Category Archives: Album Cover Artist Interviews

Interviews with album cover designers, illustrators and photographers

Interview with Kosh – Linda Ronstadt’s Lush Life album cover

Interview with Kosh about the making of the album cover art and packaging for Linda Ronstadt’s Lush Life, a 1984 release on Asylum Records

Kosh, John Kosh, designer, art director, Linda Ronstadt, album cover, record cover, record sleeve, package, sleeve, Lush Life, Grammy, Grammy Award, award winner





by Mike Goldstein, Curator, 

You may recall my recent interview with David Larkham about his long-standing creative collaboration with Elton John and the many album cover projects they worked on together. What I neglected to mention was that there were a number of such partnerships that produced many of our favorite images for record packages (and merchandise, stage sets, music videos, etc.) over the years. Other examples include historic couplings such as Pink Floyd and Hipgnosis, Anton Corbijn and U2, George DuBose and The Ramones, Peter Travers and The Moody Blues, Roger Dean and YES, Cal Schenkel and Frank Zappa, James Marsh and Talk Talk and many others. These examples help illustrate the importance of the establishment of a “shared vision” between a musical act and the person/people entrusted to build a visual identity for that act and, once that synergy has been established, how it can grow into an integral part of how that act is seen – and appreciated – by its fans.

One sterling example of such a relationship is that between recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Linda Ronstadt and the Grammy-winning designer/art director known as “Kosh”. Since the young designer met the singer in the mid-1970s (after her success with her Grammy-winning country-rock masterpiece, 1974’s Heart Like A Wheel, with design by Rod Dyer and photo by her friend Eve Babitz), the two talented artists have joined forces to release two dozen (!!) great albums, with Kosh and his team winning three Grammy Awards for “Best Recording Package” for their work over the years. The third Grammy was awarded in 1985 for Kosh’s cover designs for Lush Life, the second of three albums of big band jazz-era pop standards, with arrangements – and musical bed – provided by bandleader Nelson Riddle.

Released in November, 1984. the immensely popular record quickly became a platinum-seller, with Linda earning a Grammy Award nomination (in 1986) for “Best Pop Vocal Performance – Female” for her rendition of the title song, Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” (while she didn’t win for this particular song, Linda did go on to win 11 Grammys during her illustrious career). The first record in the trilogy of recordings dedicated to “the great American songbook” – 1983’s What’s New – established the now-popular practice of rock singers adding their own unique stylings to the classic tunes of a bygone era, with its commercial and critical success proving the viability of such projects to other artists and record labels going forward.  The Lush Life record project would again be honored by the Recording Academy when Nelson Riddle, who died in late 1985, was posthumously awarded a 1985 Grammy Award for “Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying A Vocal” at the 28th Annual Grammy Award ceremony in early 1986 for the title track, “Lush Life”.

With Ms. Ronstadt’s induction into this year’s class of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame fresh in our memories, I contacted the still quite-busy Mr. Kosh in his studios in the Los Angeles area to ask him to give us his take on the making of the package for Lush Life, along with his feelings about his team, his creative partnership with Ms. Ronstadt and the general state of music packaging and graphics these days.  I think that – quite understandably – this relationship thrived on a mutual sense of admiration of the talents each party brought to the table, as you’ll see evidenced in the following transcript…

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Interview with David Larkham – Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album cover

Interview with David Larkham – The making of the album cover artwork for Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

David Larkham, Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, album cover, album cover art, record sleeve, Ian Beck, interview, Mike Goldstein, Album Cover Hall of Fame








by Mike Goldstein, curator,

April 18, 2014

Like great music, great art always stands the test of time.

Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road came as the result of several short-but-very-productive song-writing/recording efforts by Elton, Bernie Taupin, his bandmates and his producer and, although the record received rather lukewarm reviews from some critics at the time, it went on to be Elton’s best-selling studio recording, from which emerged his much-beloved show opening sequence (“Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”), three huge hit singles (“Bennie & The Jets”, “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” and the title cut) and a song (“Candle In The Wind”) – originally written in honor of Marilyn Monroe and re-written in 1997 as a tribute to the passing of Princess Diana – that then became the second best-selling single of all time. His seventh studio record, it was undeniably the record that launched Mr. John into the Pop music stratosphere.  So much for the critics and their ability to appreciate a work’s overall importance in both the portfolio of an influential artist and the ongoing development of the Pop music genre.

