Featured Fan Portfolio – RISD Album Art show curator Robert Garzillo

Featured Fan Portfolio – Robert Garzillo, Curator of the “Jackets Required: 40 Years of Album Cover Design” exhibition on display at the Rhode Island School of Design’s Fleet Library from Jan. 7 through Mar. 27th, 2o15

(intro by Mike Goldstein, Curator/Editor, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com)

Earlier in February, I reported on a new show on display at the Rhode Island School of Design’s Fleet Library that I felt would be of great interest to fans of great design and, more specifically, great album cover design. As I described in my article, the show, titled “Jackets Required: 40 Years of Album Cover Design” was organized by librarian (and accomplished record collector) Robert Garzillo and includes 100 covers of records that were released during the years 1940 – 1980 featuring the work of many ACHOF “Early Influencers”, including Alex Steinweiss, Saul Bass, Jim Flora, Josef Albers, Andy Warhol and others. The covers represent music released in a number of different genres and give the viewer a good sense of how album art both reflected the designs of the times and also helped take record packaging in new directions.

RISD Album Cover Art Display

Josef Albers album cover design












(Top – album art samples on show’s 2nd floor; Bottom – selection of album covers featuring the art of Josef Albers)

I also stated at the time that I hoped to have more about this show – and the person who put it all together – and it is with great pleasure that I’m now able to live up to that commitment. After contacting Robert and learning a bit more about him and his passion for album cover art, I pitched the idea to him that he should consider working with me on an article that I’d feature in the ACHOF’s “Featured Album Cover Fan Collections” section. This is the best place on our site for someone with his knowledge about – and passion for – album cover imagery to share his own list of favorites, and so I’m happy to provide him with such a platform today.

I asked Robert to first tell us a little about himself, what he does for a living, and then what brought him to the place where he’d commit his time and energies to organizing a show at the Rhode Island School of Design – a place that has launched the careers of a number of notable designers, artists, musicians and others with a zeal for all things creative (and the talents to make it their careers). I also asked him to give me his take on the importance of album cover imagery in today’s music business and whether he thinks it helps reflect – or influence – trends in Pop Culture even now. Finally, he presented me with a list of his favorite cover designs, along with reasons why these designs rose above all others in his personal “best of” line-up – I think that you’ll find his choices both illuminating and well-considered. So, without any further delay, on to my discussion with Robert….

In the words of today’s subject, Robert Garzillo (interviewed February, 2015) –

Robert Garzillo Album Cover Art Curator







(Show curator Robert Garzillo)

I was born in Trenton, NJ in 1959 and mostly lived in NJ until 1991. I graduated from Rutgers University with a Bachelor of Arts degree, adding a Master of Library Sciences degree from Indiana University. I worked for a few years as a librarian at two other colleges in NJ before accepting a position as a librarian at RISD in 1991.

Books and albums were something you typically found in homes while I was growing-up in the 1960s and 70s. Having two older sisters with record collections was a big help too, plus my parents had a collection of Sinatra, jazz and soundtrack records. I was an active music listener as early as I can remember – I’m from a part of New Jersey where we could tune into both NYC stations like WABC (with DJs like “Cousin Brucie”) and WIBG out of Philadelphia with Jerry Blavat. When I was listening to music in the house, I was also often looking at the album covers. While I attended Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ, in the late 1970s to early 1980s, I spent many hours at a record store called Cheap Thrills; plenty of my LPs were acquired at that great shop. During these years at college, I found work at a couple of music stores and began building a record collection. I also played guitar, drums and sang in an amateur band called The O5Os in the mid-1980s.

Alex Steinweiss album cover designs







(Selection of covers by Alex Steinweiss)

As I mentioned previously, for the past 20+ years I’ve worked at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Library, where I’m constantly surrounded by books on art and design, so it wasn’t a stretch to combine the two, design and album covers, when I came up with the idea for this show. One of the keys to sparking the idea for the exhibition was the publication of a book, Alex Steinweiss: The Inventor of the Modern Album Cover, by Taschen in 2011. I’d never seen such an impressive book – over 400 oversize pages – on a single graphic designer. I was of course also impressed with his covers. He did hundreds of them for Columbia Records between 1940 to 1954, and hundreds more for labels including Decca, London, Everest, Coral and others between 1955 and the mid-1960s. I realized I had some of his covers in my own collection and I began to search out more. Most of his album cover designs were for classical, jazz or easy listening styles of music, which are fairly easy to find and inexpensive. Most of the 20 Steinweiss covers in my exhibition were acquired for only a few dollars or less.

