Pacific Eye & Ear, The Little Company That Did!
First of all I would like to welcome you to part 3 of my story, and to thank you, the readers for all your wonderful comments on parts 1 & 2. I am truly humbled. More than this final chapter being about me, and a select few, or my 209 covers, I feel it should be about the incredible assemblage of creative individuals who came together at that time in history to create these album covers. Every package I have ever done has been a group effort, which is why I can’t tell this part of the story any other way.
It is for this reason that “Part 3” of my story is not the exact format that you have become a custom to with Michael’s wonderful “Cover Stories.” I have found that no matter how great someone is at what they do, it’s never about just them. I did lots of great work in my career, but it was only as good as the people around me who contributed to the collaborative effort. Together we pushed the bar higher and higher – never satisfied with what we had just done but focused on how we could make the next one even better. It is how I, along with a hand full of others, through our art, like the music itself… left images for the world that will live on forever.
“We had a vision, committed to pursuing our dream, agreeing to always promote brand over individual, so for the next 15 years Pacific Eye & Ear lived at the forefront of a newly created industry called…
Custom Album Packaging.”
Pacific Eye & Ear was a small close-working, super creative force combining art, business and production expertise, that played a critical role in what I’m calling the “Golden Age Of Custom Album Packaging TM.” Everyone enjoyed it. We all remember the large format albums with liner notes that were big enough to read and the Pop Art appeal of panties stretched over the record; a real zipper imbedded into the cover; or an over sized wallet with a pull out Billion Dollar Bill.
We graphic artists, illustrators and photographers provided the emotional connection that these covers helped evoke. Our contribution became another vital link between the musicians, their music, and the messages they were delivering to their fans. We strived for originality and creativity, like the music we were packaging, and delivered it too the world via this newly found art form. Excited and challenging, we were creating the rules and blazing a trail. It was a great experience, fresh and fulfilling, which regrettably only lasted 15 years.
“The 60’s were a time of change, excitement and innocence, of diversity, freedom and experimentation, for finding one’s self and doing your own thing. It was the age of youth, the decade of love… and it was about to be our time.”
We believed there was a better way to do things. We didn’t have to lie or be jive, constantly juggling people and stories to our advantage. We could focus on being the best, at what we did best: unmatchable creative and execution. Providing solutions that were “custom” molded around each artists individual need.
This simple positioning concept, along with a level of professionalism, personal interaction and quality of production, dramatically and immediately separated us from 95% of our major competitors. In that way we stayed focused on building a great reputation while bonding with our clients and getting return business.
After two weeks of phone calls and much debating, Tony Grabois, Lou Morris and I decided to break away from Concept Packaging and start our own business. So at the beginning of the 70’s at the corner of Ivar & Vine, in the Hills of Hollywood California… Pacific Eye & Ear was born. Across the first weekend in January of 1972 Tony, Bonnie and I moved into a small 1-bedroom cottage on top of a hill, so surrounded by trees that you couldn’t see it from the street. The kitchen table, between meals, was Tony’s office. The front room, when Tony wasn’t sleeping, was my art department and our conference room. Come Monday morning, we were up and running, loaded and ready for business.
We knew that an East Coast presence would be critical to our plan, because even though our work had started gaining traction on the West Coast, our real equity and business connections were in New York. That would be Lou’s turf to handle. Unfortunately, Lou lasted less than 6 months. Some people should always work for someone else, never for themselves. Lou just couldn’t make the transition from employee to employer and that drove Tony and I crazy.
I remember that my first PEE art assignment was to create a logo for our new company, whose name we had agreed upon during a mescaline trip. How else would we come up with a “crazy ass” name and tag line like this?: Pacific Eye (for the graphics) & Ear (for the music). Since “Our mothers always wanted us to be doctors” well… we made that our tagline. Before anyone was hired in the art department, I did all the concept, design, comps and logo lettering myself. I wanted the PEE logo to look like a hood ornament from an expensive, exotic car. It needed to be fresh, impactful, continually relevant, and timeless… without being too dated.