No such difficulty exists when considering the enduring impact of David Larkham‘s designs for Elton John throughout the years. The original package for this double album – and its 3-panel design – was also, in itself, quite unique and memorable. With that much album real estate to fill, it was an extraordinary feat accomplished by the album cover team who delivered six panels of impressive design, illustration, photography and typography, featuring individual illustrations for each song included on the record as well as the lyrics which, at least for me, made the listening experience all the more enjoyable (and dependent on having the album cover close at hand).

David Larkham, Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, album cover, album cover art, record sleeve, Ian Beck, interview, Mike Goldstein, Album Cover Hall of Fame






Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 40th Anniversary Set

Late 2013 marked the 40th anniversary of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road‘s release and, in March, 2014, an imposing 40th anniversary “super deluxe re-release” package was produced containing five discs (two of which were of a particularly well-performed 1973 concert played in London’s Hammersmith Odeon and another containing covers of GYBR songs by a number of current musical faves) and a DVD of a documentary titled Elton John and Bernie Taupin Say Goodbye to Norma Jean and Other Things. The set also included a 100-page illustrated hardback book of rare photos, memorabilia and articles containing interviews with Elton John and Bernie Taupin. I caught up with Mr. Larkham in late February of this year and have worked with him since to bring ACHOF fans an updated, behind-the-scenes look at how this remarkable album package was conceived and assembled by a team of highly-talented artists, working with a client who was about to become the biggest pop star in the world….

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Interview with Shauna & Sarah Dodds on their Grammy-winning album cover for Reckless Kelly

Interview with Shauna and Sarah Dodds, Backstage Design, winners of 2013 Grammy Award for “Best Recording Package” for their work on Reckless Kelly’s Long Night Moon

By Mike Goldstein, Curator,
March 21, 2014

Dodds, Backstage, Design, Studio, Grammy, Reckless Kelly, Shauna, Sarah, Long Night Moon, album cover








While most of the press coverage of the annual Grammy Awards show is focused on the nominees and winners in the dozen or so “major” categories, there’s a lot of talent on display in some of the lesser-promoted award categories that, given some additional attention by the show’s producers, press and music/art fans that might not be aware of them, would serve both to excite those exposed to their works and serve to show just how imaginative, innovative and influential producers of music packaging and imagery remain today.

And while there are those that insist that, due to the swing from retail to digital distribution of music and music products, album cover packaging and album art in general is less important today than other forms of marketing and promotion, I’d like to point to this year’s winning design for “Best Recording Package” – awarded to Shauna and Sarah Dodds of Austin, TX’s Backstage Design – as a great example of just how shallow this train of thought seems to be. In today’s extremely noisy music marketing arena, it takes a well-honed sense of what it takes to rise above the din and deliver a package to an act’s fans – both existing and new – that engages them and gives them a sense of intimacy with the act, it’s music and the people behind “the brand”. I think that, when you take into account the depth and diversity of what the winning design team created for their clients, you’ll agree that they delivered a package that perfectly illustrates what can – and must – be done to keep the art of music packaging relevant and exciting for artists and fans alike.

In the following interview, Shauna and Sarah give us an intimate look into their creative process, the challenging design and production briefs for the project and an unimaginable display of knowledge of lunar maps – enjoy!

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Interview with Ian Cuttler – the making of The Legend – Johnny Cash album package

Interview with art director Ian Cuttler Sala, winner of the 2006 Grammy Award (48th Annual) for “Best Boxed or Special Limited-Edition Package” for his work on The Legend – Johnny Cash on Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings

Ian Cuttler, art director, Grammy, Grammy Award, Columbia Records, interview, Mike Goldstein, package




Edited from the original interview which was published in March, 2006 and reprinted to note the untimely passing of Mr. Cuttler Sala in February, 2014, killed in a car crash while in Los Angeles…

GRAMMY-winning packaging – how it all comes together.