The book also details Steinweiss’ connection to other well-known cover artists such as Jim Flora, Bob Jones, Jim Amos, and Neil Fujita, who are also represented in my exhibition. But even without that book, I’d always wanted to do an album cover exhibition. I knew it would look good, but it would also be my chance to pay tribute to the many great artists who have done album cover work like Warhol, Reid Miles, Lee Friedlander, Richard Avedon, Milton Glaser, etc. I had previously done a much smaller exhibition years ago which primarily focused on LP & 45 covers of music made by RISD alumni such as the Talking Heads, so this would be the next obvious step in my effort to promote great album art.

The show also gave me the chance to include more covers by RISD graphic design alums. One of the more-famous examples is Tom Geismar, partner in the firm of Chermayeff and Geismar. That firm is most well-known for corporate design work such as logos, etc., but they also did lots of print work including album covers. I have two covers the firm did for Command Records in the early 1960s – Vibrations and Bongos, Flutes and Guitars – in my exhibition. Other artists not included in the exhibition include the photographer Henry Horenstein, a RISD alumnus and current faculty member who did cover photos for Rounder Records and authored a book, Honky Tonk: Portraits of Country Music, 1972-1981, published by Chronicle Books in 2003. A more recent grad, Shepard Fairey, known for his mural and street art works, has also done music related graphic design and artwork. As previously mentioned, many bands have formed at RISD that went on to notable careers such as Rubber Rodeo, The Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, and current groups like Lightning Bolt and Fang Island, who have designed their own albums and posters.

Frasconi album cover designs







(Album covers featuring the art of master woodcutter Antonio Frasconi)

While my personal interest is mainly on earlier music and covers, I must note that vinyl album sales have continued to grow during the past 8 years or so. They still represent less than 5% of total sales but, at least, these numbers are increasing while CD sales are going in the opposite direction. There are definitely musicians that care deeply about their cover art work; Jack White is an obvious example.  So I think album art still matters, and those with an interest in labels such as Blue Note are greatly rewarded with their research into earlier designs and designers.

I strongly believe album cover art helps document an era as it is part of the greater material culture which is currently a hot topic for writers, designers and scholars doing any kind of historical research. I think music can drive or change culture, but album covers are more a reflection of the culture. Album covers are also, unfortunately, just examples of another physical object, like written letters, that are disappearing in the present digital age.

Bob Dylan Bringing It All Back Home album cover art









1. Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home, 1965.

The songs on this LP were different than anything I’d heard until that point. Other than, say, “Stranded in the Jungle” on one of my sister’s “Oldies but Goodies” LPs, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the lyrics. It didn’t take much absorption to get the words to “I Want To Hold Your Hand” or “She Loves You” (“yeah, yeah, yeah”). But because this record’s music warranted more attention, I also gave more attention to the LP cover. A great color photograph by Daniel Kramer, with Dylan looking wan and strange and holding a kitten, as well as a beautiful NYC woman and lots of LPs, magazines, etc. to look at. Was it Dylan’s apartment? It was not, I found-out much later. Now I also like the white border and the red and blue lettering since, in my opinion, Columbia Records always had the best art directors of the major labels at the time. There was a lot to read and try to make sense of on the back cover and the record contains one of my all-time favorite Dylan songs, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”

The Beatles Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover art








2. The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967.

This was another of my sister’s LPs which received a lot of air-play at the house, and it was the first record I remember having the lyrics printed on the back cover. That meant having the cover in your hands while playing the record, giving me lots of time to flip the cover over to check out the great artwork by Peter Blake and Jann Haworth on the front. I think this was one of the first albums to not have the standard black type on white paper back cover, too. It’s been one of the most famous and copied covers of all-time and, in my opinion, the cover that really changed everything – for better or worse – in LP cover design. The recording artists, if they were big enough, could now pick their own artist/cover designers.