After I did the design and finished line art, I needed some chrome airbrushing done and I couldn’t do it well enough for this. Asking around, I found out that Dave Wilardson was the best there was, so I called him, introduced myself, and he agreed to do the logo in chrome, for all I could afford: $50.00… he nailed it!
“I found early on that choosing the right people to work with was a key ingredient in creating ‘that magic’ – that illusive, unspeakable, creative force that transforms good work, into great work.”
As a young designer in college, I was a huge Push Pin Studios fan. Iconic designers like Milton Glaser, Saul Bass, Seymour Chwast, and the type font guru himself, Herb Lubalin were my heroes. I used them as my ideal model, as the Creative Director, and then while assembling an art department at Pacific Eye & Ear.
This discipline and high standard allowed me the privilege and honor of working side by side with many great, emerging artists of the time. I think it’s fair to say that I was the conceptual thread that linked together some of today’s top illustrators, designers, writers and photographers. It was a luxury to have even one good illustrator in your arsenal. Imagine having Joe Garnett, Drew Struzan, Bill Garland, Carl Ramsey, Ingrid Haenke and Joe Pategno all around the same time! That’s what I call real illustration muscle!
“So many great bands, so many new friends, so much talent, such an exciting time… so very little space to tell you the whole story.”
I first met Lee Dorman, Iron Butterfly’s leader and base player, at Capricorn Records. Lee had just solidified a record deal for his new band, Captain Beyond, which was a reformation of The Butterfly. Lee was a “huge fan” of my work and after sharing with him my love for “In A Gadda Da Vida” and the amazing images it conjured up for me on acid trips, we bonded immediately. He knew then and there I was what he needed. So “Captain Beyond” became the very first album cover we did as Pacific Eye & Ear. Lee became one of Bonnie and my best friends – a really good musician, sharp businessman and a great individual.
Capricorn’s offices were on the same floor as Craig Braun West and Phil Walden was its President. We would all hang out and party before work, at lunch and after work. I remember being there with Lee, and Dickey Betts from the Allman Brothers, listening to Phil’s awesome stories of his experiences managing Otis Redding and other music greats, back in the early days of Rock & Roll. Phil was a really great guy and happened to also be personal friends with President Jimmy Carter.
Phil really loved the “Jesus Christ Superstar” album and the other covers that I had done. He was a huge art fan. I can’t thank him enough for the guidance, council and support he provided in helping me to get out on my own.
“Those first six months went by really fast, our work as Pacific Eye Ear was being noticed and the album cover projects started rolling in.”
On the “Captain Beyond” cover I worked very closely with Lee creating the look and feel of the Captain. I used Joe Garnett, whom I had recently met at a party, to create an illustration depicting a futuristic captain, standing on a meteor in space. His foreshortened hands were reaching out for a iconic globe with two inverted triangles glowing inside it. The illustration was printed on a 5”x9” piece of “Linticular 3-D Plastic and then tipped onto the printed covers. This was the first time anything like that had been done on an album cover, and the record company fought it at every turn.
But Lee knew it would be this kind of “out of the box” thinking that would get his newly formed band noticed. So he unwaveringly ran interference for us with the “bean counters” at Warner Brothers, and got his way. In the end, this unique package paid off in spades. The album went to the top 10 on the Billboard charts; enjoyed two successful singles; the cover received lot’s of buzz; and the band came back for 3 more albums.
It wasn’t long after completing Lee’s album that Ray Manzarek, the Doors keyboardist (who turned out to be a big fan of our work… What A Rush!) reached out to me. After we met, I was awarded the Doors “Full Circle” album. I am very proud of this package. It’s a very unique, interactive construction that punches out of the album package and folds up into a zoetrope wheel, complete with a pedestal that sits on the record’s label, creating an animation as the record plays. I like to think of it as a primitive step toward the Music Video!
I used Joe Garnett again, to do the front and back cover paintings. Shortly after completion of that package, Joe and Dean Marion, who did the most amazing production work, joined me to become the first PEE Art Department.
