Featured Album Cover Fan Collection – highlights from the collection of film-maker Eric Christensen
by Mike Goldstein, Curator, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com
March 28, 2014
In the intro for the ACHOF’s Featured Fan Collection section, I recounted my personal motivations for assembling a collection of album cover art prints and noted that I figured that there were others like me who’d followed a similar path – I would just have to find them! Well, luckily for me, I have found a kindred soul in Eric Christensen, the subject of today’s feature. While Eric did get a jump on me – beginning his career in the music business in the 1960s – it’s fascinating to see the similarities in how we both grew, in many cases, to appreciate the visual aspects of the record business as much as the music. What’s impressive about Eric and his collections are their sheer size and the degree to which he has incorporated his love of albums and their packaging into many aspects of his career over the years.
Eric’s long history in the music business began with jobs in rock and roll radio, where he worked in the San Francisco Bay area with record and concert producer Tom Donahue, allowing him to have amazing access to the bands that toured through the area at the time, including The Beatles, The Byrds, The Supremes and many other notables. He continued to work in radio until the early 1970s, after which he branched out into the film-making and television programming business, producing films and TV specials based on concert events, tours and major sporting events. Retiring in the mid-2000’s from a 30+ year career in network TV, Eric began a new phase in his career as an independent film maker and, as is clear from the subjects of his efforts since then – the 1966 Trips Festival (often considered the ultimate 60’s counter-culture event) in a film released in 2007 (and still featured in festivals to this day) and his subsequent film efforts, described below – his focus on highlighting and educating the viewers of his work about the importance of music and art in popular culture remains unchecked (his complete bio is included at the end of this article).
I’d first contacted Eric early in 2013 after reading about the release of a documentary film he’d produced and directed called The Cover Story – Album Art. While album cover art and artists have been the subject of a wide range of books, articles and exhibitions, there have only been a smattering of films or videos dedicated to the subject and, as ACHOF curator, it was my sworn duty to find out more about the film and its creator. Well, as they say, “timing is everything” and both Eric and I found ourselves busy and unable to catch up with each other until early this year, right after I saw the illustrated article he’d written that you’ll find in Juxtapoz Magazine‘s “Psychedelic 60s” issue (March 2014) about “the Big Five” of San Francisco’s psychedelic art scene – artists Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, and Wes Wilson.
I dropped him a note congratulating him on his article and hinted that I’d like to do an article about selections from his own collection and, as fate would have it, he was available to work with me and, as I think you’ll see as you page through text and images included the following Featured Fan Collection essay (with commentary provided by Eric), his love and appreciation of the album cover art-form is unique and illuminating.
Before we begin though, Eric would like to provide us with an introduction to his album cover film project and give us a bit more of a backgrounder as to why he feels so passionately about the subject:
“One day, I was looking at my collection of nearly 10,000 albums and had the thought that, not only do I have an amazing collection of music, I also have an amazing collection of artwork produced by the best photographers and the best graphic artists in the world. I had met many of the musicians and artists during my days in radio and television and I knew that there were stories to be told about many of these iconic albums. While the music was the ‘soundtracks of our lives,’ the covers were the visual beacons. Often, the covers reflected what the music was like and, sometimes, the covers became even more famous than the music.
Nearly a decade ago, when Napster and other file-sharing sites became popular, my then-12- year-old son looked at my collection of LP’s and asked, ‘Dad, why do you need all of those when I can get any song right here on my computer and smart phone?’ I then reached over to the shelf and took out one of the fold-out albums – one with great artwork, liner notes and lyrics – and replied ‘THIS is why! You can’t get a lot of this on a phone, and the images are just so small.’ So, woven into the fabric of my documentary is the overriding question ‘Are we losing irreplaceable artifacts in the age of digital downloads?’ I think many will agree that we are.”
