Cover Story Interview - The Allman Brothers Band - Where It All Begins
Where It All Begins, by The Allman Brothers Band - a 1994 release on Sony Records, with cover artwork and design produced by Ioannis
With the band celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and in the midst of its annual multi-show run at NYC's Beacon Theater, I thought that it'd be interesting for Cover Story readers to get a look behind the scenes of the making of one of their more-recent record covers - the one for 1994's Where It All Begins, created by the designer/painter Ioannis - in that, like the band, it represents another well-done turn on a classic original effort.
Before the band had established its logo (the first version of the stacked text appearing on their 1979 Enlightened Rogues LP), the band's record covers had featured a wide variety of designs - both photo and illustration-based, including Jim Marshall's iconic photograph used on the cover of their Live At Fillmore East double album and James Flournoy Holmes' illustration for Eat A Peach. However, band insiders (musicians and crew) had their first exposure to a mushroom-based ABB logo in 1970 when tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle was hired by brothers Gregg and Duane to create a tattoo design that would then be distributed to the entire ABB family at a cannabis-fueled party during a stop-over in Columbus, Ohio. This design obviously left a lasting impression (sorry!) on guitarist Dickie Betts, who later suggested that it be included in the design you'll read about shortly.
In 1994, the always-morphing line-up of the Allman Brothers Band consisted of the four living members of the original band - Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny "Jaimoe" Johanson - all who had reunited for their 20th Anniversary tour in 1989 - and added players including guitarist Warren Haynes (the new "hardest working man in show business"), bassist Allen Woody and drummer/percussionist Marc Quinones. Driven by strong play on AOR stations, the record ultimately went gold, but it turned out to be the last one that Mr. Betts would play on, with Mr. Haynes replacing him permanently in 2001.
In as much as their fans love their recordings, it is the band's live performances that have given them the opportunity to play to sold-out crowds for 40 years, so like any manager worth his/her salt, it was important for Bert Hollman to find someone with the talent to produce just the right designs for the band's tour merch. This timely need opened the door for Ioannis into the band's inner world and, based on the fact that the relationship is still strong 15 years later, the band and its fans have been greatly impressed by the now-iconic mushroom-based design. The details of how it all begins are chronicled in today's Cover Story…
In the words of the artist - Ioannis - interviewed December 2008 and January 2009 -
In the early spring of 1994, the small design firm that my brother and I had started was only a couple of years old, so designing the next cover for the Allman Brothers Band was the last thing on my mind at the time. A friend of ours in the merchandising business had been contacted by the band's manager (Bert Hollman) and was asked to provide a design for tour shirts for their upcoming tour, so he called us for help. I sketched a couple of ideas and then packed up the car for the drive up to Massachusetts (from our office in Connecticut) to present them. At the last minute, I decided to take one of my paintings along to show him how my fine art looked.
ABB Tour Art - 1994
Bert turned out to be very down to earth type of guy and one with a great eye and appreciation for artwork. When I showed him my painting, he looked at it long and hard and said "forget the t-shirts for now - what do you think you could do with this?". He then showed me a pencil drawing of a bunch of naked girls dancing around a mushroom. "Dickie (Betts) sent me this" he said, "and we have an album coming out and are in need of a record cover really bad. We are also really behind schedule, so can you put something together in a week?"
At this point, my head was spinning. I was caught totally off guard as I had the whole sales pitch for the designs for the tour merch in my head. "Do we have a title?" I asked. "Epic (the record label) is thinking, 'Greetings from Jupiter', but I don't think we are going with that" he replied. "I like the sketch, but not the naked girls," I said, adding "I guess the mushroom is cool." "Well, that is what I want - to take the mushroom icon to a new level" he replied.
For the entire drive home, ideas started going through my head. I must admit I was never a huge ABB fan when I was a teenager because, growing up in Europe, I was more exposed to Rock and Roll from the U.K.. However, once we moved to the U.S., it was impossible to avoid their music and, more importantly, I thought that it was great! They were the forefathers of "Jam band" music and, to me, they had more in common with Santana and The Grateful Dead and less with Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Southern Rock movement.
When I got home I went through the whole ABB catalogue and noticed that - with the exception of Eat A Peach - there was hardly any illustrated cover art. I decided then that I would do a painting for the main cover image. Around that time, my wife and I (with our 8 month-old daughter in tow) had moved to a new house near the ocean. I had not painted in a long time and, while setting up my new studio, I was inspired and started to paint again, so by the time this commission came about, I had worked out all of the kinks in the process.
ABB Tour Art - 1995
I first hired a friend of mine to shoot a picture of denim fabric that I'd use as the background texture and I then began to sketch the cover artwork. I realized that showing my client pencil sketches was not going to work - they were not going to get the gist of it from sketches - so I proceeded to paint a small 6x6 inch cover in inks and acrylics. I comp'd the whole piece together in two days and then, very nervously, drove it up to Bert's house to show it to him. "This is great" he said. "Let me show it to Dickie and I will get back to you."
About a day or so later he called me with the verdict. "He loved it", he said. "How quick can you get it to the label?" "Well", I replied, "I will need at least a week or so to do the painting". "What painting?", he said. "I thought that WAS the artwork!" (in the years since, we still get a good laugh about that). And so, with my daughter crawling around in the studio, I started the painting.