Because of the highly successful package I had done for Cheech & Chong with “Big Bambu” they were quick to come back for the next album “The Cheech & Chong All American Drug Dealing Game,” and here are some out takes:
“This album was to be awesome, but after $40,000 worth of concept, design, and photo shoots, egos prevailed over reason and we parted ways. Regrettably the great cover never saw the light of day.”
The next album Joe, Dean and I did together was for my old buds Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad. I designed the “E Pluribus Funk” album the year before. I received a call from Mark, who told me that they were leaving Terry Knight’s management and they wanted me fly to Flint, Michigan with my photographer, Lorrie Sullivan, to do their next album cover “Phoenix”. I remember thinking how approiate that they should call their album that, and to call me now, as we had just risen from the ashes 6 months earlier. Grand Funk Railroad was one of my favorite bands. I saw them two nights in row at the Fillmore West just months before first meeting them.
Joe did a beautiful illustration of a Phoenix, which we cut out and hung 4 feet off the ground for the photo shoot in Lorrie’s back yard. We built a fire 3 feet behind the illustration and when the wind shifted during the photo shoot we almost burned Lorrie’s house down, before we got it under control. When we arrived in Flint, we stayed with Mark at his ranch. When he heard about the pyrotechnics incident at Lorrie’s house, we had to shoot the back cover in a hotel room in Flint. I Love Rock N’ Roll.
It was around this time that I was starting to find a real comfort level with designing type and logos. This is something that I hadn’t liked doing, and had struggled with my whole career up to this point. This album’s logo is a good example of that new found comfort. Other great early examples were logos for: Sarah’s No Lady, Smith Perkins Smith, Captain Beyond, Quincy Jones, David Bowie, Melanie, Brian Ferry and Five Dollar Shoes. I have completed over 450 logos to date and I still find great pleasure in working with type forms.
1972 was shaping up to be one “Hell Of A Year” because the very next album cover I did was for another one of my favorite bands of all time. A band that, while attending California College of Arts and Crafts, I had seen a dozen times as a fan. Now Tony and I found ourselves in San Francisco, at the reception desk of Grunt records, at the request of Grace Slick, Paul Kantner and Jorma Kaukonen… The Jefferson Airplane. This was out of control!
Their offices were an entire 3 story Victorian house, colorfully painted with all the original “ginger bread” moldings, located in the heart of the Height / Ashbury. I was already in awe and quite comfortably numb with the anticipation of meeting the band. When we were taken down a narrow wooden stairway to a vault like room with rehearsal equipment, and I was actually standing face to face with Grace Slick, I melted. She was beautiful with the most incredible eyes that I had ever seen. I was smitten, and found myself uncharacteristically speechless.
As the meeting started, I was becoming stable enough to participate in the conversation. Jorma pulls out a huge bomber, lit it up, took a hit and passed it to Tony without ever missing a beat in the conversation. After a couple of hits there isn’t much I remember about that meeting other than they loved our work, we laughed a lot and we secured the design of the new Airplane album “Long John Silver.” I still can’t believe that I got high with the Airplane. What a trip!
I had lived in the Bay Area since 1950, gone to college for 5 years in Oakland, and had spent lots of time in San Francisco. It would be safe to say that I knew the area. We were so stoned that we were lost for over 2 hours trying to find our way back to the airport. We were talking and laughing so much that we drove right by the airport not realizing it till we passed Redwood City. We missed our flight and ended up at my folk’s house in San Jose, had a great home made Italian dinner, and flew back to LA the next day.
“I felt very strongly about finding a better way for our clients to create an even stronger interaction and emotional connection with their fans.”
The “Long John Silver” album was a perfect example of what I mean by an interactive cover, like “Full Circle”. It folded up into a pot cleaning cigar box, which was useful back when all pot had seeds. Once constructed, the record resided in a heavy-duty sleeve printed with big cigars, complete with custom bands. This is “killer construction” that hit the bulls eye with their fans. The band was absolutely blown away with the results and we continued doing lots of work for the Airplane and Grunt Records.