Blind Faith’s Blind Faith cover (1969), with cover model Mariora Goschen, by Bob Seidemann
Because it is the centerpiece of my documentary The Cover Story-Album Art, and because I was fascinated by the story behind the young girl on the cover (and how they got away with doing such a controversial and provocative cover), the Blind Faith cover is at the top of my list. Photographed by Bob Seidemann, the photo on the cover features a then-eleven-year-old Mariora Goschen. I’ve known Seidemann since the 1960’s and, just a few years ago, I tracked down Mariora and did the first on-camera interview with her about the cover. I wanted to know how she felt about it then, why she never talked about it for decades, and how she feels about it now. The amazing story behind the image makes it an even more compelling album cover. It’s a cover that couldn’t have been produced a few years before or for many years after. Atlantic Records’ head Ahmet Ertegun rejected the cover as inappropriate, but Eric Clapton insisted it be used. 700,000 were printed and then an alternative cover – featuring a photograph of the band – was produced for the super-group’s first U.S. album release.
Santana Supernatural, by Michael Rios
The cover for Santana’s Supernatural (which has sold over 30 million copies worldwide) was done by San Francisco artist Michael Rios. It reflects the Latin and spiritual sides of Carlos Santana perfectly. Album covers often reflect the music in their choice of artistic style. When I met Rios, he was very much like Carlos, as both had lived in the Mission District of San Francisco, a neighborhood that I grew up in. In fact, Carlos Santana and I went to the same junior high school at the same time. The album’s art was originally titled “Mumbo Jumbo” and you can see the letters for that title worked into the artwork. It’s a shame that most of the 30 million sold were on CD, where the image is way too small, but if you are one of the few lucky ones to find the fold out LP, you can really appreciate the artwork in its full splendor.
The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, by Sir Peter Blake
On my list of favorite album cover images, you can’t leave out some of the obvious ones, so the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band needs to be included. This is another of the albums that lost so much of its impact when the 12-inch LP was reduced in size to a CD. When it was released, we all spent hours looking at that image and, while the music was a breakthrough, so was the artwork.
The Beatles – Yesterday and Today “Butcher Cover”, photo by Robert Whitaker
Here’s the story behind the framed cover for the “butcher cover” for the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today I have on display. When The Beatles album Yesterday and Today came out packaged in the so called “Butcher cover” – which showed The Beatles in white smocks with pieces of meat and dismembered dolls laid around them – it was considered “inappropriate” by some dealers and Capitol Records recalled it quickly. When the record came out, I was working for legendary San Francisco disc jockey Tom Donahue at Autumn Records and Tempo Productions. My after-school job back then was stuffing envelopes with records to deliver to the nearly 100 radio stations Tempo Productions helped advise and service with records brought by the San Francisco promotion men. Most of the stations serviced were in small markets in the West. The Capitol Records promotion man Jon Sagan dropped off 100 promotional copies of the poster that accompanied the album, and it had the words “Incredible!” on the poster directly over the Yesterday and Today original cover art. I immediately rolled up two copies of the poster and put them under my desk. Before I had a chance to mail the other 98 out to the stations, Sagan came back and said, “I’ve got to get them back – they recalled the album because of the cover.” He got 98 back; I got two. One of them now hangs on my wall.
Rolling Stones – Their Satanic Majesties Request, photo by Michael Cooper
Their Satanic Majesties Request by the Rolling Stones – with its lenticular image on the cover – is also a classic. It is emblematic of an era that the artists – both musicians and graphic designers – were allowed to do what they wanted and no expense was spared. I especially like the fact that images of The Beatles were included and that you have to really search to find them in that cover photo.
I am compelled to honor the era of psychedelic art that came out of San Francisco in the 1960’s, as those were my formative years and, as a teenager living in the Haight-Ashbury district during the Summer of Love, I got to meet most of the great musicians and artists. In fact, the artist Victor Moscoso moved into the house I was raised in went I went off to UC Berkeley in 1966. Victor’s cover for the Steve Miller Band’s Children of the Future is an incredible example of Victor’s use of color, lettering, and mind-altering design.