Although the first two versions were, in my mind, horrible, things started to come together in the third one. I did some airbrushing (mostly for the sky), used enamel marbling on the rocks, and acrylics, pencils and dyes for the details. I decided on a sunset view of the southern bayou with waterfalls and springs in the background and a huge (some would say) phallic psychedelic mushroom coming out of the water as the centerpiece - pure fantasy artwork.
When it was done, I packed it up in my car and, with my friend, took a ride on up to Boston again. The band had rented an old warehouse and had set up to rehearse. Bert led me inside and propped the painting up against the wall. As the band took a break, he brought in each member - one at a time - and showed them the art. One by one, everyone approved, and last one up was Dickie (remember, it was based on his idea - well, sort of!). He took one look at it, turned around and then hugged me, saying "this says to me 'Where It All Begins'." Thus, the title.
After everyone had left, Bert leaned over to me and said "it is a great piece, except that it doesn't look anything like the comp we originally showed to Dickie," and he was right! As I embellished and polished the real painting, I was not paying attention to the original 6" x 6" comp, so although the concept was the same, the artwork bore no resemblance to the sample image that Dickie and the others had originally reviewed. However, everyone liked the new painting so much that no one really had noticed the change.
I then took about a week to do the layouts and package design and brought the whole package to Poughkeepsie, NY where the band was launching its summer tour. Backstage, I showed the artwork to everyone and got pats on the back all around, which is about the best you can hope for as a designer. Later on, I created t-shirt and poster designs for the tour (and even a single).
Thus began a relationship that has lasted to this day. The artwork I did for this project more or less put my art career on a stable path as more commissions for artwork came as a result. I had almost stopped painting - which was my first love - but this piece whetted my appetite and gave me the confidence to paint again. Now I was finally enjoying success as an art director, with a number of new pieces coming out that summer - including a painting that would later become a cover for Lynyrd Skynyrd, as well as tour art for Bon Jovi.
ABB Tour Art - 2007
In 2006 as a VIP guest of legendary drummer Butch Trucks I went to see the ABB at the Beacon Theater in NYC during their now-famous annual "March Run" concert series. There, I ran into a whole bunch of old friends, most notably Kirk West, who is their road manager and general creative guru and historian. I had not sat through a performance in a while, and while leaning against a stack of sound equipment on the old stage just a few feet from Greg Allman, I realized that I was watching an American rock legend kick it into high gear to a sold out crowd who were in the band's grip within just a few minutes.
As the night wore on and the band continued to jam, I watched my artwork projected behind them under the rainbow hues of the stage lighting. There was a moment in time where it all came together for me, just like when I used to fantasize as a kid about my art being part of the fabric of Rock music. I also humbly realized that, looking at the expressions at the sea of faces in the rows in front of me (from my vantage point on the stage,) my small contribution was being cemented into the Allman Brothers Band lore.
Bert Holman calls it "a great piece of artwork and a fan favorite". To this day, it is still reproduced on posters, t-shirts, prints, backdrops and animations used by the band - I have even seen the art bootlegged on t-shirts, patches, tattoos and bandanas! Every time I display the original in an art exhibit, a small crowd gathers in front of the painting. I like the painting myself, but I am not sure if it's the art itself or the fact that it is such a recognized part of the band's iconography. In any case, the tons of complementary e-mails I have received from fans over the years have really made it all worth while.
About the artist - Ioannis -
Ioannis was born in Athens, Greece. In 1967, his family moved to the United States and, at an early age, he became influenced by American comic book artists. He immediately knew he would be an illustrator and began creating and drawing his own comic books, which he then sold around the neighborhood. His love for music pushed his artistic development in a particular direction, with the hopes of one day creating artwork - and, in particular record sleeve design - for the music industry. During his teen years he began painting in different media, developing a unique mixed-media technique combining photographs, several types of paints and mixing traditional and airbrush applications.
As he began college, Ioannis had already begun providing design services to the local independent music acts and labels. In the early 1980s, this expanded to include clients in the New York music scene where his work as a freelance art director increased dramatically. Since then, he has done over 165 record covers/CD packages, along with a vast catalog of promotional material, merchandise and tour art for a diverse series of clients in the Classic Rock, Metal, Jazz, Prog Rock, World music, alternative, and electronic genres.
Some of his music clients have included Universal Records, Sony Records and Sanctuary Records Group, providing designs for Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, STYX, Blue Oyster Cult, Dream Theater, King Crimson, Yngwie Malmsteen, Biohazard, Sepultura, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Quiet Riot, Dokken, Johnny Winter, Extreme, UFP, The Tubes, Eddie Money, Van Zant, Saga, and many more. In 1994, he was one of 80 artists selected to create a mural at Woodstock II, and his works have been featured in many magazines, books and exhibitions worldwide.
His design firm - VIVID IMAGES CREATIVE - also creates film posters, entertainment company ID programs for Radio and TV companies and programs, websites and viral campaigns for entertainment clients, while his merchandising company - DANGEROUS AGE GRAPHICS - showcases, sells and promotes his original artwork (original works have been selling recently in the $25 - $50K range). He is also currently working on a series of exhibits nationally as well as on a video game based on my art, a ROCK METAL book, and an apparel line of his designs.
To learn more about Ioannis, please visit his website
To learn more about The Allman Brothers Band, please visit their website
To see some of the new special edition prints produced by Ioannis, please visit the RockPoP Gallery site
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