You have to admit it – the nominees for the 48th Annual GRAMMY Awards in these categories represented artists – both musical and graphic – from a wide variety of genres and disciplines. From the covers for an Alabama gospel/folk project and two leading female indie songwriters, to the packaging of multi-CD retrospectives on Sir Ray, The Man in Black, and NY’s premium purveyors of punk, every package spoke volumes of what lay inside the shrink wrap.

Recent research has shown that nearly 20% of all music purchases are affected directly from the impression made by the packaging, so these graphic first impressions have become even more important to an industry dealing with music delivered in new ways (including sans package!).

Mexican-born artist Ian Cuttler Sala has been living in New York City for the past 9 years, where he has excelled in his career as Senior Art Director for Sony Music. He has successfully art directed and designed a wide variety of projects such as Louis Armstrong: The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings (which was also nominated at the 43rd Annual GRAMMY Awards. Other projects in his rooster include CD packaging and campaigns for recording artists such as Beyonce, Destiny´s Child, Ricky Martin, Mariah Carey, Julio Iglesias, and Marc Anthony, among others. ¨This is just the beginning” Cuttler Sala claims. Even though he is well-established as an industry leader, his passion for the arts keep driving him to explore in related fields, such as photography, where his prowess is rapidly growing, creating quite a name for himself.

Interviewer Mike Goldstein of NY’s RockPoP Gallery asked this talented individual about his process, the artist and label rep he collaborated with to produce his winning work, and a little about what he thinks the future holds for them and the role of the art director in a rapidly-changing retail music environment. Here is an excerpt from that interview:

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Interview with David Turner – the making of the Lulu album cover

Interview with designer David Turner regarding his album cover work for Lulu, a 2011 release on the Warner Bros./Vertigo labels, based on a collaboration between musical artists Lou Reed and Metallica (and winner of a “Gold Award for CD/DVD Packaging” in the 2013 Graphis Annual).

Lulu, Metallica, Lou Reed, album cover, David Turner

by Mike Goldstein,

During a press interview about their collaboration on Lulu, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich recalled the late Lou Reed’s challenge to the band, asking them “are you game for a little adventure – do you want to go on a ride with me?” They well-understood what working with Reed would entail, having performed together in 2009 at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th Anniversary concert and being witnessing first-hand, in rehearsals, why he had a well-deserved reputation as a perfectionist (during which, via sheer force of will, they earned his respect and an invitation to work together again under the right set of circumstances).

Those circumstances arose a couple of years later when Reed asked the band to work with him to set music to lyrics he’d created based on German playright Frank Wedekind’s “Lulu” series of plays written at the turn of the 19th & 20th centuries (and later re-interpreted in the great silent film Pandora’s Box by GW Pabst). Wedekind, also well-known for his play Spring Awakening, created stories (quite scandalous at the time) in which the main character, Lulu, dances her way through German high society in tales involving sex, lies and murder in degrees never before depicted in the theater. The poems/lyrics that Reed created to retell these stories needed music with the weight and energy that a band like Metallica produced naturally so, again, Lou tasked the group to work with him in methods outside their normal “comfort zone” – in other words, impulsively, without the thought, analysis and studio precision that they were used to in a recording session.

Having successfully lived up to the challenge of creating new music with a man considered one of the ultimate music industry “outsiders” (perceiving themselves as always having been outside the musical mainstream as well), the band turned to designer David Turner of the international design firm Turner Duckworth, who had worked with them on the highly-lauded, Grammy Award-winning packaging for 2008’s Death Magnetic, to come up with designs for the record that would best-reflect the unique nature of the music inside. The resulting packages – including a limited-edition deluxe, 12″ square bound hard-cover version with an illustrated lyric book and a book of photos of the musicians shot in Sweden by 2013 ACHOF inductee Anton Corbijn – were honored with a “Gold Award for CD/DVD Packaging” in the 2013 Graphis Annual. I was eager to learn more about the process and inspiration behind these stunning products and, with the help of David Turner and his team, I’m happy to provide you, my readers, with the details …

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Interview with Nick Egan – the making of the album cover for Duck Rock

Interview with artist/designer for Nick Egan regarding his album cover work for Duck Rock, a 1983 release (on Island/Charisma Records) by recording artist Malcolm McLaren.