I also got a chance to spend the day Art Directing a photo session with Rip Torn, who was a personal friend of the band’s and had agreed to do a shoot for the albums in-store posters and ads. We dressed him to the 9’s like the pirate “Long John Silver, complete with eye patch, parrot, parrot crap and a wooden leg. He was really cool and a total trooper. He told us amazing stories of Hollywood during the 50’s “Red Scare” about how he was harassed, but won out in the end. We needed him to smoke one of the huge cigars in the shot and even though he got a little green around the edges he insisted that the “Show Must Go On!
By the end of 1972 we received our second Grammy Nomination for the “Five Dollar Shoes” album cover and my first as Pacific Eye & Ear. Craig Braun hadn’t given me any credit on the “Schools Out” album I did, for Concept Packing.
“Since 98% of our covers were being created for the bands, not the record labels, dealing directly with the artists and groups put me in the inner circle, not only them, but with their management as well. That’s where the “real stories” are.”
Because of the number of albums, 9 in total, and years spent with Alice, Shep and the Alive family, I have so many great stories. I think the best one also highlights a moment that truly defined Shep Gordon, that I know and love. When Shep found out that Craig hadn’t given me credit on the “Schools Out” Grammy Nomination, it pissed him off so much that he wrote a letter and placed a call to the head of the Grammy Academy trying to correct the error. They said they were sorry but it was to late. I know this to be true, as I was in Shep’s office when he made the call, and I have a copy of his letter.
My poetic justice came in true Craig form as he turned off Shep after their first meeting. Immediately after that meeting Shep reached out to me, asking if I would consult, behind the scenes, to achieve what I showed them in my initial presentation on the “Schools Out” design. Wilkes/Braun couldn’t make the cover construction work. It bothered Shep much more than me, as we were already starting on “Billion Dollar Babies.” I love Shep and Alice and I could never do enough to repay him for their kindness and overwhelming support.
Shep always reminded me a lot of John Madden, who was a true players coach. Like Madden, Shep is truly an artist’s manager, which is why so many groups sought him out to handle them. He was also the best salesman we could ever have had. He loved our work and never hesitated to send bands our way. He one of the few honest men in the record business, with the greatest laugh ever!
Over the next few years, I added some very important people to the PEE art department: Drew Struzan, Carl Ramsey and Bill Garland. We did some really great covers. One that stands out, was for Alice Coopers “Billion Dollar Babies.” When Alice told me the title in our initial meeting, it was a “no brainier.” A huge Billion Dollar Bill, and a bill that big can only go into an oversized wallet.” Carl did an incredible snakeskin texture and I designed two gold coins in a circle of diamonds and Joe Pategno did the Billion Dollar Bill pull-out poster that made up the package. Shep and Alice were blown away. This package secured our third Grammy Nomination.
An interesting sidebar, is after the front sleeve photo session the record company rejected the shot because the baby was naked and her genitals were exposed. Every one freaked, till I suggested we create a Billion Dollar Bill “fig leaf” to cover her privates. The rest is, as they say, “Rock N’ Roll History.”
“You know you’re leading when you stop doing what you’re doing long enough to look around and see that others are emulating you.”
When I am asked what made Pacific Eye & Ear so special, I always have the same reply: It was our unique combination of concept, illustration and lettering design-power that quickly made us a force to be reckoned with. Now after our third Grammy Nomination, we were on the map forever – easily recognized as one of the top three album design companies in the country
At the end of 1972 we started Black Sabbath’s “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” featuring a set of stunning Struzan illustrations, which were based on two turn of the century illustrations I received at my confirmation in the 5th grade. One was of a good man, the second an evil man, both at the split second of their death. Other notable covers around this time included, West Bruce & Lang, and Lou Reed’s “Berlin” which was, by the way, one of the most avant garde total packages we ever did. It’s an amazing package with a stunning libretto, where I art directed 13 photo shoots, by famed cutting-edge photographer, St. Javago Desang.