Top to bottom – “Aoxomoxoa” by Rick Griffin and “Skeleton & Roses” by Kelley and Mouse (both for the Grateful Dead) and Jim Flora’s cover for Louis Armstrong’s 1947 Hot 5, Vol. 2 LP, all framed and on my wall.
Another of the iconic artists who came from that era is Rick Griffin, whose artwork for posters and album covers are among the best examples of psychedelic art. I have the framed poster for the Grateful Dead’s “Aoxomoxoa” on my wall and I never tire of looking at it. It’s use of color, lettering, and sexual imagery stands out as artwork that draws you in and takes you to another state of consciousness.
Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley’s Skeleton and Roses image that was used for The Grateful Dead album and became the logo for the band. It was based on a found image by Edmund J. Sullivan from the 1913 edition of Omar Khayyam’s Rubiyat.
You can’t think of the Grateful Dead without that image and a signed print lives on my wall right below Rick Griffin’s “Aoxomox0a.”
Also among my favorite records s is Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five Vol.2 on Columbia Records, with cover art by Jim Flora. Flora’s fantastic artwork graces the covers of dozens of my favorite albums, but the best example of his work is on the 1947 Armstrong cover, where you’ll find a cartoon of a suspended Armstrong chasing a trumpet while a trombone, clarinet, banjo and piano float around him. Flora’s biographer described his work this way, “His designs pulsed with angular hepcats bearing funnel-tapered noses and shark fin chins, who fingered cockeyed pianos and honked lollipop hued horns.” A close second and third choices of work by Jim Flora include his cover for Gene Krupa and his Orchestra, a 1947 Columbia Records release, and his cover for Lord Buckley’s Hipsters, Flipsters, and Finger Poppin’ Daddies Knock Me Your Lobes.
One more great artist living in the Haight in the 1960s was cartoonist Robert Crumb, and his artwork graced the iconic cartoon-style cover of Big Brother and the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills. As I found out doing an interview with the group’s guitarist Peter Albin, the original title was going to be “Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Thrills” but Columbia Records thought that it was a bit much, even for the 1960’s and a group that featured singer Janis Joplin. I also found out from Peter that Crumb originally submitted a “stick drawing” style image of the band – with photographs of their heads attached -showing them playing at the Fillmore, but the band thought it looked like a high school yearbook drawing and hated it. However, they did like his idea of a cartoon with the record’s song titles that Crumb intended for the back cover. That was moved to the front, and the rest is history… an iconic cover that reflected the image of the band and Janis Joplin that lives on.
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here, by Storm Thorgerson/Hipgnosis
My favorite of the more-contemporary album cover designers is the late Englishman Storm Thorgerson. His work is closely associated with Pink Floyd, but he had done work for so many more musical acts. It is difficult to pick just one cover, but I suppose Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here – the one showing two men shaking hands, while one of them is on fire – best illustrates his approach. Many people call his work surreal, but Storm said that it was not so – his works are, in fact, very real. In the days before Photoshop, he set up compositions and took the pictures exactly the way they looked. In fact, he said that the man who was set on fire for the Wish You Were Here cover actually burned his mustache.
Another of the British artists I greatly admire is Roger Dean. His other-worldly covers for Yes and other British groups stand out. In fact, many say his work directly influenced filmmaker James Cameron in the look for his movie, Avatar.
YES – Tales From Topographic Oceans, by Roger Dean
I loved his work immediately, but when I interviewed him for my documentary The Cover Story-Album Art, I found him to be one of the nicest, most intelligent and articulate people I have ever met. He is a true gentleman and a great artist. I suppose my favorite album cover among his vast works would be Yes’s Tales From Topographic Oceans.
About our subject, Eric Christensen –
Eric Christensen was born and raised in San Francisco and directed early into a career in the music business and media. In the late fifties, along with his brother, the two of them began collecting records and working after school at a local rock radio station. That led to after school jobs during junior high school that eventually led to Eric opportunity to work for the legendary Tom Donahue. Tom began Autumn Records and Tempo Productions in the early sixties, and Eric worked mailing out records and as a production assistant. His job also included working at the famed Cow Palace on shows that included musical acts such as the Supremes, Righteous Brothers, Sonny and Cher, The Byrds, Lovin’ Spoonful and many other top acts of the day, as well as the only two San Francisco appearances of The Beatles in 1964-65.