Duck Rock, album cover, Malcolm McLaren, Nick Egan

Duck Rock album cover

At the intersection of Pop Culture and societal norms, producers of music, art, fashion, etc. are often found working to rock established thought and force those willing to look “outside the box” to consider the alternatives being proposed. In the early-1970s, after attending a number of art schools and finding himself particularly intrigued by the UK’s Situationist movement and their approach to bringing about societal changes, clothing store owner Malcolm McLaren (along with Vivienne Westwood and a close set of talented friends) set out to illustrate – via their designs for fashion, journalism and the arts – what Britain’s youth (and those outside the Establishment) felt about every aspect of society and how it was being managed by those in power at the time. Taking some cues from similar movements in New York and then adding them to their uniquely European reality, they gave birth to a design and musical language that was quickly adopted by many young people in America and Western Europe (and, later, many other developed countries), much to the chagrin of their parents and those hoping to maintain the status quo.

After his successes in the London fashion scene with punk couture boutique SEX and in the music arena with the New York Dolls, The Sex Pistols and Bow Wow Wow, McLaren sought to drive home the importance of the many types of music available to the musically curious via his own recordings highlighting these multi-cultural sources. Borrowing musical stylings from many countries – Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean Islands and the burgeoning rap and hip-hop scene in the U.S. – McLaren released Duck Rock in 1983 to a U.K. audience eager to absorb whatever was new and on the edge. Three of the singles from the album (“Buffalo Gals” and “Double Dutch” in 1983; “World Famous” in 1984) became major chart hits in both the U.K. and the U.S., and the record’s album cover art, which built upon a strong punk aesthetic while integrating strong elements of graffiti art and illustration (along with a decorated boom box, an item used world-wide by young people looking to impress adults with the sheer volume of their music).

Rather than accept the approach to the project – both for the production of the record and its packaging – usually dictated by most record company/musical artist relationships, McLaren chose to assemble a creative/production team that would be on his wavelength and who’d understand the important links between the musical and graphic styles he wanted featured (Malcolm had once said that his introduction to hip-hop came after seeing Afrika Bambaataa walking down the streets of NYC in a Sex Pistols t-shirt!). He was the conductor – the musicians, producers, engineers and designers who signed on for the project were all performers under his direction. The resulting product would have a dramatic effect on all aspects of the music business and, to this day, many performers note the importance of this record in their approach to writing/recording/packaging their own offerings. To provide readers with an understanding of how this all came together, I interviewed the record’s art director – noted designer/director Nick Egan – to ask him about collaborating with McLaren on this influential work. As you can imagine, the project presented Egan with a long list of challenges and, in the end, a great deal of opportunity…

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Interview with Ben Kweller – the making of the album cover for Go Fly A Kite

Interview with Ben Kweller about the package he produced for his 2012 record release titled Go Fly A Kite

Go Fly A Kite, diorama, Ben Kweller

Go Fly A Kite – assembled diorama

While I’ve written before about the number of musicians who’ve shown great talent in all of the creative aspects of their professional lives, it seems that most of them sought out a formal education in the arts before setting out on their paths to musical stardom. You’ll recall examples such as Pink Floyd (Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Richard Wright all went to London’s Polytechnic College on Regent Street in London, while Syd Barrett studied at Camberwell), Talking Heads (David Byrne, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz all attended the Rhode Island School of Design), Devo (Mark Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale studied at Kent State) and The Clash (Joe Strummer, Paul Simonon and Mick Jones), along with Freddie Mercury, Eric Clapton, John Lennon, Ray Davies, Michael Stipe, Pete Townshend, Ron Wood and many others.