I remember talking with Lou on the phone shortly after he received a finished package. He was tearing-up as he thanked me for the “most beautiful album cover he ever had.” It was those moments, when the artists were emotionally moved, that made it all worthwhile. The other times were when radio DJ’s talked about our work on the air. We were blessed with lots of those great moments over the years.
“I have found, in hindsight, that most of my really successful solutions have, and still do, come from my initial gut reaction”
At the time one of the album covers getting the most on-air Buzz was The Guess Who’s 1973 release “Artificial Paradise” package. For me, it had to be the craziest and most fun to do of all. The package was filled with what looks like “junk mail” and the DJ couldn’t stop talking about it. Burton Cummings is one of the most incredibly smart, unique and versatile singers in the business today. We have done 8 covers together and Burton is one of my best friends, to this day.
In 1975, I was contacted by The Bee Gees manager and Robert Stigwood, who I worked with on The Jesus Christ Superstar stage performance. They said the “Brothers Gibb’s” wanted us to create a unique logo and album cover for their “Main Course” album. I created a really cool lettering logo – one of my best ever. That logo, together with Drew Struzan’s illustration of “Beauty in a Coke Spoon” quickly became iconic symbols, synonymous with the Disco Era.
I have always felt that because their music and messages were different, each band or artist required different design solutions. That being said, there are four things that every band needs conceptually and graphically on their album covers: uniqueness, attitude, heart and soul. We were able to consistently provide that connection, with every cover we did, from day one.
When asked what made us different and more creative than most during our “moment in the sun” I sum it up in one word: Variety – something our competitors never focused on. Spend 100% of your creative time on one brand or in one category and eventually your creativity will wither, die and that blows.
“I have always believed that in order to achieve great creative, consistently, artists must continually have variety to survive and thrive!”
For me, the key ingredient to consistently great creative, was taking on a variety of projects, across non-album cover business categories. There’s something about juggling different assignments and working under pressure that brings a fresh perspective, clarity of mind and focus to everything that you do.
One day, we’d be working on Alice Cooper’s newest album and the next day we’d be designing a youth summer beach promotion that we sold to the Los Angeles Rapid Transit Authority. We created 13 buses that looked like submarines in the water, complete with turrets, flags and fish. For the presentation Drew, Bill and I, painted the first one by hand. The following week, we were on-site at Rockwell International, designing and building a 120 square-foot trade show booth for their Ring Laser Gyro Nuclear Guidance Systems in battleships and submarines.
The week after that, we created a “Rock N’ Bowl” Promotion featuring consumer’s opportunity to bowl with 65 music and television stars for “Active West”, a 26 location bowling alley chain in Southern California, raising $50,000.00 for the California Special Olympics. To help promote this event, and secure the talent, I enlisted my really good friends and clients who had their office in PEE, Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan – The Turtles, whom we did 3 album covers for. Their results were off-the-hook! These two guys are totally buttoned up and are the best ever!
Some people might find this approach fragmented, distracting or just plain crazy, but I find it invigorating. The discipline forces you to constantly push out the edges and raise your game. It helps eliminate “Mental Tunnel Vision” so in the end you provide greater conceptual value and talent to everything that you touch.
It’s what makes good designers… Great Creative Directors!
“Altec/Lansing was a great break-out account with a industry savvy head of Marketing, Bob Rufkhar, who would much rather beg forgiveness than ask permission – our perfect client and one of my best friends.”
Later that same year we landed our second national account, Flying Tiger Air Freight, for whom, I must say, Drew Struzan did some of his best pieces ever. At the same time we were working on our fifth album for a group of great guys with a look and sound truly their own: Black Oak Arkansas. They were my kind of band! Butch Stone was a lot like a southern Shep Gordon and Jim Dandy was incredible, with a voice that had such range (and a basket that was always highlighted through his bright White Spandex pants) that was unrivaled in the business.
The album was called “Early Times” and it is only 1 of 2 pieces that Drew collaborated with another illustrator on, in his career. The art was created like a Disney animation cell, with Drew doing the background and Bill Garland doing the characters on a cell overlay. Bill Garland was the most incredible cartoonist and calligrapher that I have ever worked with. We did a total of 9 albums for Black Oak and loved doing each one. They were a great band to work with. That year we also created great campaigns with beautiful paintings and graphics for, Sizzler, Teachers Scotch, Sports Illustrated and Rolling Stone Magazine.