While at the University of California at Berkeley in the late sixties, Eric helped produce the “People’s Park Bail Benefit” concerts at Winterland and the Longshoreman’s Hall with The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joan Baez and Phil Ochs. After working part time in underground radio, Eric was hired by ABC in 1970 and became program director of KSFX, directing a staff that included Paul Krassner, Tony Pigg, Tommy Saunders, Mary Turner, Bob Simmons and many more. Eric left rock radio in 1972 to begin a career in documentaries, first focusing on the life of Tibetan refugees with the film A Light In The Dragon’s Eye. This film included one of the first English-speaking interviews with His Holiness, The Dalai Lama.
In 1974, Eric began a long career with ABC television, working as Arts & Entertainment producer for Channel 7 in San Francisco. He later switched to being a sports producer and, during that phase of his career, he covered numerous Super Bowls, the Olympics, baseball’s World Series and other big events.
In 1977, Eric traveled to Japan with a group of musicians that included Jackson Browne, Richie Havens, Warren Zevon, Danny O’Keefe, Country Joe Mc Donald, Mimi Farina, Odetta, Fred Neil, and many more to document the “Rolling Coconut Review” concert in Tokyo that helped fund the “Save The Whale” movement.
Eric’s work in 1977 continued as he produced and directed a film for Bill Graham Presents titled A Day On The Green, capturing a July concert of one of BGP’s series by that name that featured Peter Frampton, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Santana. His historic version of “Freebird” captured at that show was featured in a 1997 documentary on Lynyrd Skynyrd and has been viewed nearly one million times on You Tube. In 1978, Eric became one of the founding producers for Video West, a San Francisco video collective that produced some of the earliest rock videos and also produced news stories for the brand-new MTV music television network.
In 1997, Eric produced the “Summer of Love” memorabilia auction that raised thousands of dollars for the Haight-Ashbury Medical Clinic, the Bill Graham Foundation, Bread & Roses and Camp Winnarainbow. After retiring from ABC 7 in July 2006, Eric began a new career in independent film making. His first documentary – The Trips Festival – premiered on October 10, 2007 at the Mill Valley Film Festival with two sold-out screenings. Over the past eight years, The Trips Festival has been shown at various film festivals including The Silicon Valley Video and Film Festival in 2012 and The High Times “World Marijuana Film Festival”, where it won the prize for best documentary. It has been used as a tool by various academic institutions and professors who are teaching the effects of the Counter Culture on today’s world.
The Cover Story – Album Art DVD Cover
Eric released The Cover Story-Album Art in January 2013 to great reviews and critical acclaim. It premiered at Mill Valley’s Sweetwater Music Hall on January 26 to an overflow crowd and was followed by a panel discussion with Eric and musicians Norman Greenbaum (Spirit In The Sky), Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads) and Peter Albin (Big Brother and the Holding Co.) along with artists Michael Rios (Santana’s Supernatural) and George Hunter (The Charlatans) and photographers Ethan Russell (Beatles, Rolling Stones, and The Who covers) and Bob Seidemann (Blind Faith, Jackson Browne covers).
Eric is currently working with his former ABC TV colleague, John Turner, on a documentary about the mysterious Korla Pandit, a pioneering television star of the 1950’s.
Eric continues to collect records, but now only for the covers.
To learn more about Eric’s latest film, please visit his website at http://thecoverstoryalbumart.com/
All images featured in this story are Copyright 2013 – 2014 Eric Christensen – All rights reserved – and are used by the artist’s permission. Except as noted, all other text Copyright 2014 – Mike Goldstein, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com (www.albumcoverhalloffame.com) & RockPoP Productions – All rights reserved.