Nominated for both a 2012 Grammy Award in the “Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package” and a 2012 Independent Music Award (IMA) in the “Album Packaging” category, musician/songwriter Ben Kweller’s work on Go Fly A Kite – the debut CD/LP on his own The Noise Company label – is an impressive example of a multi-talented musical performer involving himself in every creative aspect of his products. What’s even more impressive is that Kweller is self-taught, having dropped out of high school at 15 to devote full time to his first band, Radish. By telling the “formal” music business to “go fly a kite – I’ve got the talent to make it on my own”, it is Ben’s commitment to all aspects of his craft – along with a long list of fans both in and outside of the music business – that has provided him with the ability to impress both fans and critics on his own terms with each successive outing. Drawing on inspirations from his love of comic book illustrations and taking advantage of a chance meeting with someone at his young son’s pre-school, the intricate and impressive packaging for his latest release had me wondering about how it all came to be, and faithful readers know what happens when I get to wondering…. 😉

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Interview with Maryanne Bilham – The Go-Go’s God Bless The Go-Go’s album cover

Interview with photographer Maryanne Bilham about her photograph for the cover of God Bless The Go-Go’s, by The Go-Go’s

photo, album cover, Maryanne Bilham

God Bless The Go-Go’s by Maryanne Bilham

To follow up my interview with photographer Robert Knight, I interviewed his wife, partner and fellow photographer Maryanne Bilham about the photo she took for the cover of the Go-Go’s 2001 release titled God Bless The Go-Go’s.

Of course, then, it would take a photographer with a strong sense of how modern women should be interpreted visually to create just the perfect set of images for the cover of the first new Go-Gos record in 17 years. They found that in Maryanne Bilham, who shares her recollections of the process of turning “good time girls” into Saints in today’s interview.

While the resulting image raised the hackles of the religious right, fans of the band thought it an applicable tribute – enjoy the read, now posted on the site –“god-bless-the-go-go’s”-2001-release/

The Real Deal: The Story of Photographer Robert M. Knight and Guitar Master Stevie Ray Vaughan

Stevie Ray Vaughan, photograph, Robert M Knight

SRV Cover Photo by Robert M Knight

In 2006, after a string of posthumously-released recordings, Sony’s Legacy division put out a remastered and updated 16-track retrospective of Stevie Ray Vaughan music titled Real Deal: Greatest Hits – Vol. 1 and went to well-known SRV photographer and friend Robert M. Knight to find just the right image to grace the cover.  Robert was the only photographer on hand that night in Wisconsin and took the last photos of SRV in performance and prior to his boarding the helicopter.

Reaching back into his archives also brought back a flood of memories – some happy and life-affirming; others quite painful – when he chose an image for this package from another concert in 1990 where he’d caught SRV “in the light”. Robert recounts some of the details of his relationship with Stevie Ray, the photos he took of him that fateful night, and more in today’s latest interview posting, hosted by the nice people at the online gallery –

This is an update of an interview I’d previously posted on my RockPoP Gallery site several years ago – to read the original, click on over to – 

Interview with Grammy-winning designer Fritz Klaetke on his work for Woody At 100

Interview with Fritz Klaetke on his Grammy-winning (for Best Boxed Or Special Limited Edition Package) work for Woody At 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection.

Posted April 2, 2013 by Mike Goldstein, curator,

woody guthrie, woody at 100, smithsonian

To be an artist of any sort in Depression-era America required both talent and commitment. For an artist like Woody Guthrie, inspiration for his song-writing came initially from his experiences living in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl (if you call that “living”) and meeting some of the many migrant workers who, like he, were looking for something – work, charity, companionship – to help them make it through the day. He learned a lot from absorbing the traditional music these migrants played and sang while they worked – or commiserated about their lack of work – ultimately creating the portfolio of songs that would earn him a place at the top of the list of “most-influential American songwriters” of the 20th Century.

While his legend has been built around his musical talents, many are surprised to find out that it was Guthrie’s capabilities as a sign painter, illustrator and cartoonist that kept him fed as he journeyed to California early on in his career. Fans of his music were first given a look at his artistic talents when they saw the cover sketch used on his 1943 autobiography titled Bound For Glory, but most have remained unaware of his prodigious output in this area, not knowing that he also produced a number of images used to illustrate his record albums, sheet music, tour posters, articles he’d written on a variety of subjects and, in many cases, drawn to help him better-visualize the inspirations for his music.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth in 1912, the producers at the Smithsonian Folkways record label turned early on in the process to their long-time creative partners – Fritz Klaetke and his team at the Visual Dialogue design firm in Boston – to create a design for a retrospective box set package they’d release called Woody At 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection.