By the mid 70’s our album cover business was over the top. We were creating 4 to 6 covers a month and turning away as many more becaise we didn’t want to become a factory. In 1975, we were commissioned by David Krebs and Steve Leber to create the new Aerosmith “Toys In The Attic” package. The first time I met Steven Tyler and Joe Perry was in a hotel room at the Continental Hyatt on Sunset, in Hollywood. They were both really great guys and awesome party hosts as they played us some rough tracks and explained what their vision for the music was.
We partied and worked over 3 meetings and came away with a great Ingrid Haenke illustration. Right in the middle of completing our first package with them, a great opportunity came our way out of left field. Rich Mandella, who was a liaison between Pevy and rock bands, wanted Black Oak to do an endorsement ad, and was directed to us by Butch Stone, their manager. Turns out that Rich was best friends with a good friend of mine, “Chooch”, the road manager for the Stones, and several other musicians. We did the ad and 2 months later Rich left Pevy and went to Altec Speakers.
In a “6 agency shootout” against iconic mega-agencies like: J. Walter Thompson, Grey Advertising and Jerry Dela Femina, Pacific Eye & Ear won it’s first national account, Altec/Lansing Speakers. Our award-winning Volks Speaker Campaign received overwhelming trade and consumer response, and in less than 1 year we moved the company’s brand awareness and positioning from #13 to #3, posting double-digit sales growth across both Pro and Consumer segments.
Throughout the rest of the late 70’s and into the 80’s we created some really cool albums for great artists like; Earth, Wind & Fire, Alice Cooper, George Carlin, Kenny Rankin, Burton Cummings, The Turtles and Flo & Eddie. As work in the music business was slowing down, and the competition getting greater, I knew it was time to reinvent ourselves. We were still planted firmly in the music business doing album covers, but we also needed to be more mainstream, where traditional advertising was expected, but with our youth-oriented skills, our offering would be a very different solution and product.
I felt we were really in touch with people. We understood how they thought, how they felt and how they acted. If they were half as bored as I was with status quo advertising, packaging design, consumer promotions, and merchandising materials in stores, we would have an exciting, thriving business, no doubt.
One notable observation of our transition into the 80’s, was that our need for illustration grew less and less while the need for Art Directors and Product Photographers expanded. The new wave of clients we were attracting, like Nestle, Kraft, Mattel and Sara Lee, wanted to see photos of their products and strategic marketing for their brands. So we became more Advertising oriented. A huge part of making that evolution was with the help of great young designers like, Rick Lynch (BLT), Bob Engelsiepen (View Studio), and Kevin Spinney (BLT), these guys are the “Best” and are at the top of their game today.
Pacific Eye & Ear was always an evolving place filled with rich content, great talent, and creative energy. When it all came to an end in 1984, we had completed over 3,500 jobs, 184 of them being album covers. Tony Grabois and I each went our separate ways. I felt a real emptiness and pain that I will never forget. But more importantly, I remember what I learned and taught and how they were so much more rewarding than most artists would have the chance to experience in a lifetime.
How truly blessed I am to have been able to work for myself, doing what I loved with some of the greatest music and graphic artists of my time. To have Bonnie right there with me at every turn, once again confirming that I am only as good as she has made me for the last 43 years. Bonnie… I love you more than ever.
As I was remembering and reliving these experiences to write these three stories, two things rang loud and clear: first “no matter how long it takes to get your story out there, be patience, and when the time is right, the truth will definitely set you free.”; second, and equally important, “what I did with this newfound freedom is what has allowed me the ability to continue making history… Instead of becoming it!”
I would like to thank Michael at TopPop Rock Gallery not only from me, but all the other artists, illustrators and photographers he has helped get their stories out to the World. Thank you for providing your valuable time and resources, allowing us the platform to bring our stories, to your readers.