukiyaki," the first-ever Japanese song to do so.

Bob Dylan recorded "Like A Rolling Stone" in 1965.

In 1966 - The Beatles album, "Yesterday & Today" was released by Capitol Records. Ticked that Capitol Records U.S. has been leaving off a track or two from previous Beatles albums and now has enough for this compilation, the group poses for the notorious “butcher block” cover with them sitting among cuts of raw meat and decapitated dolls. Public outcry gets the cover changed to a standard group photo (three Beatles standing around a upright open trunk with Paul actually sitting in it).

Guitarist Peter Green quit the John Mayall Band in 1967. Green went on to form Fleetwood Mac.

The Beatles' announced the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi as a public mistake at a press conference in New York in 1968.

In 1976, the Sex Pistols recorded their first demos in Clapham's Majestic studios followed by a gig that night at The 100 club, London.

In 1977, The Sex Pistols held a party on a boat as it sailed down The River Thames in London. The Pistols performed "Anarchy In The UK" outside The Houses Of Parliament resulting in members from the party being arrested when the boat docked later that day.

Future MTV parents Ozzy Osbourne and the former Sharon Arden got hitched in 1982. She already was his personal manager.

Dire Straits started a nine-week run at #1 on the US album chart in 1985 with 'Brothers In Arms.'

In 1986, U2 and Sting headlined a concert in New Jersey celebrating 25 years of Amnesty International.

In 1988, during Bruce Springsteen's stay in Rome during a world tour a photographer took a shot of Bruce in his underpants sharing an intimate moment with his backing singer Patti Scialfa. The picture confirmed the rumours that Bruce and Patti were having an affair.

Nirvana's debut album 'Bleach' was released in the US in 1989. The title for the album came from a poster 'Bleach Your Works' urging drug users to bleach their needles.

In 1989, Pink Floyd appeared in Canal di San Marco, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy on a floating stage. Over 200,000 people attended the gig causing damage to buildings and bridges.

Paula Abdul started a five week run at #1 on the US singles chart in 1991 with "Rush Rush," her 5th US #1.

Carlos Santana’s “comeback” album, “Supernatural” was released in 1999. The set features matchbox 20’s Rob Thomas on the hit “Smooth.”

Jack and Meg make their debut on "The White Stripes" in 1999.

In 2002, a rare autographed copy of The Beatles’ album 'Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band' sold at auction for $57,800, more than five times the estimated price.

Metallica were at #1 on the US album chart in 2003 with ‘St Anger’, the bands fourth US #1.

The iTunes Music Store was launched in France, Germany and the UK in 2004.

Velvet Revolver’s debut album 'Contraband' sells 256,000 copies in its first week of release to nail the top spot on the Billboard 200 Album Chart in 2004.

In 2005, Coldplay went straight to #1 on US album chart with their third album 'X&Y', having already entered at number one in the UK. The last time a British artist had a simultaneous US and UK number one was in November 2000 with '1', a compilation of hits by The Beatles. The last studio album to reach number one on both sides of the Atlantic was Radiohead's 'Kid A' in October 2000. 'X&Y' went on to top over 30 global charts.

Also in 2005, Destiny's Child announced they would disband upon completion of their current world tour.

In 2007, strong winds cause amplification towers to fall canceling performances by Linkin Park, Pearl Jam, the Killers and My Chemical Romance on the second day of the Heineken Jammin' Festival in Venice, Italy. The towers crash into the crowd sending nineteen fans to the hospital. Only one person suffers a serious injury. The rest of the four-day festival was canceled.

Following a 17 year lapse without a studio album, the Steve Miller Band returns with “Bingo!” in 2010. "This is a party record, man,” says Miller. “It's about getting up and getting ready to dance. It's like the fraternity party gigs I used to play in college. I went through and picked all my favorite tunes that I really, really loved.”

Also in 2010 - Metallica rolled out a vinyl version of ‘96 album “Load.” It’s available either in a two-disc gatefold package for the 33.3 version or a four-disc box set, 180-gram, 45-rpm deluxe edition.