Collaborating with producer and archivist Jeff Place to dig deep into the Folkways archives to find examples sketches, drawings and other related ephemera that would he the design team fully illuminate the man and all his artistic capabilities. They also tapped Guthrie’s daughter Nora, who’d also been involved in a fine book that chronicles her father’s talents as a graphic artist (titled Woody Guthrie’s Artworks, written by Steven Brower and published in 2005), for additional help. The impressive results of this work were awarded this year’s Grammy Award for “Best Boxed Or Special Limited Edition Package”.

I caught up with Fritz recently and asked him to give us the story behind this award-winning design project and what it was like to be charged with coming up with a creative visual interpretation for a package that chronicles the musical output of one of our country’s most-honored creative forces…

Mike Goldstein (Curator, – Fritz, welcome back from your vacation break, and thanks for taking the time to discuss this project with me. Let’s get started with some background questions – How is it that you were first introduced to Woody Guthrie’s music?

Fritz Klaetke – (Partner, Visual Dialogue) – You know, it’s funny to say this, but I think that, as one of those classic American songwriters, Woody Guthrie’s music is just in the air here. I probably heard “This Land Is Your Land” as a kid growing up in Detroit. but the first time I really “studied” Woody and his music was in 1994 when I designed the CD package for Woody Guthrie: Long Ways To Travel, which was one of my first package designs for Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

woody guthrie, long way to travel, fritz klaetke, designer

Woody Guthrie – Long Ways To Travel

Mike G – In your opinion, what was it that made Woody Guthrie – the artist and his music – different from other artists in his “category” or of his day?

Fritz K – I don’t know if Woody even had a category back then. I think that he took the traditions of the “wandering, singing storyteller” and made them his own.

MG – I understand that this is a comprehensive compilation, featuring many, many songs, but was there a particular track on the album that served as the inspiration of the package art and design?

FK – The inspiration wasn’t a particular song, but rather the direct, personal feel to Woody’s music–hence the life-size cover photo of Woody staring out at the listener. Another inspiration was his type-written lyrics, letters, and notes. We created a collage of the typewriter type which functions as a rough-textured border for the cover photo and continues inside the book.

MG – What “guidance” – or specific instructions – did you provide the illustrators or the photographers/designers that created the key parts of your packages?

FK – Well, all the design was done right here at Visual Dialogue – it was only me and designer Kimber Lynch working on it. I’d say that the “illustrator” was Woody himself – we were able to select from an amazing collection of visual artwork he created that was housed in the Folkways archives. The photography and other artifacts were supplied either by Folkways or came directly from the Guthrie archives. With all of it, the package was really about Woody, so we wanted to make the design about him, not us. From the large photo on the cover to the interior layout which emphasizes his artwork and original lyrics, Woody and his work is in the foreground and we’re backstage hopefully making him look good.

MG – As I know that he was a prolific painter, cartoonist and illustrator, were you tempted to use, or riff on, any of his own work? Was the label as hands-off as you make it sound, or were they actively involved in any/all aspects of the development of this design?

Woody Guthrie, archival images, Woody at 100

Archival images by Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie, drawings, archives, Woody at 100

More images from the Woody Guthrie archives

FK – At the outset of the project, I worked closely with Mary Monseur, the production manager at Folkways, to come up with the format for the book with disc pages in the back. During the process, I also worked very closely with Jeff Place, the producer and archivist at Folkways who really drove the selection of content, but the design was basically left up to me.

MG – How did you choose the talent – the designers, illustrators, typographers/graphic designers, photographers, etc. – who would work with you on this effort?

FK – As I mentioned previously, all of the creative work was done in-house here at Visual Dialogue. We did get a bit of advice on the text typography from my colleague and neighbor Jim Hood, who teaches at the Art Institute of Boston and is a scholar of type design history. We were looking for a typeface that worked as a text font but was also appropriate to the era in which most to the songs were recorded and ended up with Devinne. That typeface was paired with Trade Gothic Condensed used for headlines.