The Who Sell Out album cover art








3. The Who, The Who Sell Out, 1967.

A pop art classic. I guess I understand why Daltrey had to be on the front cover, but had I been the designer, I would have put Moon on the front with Townsend. Pete’s giant deodorant and Moon’s huge tube of acne cream are pure 1960’s British pop art in the style of Richard Hamilton. The album jacket functions as a two-sided front cover really – divided into four equal parts.

13th Floor Elevators Psychedelic Sounds album cover art








4. 13th Floor Elevators, The Psychedelic Sounds of …, 1966.

In my opinion, the best psychedelic cover for the greatest US psychedelic band, with Roky Erickson being one of the best rock and roll vocalists of any period. The green and red colors, the eye and the pyramid, and the spots and dots of hallucinogenic drugs are all present and accounted for. It’s a true 1960’s classic.

Velvet Underground and Nico album cover








5. The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground and Nico, 1967.

This was Andy Warhol’s classic pop art LP cover. The music was like nothing else at the time – Nico’s voice, Cale’s viola, Moe’s drumming and Lou’s lyrics. The banana cover also matched the different-ness of the music; the music and the cover illustration were great art that now seem inseparable. The LP cover and the music made you feel you were in on something great, and something that would not be matched until many years later.

Bob Dylan & The Band Basement Tapes album cover art





6. Bob Dylan & The Band, The Basement Tapes, 1975, recorded 1967.

This record was packaged in a gatefold LP cover, with one large photographic image to examine. The cover seemed to illustrate as much as the two records gave us to listen to. The Band were blessed with three great singers in Richard, Rick and Levon, giving listeners a taste of Americana (well, Canadian-Americana!) well before the term was coined to describe this type of music. The Band’s songs mixed with Dylan’s and made for a great listening experience. The musicians and the carnival performers made for an interesting viewing experience too. Photograph was taken by the great designer Reid Miles, best known for is Blue Note jazz LP covers.

Flaming Groovies album cover art








7. Flamin’ Groovies, Teenage Head, 1971.

The music and the cover present a return to the fun of basic, old school rock and roll. A candid, casual and unpretentious color photo by Peter Hujar was taken at one of the band member’s home studio.  The image made you wish you were there or, at least, going out to hear them play live. Hujar was a friend of the band who later became famous for his black & white portrait photographs, and who would himself die too young in 1987.

Patti Smith Horses album cover art








8. Patti Smith, Horses, 1975.

On the cover is a black & white photograph of Smith by her close friend Robert Mapplethorpe. The photo was produced with a Polaroid camera in natural daylight, very of the moment – beat poetry meets garage rock and roll. As Lenny Kaye said, “it’s a nugget if you dug it.” The record label wanted to alter the photo, but Smith refused to allow that to happen. The record and the image were so unlike Frampton Comes Alive and other records of the era.

The Ramones album cover art








9. The Ramones, Ramones [1st LP], 1976.

Another black & white photograph on an LP cover, this time by Roberta Bayley. Bayley was a photographer who chronicled the NYC music scene at CBGBs, Max’s Kansas City, etc. The band and the cover look like nothing else around at the time – no color, not attractive, no real attempt at attractiveness, on and of “the street”. A perfect cover for one of the all-time great debut albums.

Talking Heads More Songs Album Cover art








10. Talking Heads, More Songs about Buildings and Food, 1978.

Which Talking Heads LP cover to pick? They all look great and each has their own merits. The later ones were produced by M & Co., a graphic design firm run by the now-late Tibor Kalman, a figure still very influential in the design world. “More Songs …” presents Byrne’s idea of using hundreds of color Polaroid photographs to depict the band. The cover image was fractured and intense – just like Talking Heads’ music at the time.

To see more details regarding Robert’s show at RISD (in Providence, RI) – which will be on display until March 27th, 2015 – please follow the linkhttp://library.risd.edu/exhibitions-current.html


2 responses to “Featured Fan Portfolio – RISD Album Art show curator Robert Garzillo

  1. Thanks for another informative read. The exhibition sounds great. I’ve often thought about how one might curate LPs for such a show; with gatefolds, multi-panel fold-outs, die-cut covers, etc. Your post give some clues!