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
by Mike Goldstein, Curator, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com
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…