MG – Taking into account all of the project coordination, how long did this process take – from start to finished product?

FK – All said, it took about two years, but that’s because we had to nail down a format for the package well in advance before anything had been designed in order to get printing estimates. Once we actually had our kick-off meeting at Folkways with Jeff Place, the producer and archivist, and Mary Monseur, the production manager, the process took about three months to first deliver files to the printer, then quite a while to produce, since the package was being printed in China…

Woody at 100, Woody Guthrie, design, comp

Design comps for Woody At 100

design, comp, woody at 100, woody guthrie

comp, design, woody guthrie, woody at 100

Almost there…!

MG – Were there any special tools you used or work processes followed – manual or computer-based – that helped create the finished product? Can you give me any more details of that final aspect of the process? How were you able to oversee the quality of the pre-press and final printing? Did you or Smithsonian have anyone in China overseeing the process?

FK – there weren’t really any “special” tools used – just our usual graphics software – Adobe InDesign and Photoshop. For the printing and production, we worked with Tri-Plex Packaging in New York City and I kept close contact with the account person there, Jason Roth, while he coordinated the review of materials, proofs, etc. and acted as the liaison connecting us with the actual printing and binding teams in Shanghai.

MG – When working on a package like this, do you consider your efforts to be works of self-expression, or do you take your lead from your client?

FK – In this case – the artist Woody Guthrie – was definitely the driver for our design. In working for Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, we’re also cognizant of the rich visual heritage of Folkways and the album covers created by Ronald Clyne (Editor’s note – the late Ronald Clyne was the designer responsible for over 500 of the label’s record covers over a 40-year period and is credited with developing Folkways’ unique style of album imagery). In a sense, the Woody At 100 cover is an extension of the early LP cover designs for Folkways – strong, black & white photography combined with bold, straight-forward typography and a limited color palette.

MG – Before we change gears a bit, I’d like to ask you if there is any other anecdotal info about this project you’d be willing to share…every project I’ve ever looked into seems to have something of an “ah-ha moment”, so anything you’d be willing to share would be quite a treat!

FK – One of the hardest parts about the Woody At 100 project was coming up with a photo for the cover. So many photos of Woody have been used to death in other projects and, like Monet’s haystacks, they can become pretty dull after you’ve seen them a hundred times. We really had our hearts set on using an image of Woody where he’d be looking straight out from the cover. After much searching, Nora Guthrie found an undated, passport-sized photo tucked away in a closet somewhere that had never been seen outside of the immediate family. When we found that image, we knew we had our cover photo!

MG – Let’s talk a bit about some topics I’d like to get your opinions on – First off, with the electronic delivery of music products growing at a fast pace, are you noticing any more or less enthusiasm on the client’s – or artist’s – behalf to invest time and money in packaging that stands out?

FK – It’s interesting how the role of music package design has changed with downloaded music. Cover art definitely takes on less importance when it’s viewed on an iPod screen but, conversely, box sets – with their ability to deliver a fuller experience with the inclusion of extensive song notes, essays, artwork, etc. – give package designs like Woody At 100 an arguably bigger role than the in the heyday of the LP cover era. I believe that this deeper experience is what many real fans of particular musicians or groups ultimately crave – a way to go beyond just the songs included on the records.

MG – How do you think album cover art help us document human history? I believe that iconic album cover art – in many ways – has had a noticeable effect on Pop Culture. What’s your take on this – is the imagery and music providing the direction, or is it reflecting the culture, or ??

FK – It’s interesting to think about this question. In a case like Woody At 100, the cover art represents a documentation of a milestone project of one of the 20th century’s great artists. In a sense, it reflects Woody’s time in which he created the music, but it’s filtered through a 2012 lens. For contemporary music, I think cover art definitely becomes one of the defining visual representations of the era in which it was produced. It’s too bad that so many of our leading musicians – including those who are out there on the edge from a musical standpoint – are often quite unimaginative when it comes to their visual representation.

MG – You bring up an interesting point. When Guthrie was first releasing his records, there wasn’t any album art per se, so musicians had to rely on other forms of promotion to get their music into peoples’ homes – endless tours and radio. Since he was both a political animal and an active visual artist, it would have been interesting to see what sort of album covers (and music videos) he’d have approved and how involved in the process he’d have been. What do you think?

FK – As I mentioned before, his first album, which was released on Asch Recordings (Editor’s note #2 – Asch Recordings was the precursor to Folkways Recordings, run by Moe Asch, an early believer in the importance of impactful album cover images) in 1944, features Guthrie’s artwork.

Woody Guthrie, Asch Records

Woody Guthrie on Asch Records

I’m sure he would have been right at home designing his own music packaging. There are several of his cover sketches included in the book and, of course, it would be interesting to speculate on the results if Woody would have picked up a still or video camera…

MG – Last question – Where do you keep your new Grammy trophy?

FK – Well, as of this date, I still haven’t received it. I found out that it takes like two months to get the engraved award! I was hoping to go through airport security with it on the way back to Boston from Los Angeles but, when I do finally get it, I have a place of honor picked out in my studio next to a bunch of design awards and my middle school ping-pong trophy.

About the artist, Fritz Klaetke (info provided by the interviewee) –

Fritz Klaetke, Visual Dialogue

Fritz Klaetke of Visual Dialogue

The offspring of an architect and a painter, Fritz Klaetke was genetically pre-destined to be a designer. He grew up in Detroit and founded Visual Dialogue in 1988 while still a student at the University of Michigan. Today, the studio is located in a renovated row house in Boston’s historic South End neighborhood.

The output from Visual Dialogue ranges from brand identity to music packaging, print collateral to websites, magazines to sculpture, and book design to interiors. Clients include The Art Institute of Boston, Barbara Lynch restaurant group, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Harvard University, Institute of Contemporary Art, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, MIT, Moshe Safdie and Associates, New York Public Radio, and Smithsonian Institution.

Visual Dialogue has received recognition from organizations including the American Institute of Graphic Arts, Art Directors Club, Type Directors Club, and The Webby Awards and the work has been featured in publications such as Communications Arts, HOW, I.D., Novum and Sports Illustrated. In addition, several of Fritz’s projects are included in the permanent collection of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City.

The design of Big Wet Kiss for the Boston-based band Chucklehead was Fritz’s first foray into music packaging in 1992. Since that time, he has created music packaging for artists including Lead Belly, Boozoo Chavis, Johen Cohen, Roscoe Holcomb, Langston Hughes, Mississippi John Hurt, Ella Jenkins, Sleepy LaBeef, Bill Monroe, Jonathan Richman, Pete Seeger, Doc Watson, Mary Lou Williams, and Bob Wills.

Besides the Grammy-winning Woody at 100 package, other box sets Fritz has designed include Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology, Friends of Old Time Music and Lead Belly’s Last Sessions, all for Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. In addition to over 70 music packages, Fritz and his team at Visual Dialogue also designed the Webby-nominated Folkways website:

A video Fritz’s Grammy acceptance speech can be viewed at

For more information on Fritz Klaetke and Visual Dialogue, please visit their website at

About this interview –

Our ongoing series of interviews will give you, the music and art fan, a look at “the making of” the illustrations, photographs and designs of many of the most-recognized and influential images that have served to package and promote your all-time-favorite recordings.

In each interview feature, we’ll meet the artists, designers and photographers who produced these works of art and learn what motivated them, what processes they used, how they collaborated (or fought) with the musical acts, their management, their labels, etc. – all of the things that influenced the final product you saw then and still see today.

We hope that you enjoy these looks behind the scenes of the music-related art business and that you’ll share your stories with us and fellow fans about what role these works of art – and the music they covered – played in your lives.

All images featured in this story are Copyright 2013 Fritz Klaetke and Smithsonian Folkways Recordings – All rights reserved – and are used by the author’s permission. Except as noted, all other text Copyright 2013 – Mike Goldstein, ( & RockPoP Productions – All rights reserved.