Reader Cover Story

Tweed Museum Concert Poster Show – Now Through January 2012

 

Andrew Olson

Reader Weekly

 

The Tweed Museum is showing 30 of the rarest rock and roll concert posters from the mid-1960s featuring The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, The Who, Cream, Otis Redding, and many more of the era from now through January 2012. 

 

Many artists participated in the creation of images we identify with the 1960s, but posters promoting concerts survive as primary visual touchstones of the era. Between 1966 and 1972, a dozen artists created over 350 posters. Books like The Art of the Fillmore and websites like www.thefountainheads.com have more information on the posters in the show. 

 
Posters by Lee Conklin, Rick Griffin, Alton Kelley, Bonnie MacLean, Stanley “Mouse” Miller, Victor Moscoso and Wes Wilson are featured in this exhibition. Like so many of their generation, these artists migrated to the west coast, where critical masses gathered around musical performances. Organized by Bill Graham of the Fillmore Auditorium and Chet Helms and the Family Dog for the Avalon Ballroom, the concerts shaped the sound and experience of early rock music. Participatory gatherings featured elaborate visual shows that followed the musical pulse. As light-shows were projected around and over them, people left their seats and danced to bands like Country Joe and the Fish, Wildflower, Big Brother and the Holding Company and The Doors.

 

Fillmore posters begin with a notation of “BG”, standing for Bill Graham, and then the number following stands for the show in the series. The numerical system begins with Graham’s first concert in 1966 at the Fillmore as BG1 and ends with BG289 when the Fillmore closed in 1972.  There are also more modern BGP posters, but those are less valuable and more numerous.  The posters from the Family Dog always begin with an “FD,” standing for Family Dog, and then the number following corresponds with the show in the series.

 

 



“These are the Good-Ole Days to Someone,” - Wes Wilson

 

 With each artistic movement there are traces of previous artists’ works that will appear in any new artist’s style, but at some point a completely new form emerges.  Wes Wilson is the originator of using concert posters for bands to say more than just who is playing. In developing his art he went on to change the very thing it was advertising and the culture surrounding it.

 

“I always like to experiment with stuff, but I was kinda under the gun with pressure to get things done because there was always a time frame involved,” Wilson said.  “I didn’t go out often because I had tons of people who wanted things done. So I was always trying to get as much done as possible, but at the same time, do something that I enjoy doing. I just had to enjoy it as much as possible.  I liked to put out a different poster each time as much as possible, and I tried a lot of different varieties. Even though I tried a lot of different varieties there was a certain formality about my posters though.  That was kind of interesting, but it was very inspiring to do all of that stuff back in those days.  I enjoyed it a lot.” 

The earliest Wes Wilson poster in the Tweed show was done to promote the 3rd show that Bill Graham put on at the Fillmore Auditorium in 1966.  Done in orange and red with a large head and face in the center, it advertises a Pre-Grace Slick fronted Jefferson Airplane.

 

“It was the first time, or one of the first times that I remember, where we could use colors in the poster,” Wilson said.  “We couldn’t afford to use colors in posters before that one because it was much more expensive to use colors.  That was a big factor with that particular print, and there wasn’t a lot of time to produce them.”

 

Much like artists today, Wilson always felt the constriction of time to produce these cheaply made advertisements.

 

“Somehow the time got away from it,” Wilson said of the early poster.  “Deadlines were really important…  That’s why I wasn’t so happy with that poster, because it was just myself working on it, but everyone else thought it was ok.  I was happy about that.” 

 

One thing that really stands out about all of the concert art from this period is how the lettering transformed through time.  In BG3, one of Wilson’s first ever concert posters, he was still trying to find his own unique style.

 

“The main thing about that early Jefferson Airplane poster is the color, you know, being able to print it in color,” Wilson said.  “The lettering was like some of the other early posters I did, like the Paul Butterfield one.”

 

In the center of that Jefferson Airplane poster the lettering for the band moves inward toward the mind.    

 

“It was interesting to make dimensional changes,” Wilson said.  “It was sort of an inward-outward effect on the face.” 

 

When you enter the Tweed show there is an example of how the first poster sheets looked when they were fresh off of the presses.  Containing a set of handbills and a poster it shows what the whole sheet looked like.

  

 

“That was when we went to a bigger printing press,” Wilson said.  “In the beginning I did some of the first posters for Contact Printing.  I printed them and did everything on the first several posters.  Later, I got a job with a printer (West Coast Litho) who was kind of a neighbor of Contact. They did all their printing on a larger printing press than I had initially.  The size of the posters went up a little bit at that time in order to pay for the larger size.  So it was a bigger sheet of paper that we could use and I always liked to kinda utilize the whole sheet.  Otherwise, it would be trimmed off and so forth…  So I devised this idea to do the handbills on the same sheet as the poster.  That way it also added a little bit more money for the printing as opposed to being a separate printing for the handbills. They were an added expense before that, so that’s how that happened.  It worked out really well because the bigger press just bleeds the colors to the edge of the paper and that was a big plus too.”

 

That led to one of the biggest changes in poster art, the removal of the white border and posters that used the entire page.

 

“We went from the smaller 14x20 press that I used with the one jobber to the bigger one which was a Zenith big press,” Wilson said.  “So with the bigger sheets you go through and bleed the colors off and then trim to that.  It made a big difference in later posters and then everything else kind of upgraded too.”

 

The full sheet poster in the display is a rare experimental reprinting of a concert poster done for Andy Warhol’s Plastic Inevitable show that featured Lou Reed’s, Velvet Underground. 

 

“That was kind of an exploding plastic inevitable,” Wilson described.  “You know, bubbling upward, kind of an exploding plastic inevitable.  That’s what I was doing with that one.”

 

The original poster was done in black and orange, but the poster in the show was a printer’s proof done in red and pink.  That printing eventually looked very similar to the black and orange, with the only final difference being that “Andy Warhol” was printed in pink lettering.  While the example in the Tweed is not as old as the original, it does give a different view of a very well known poster.

 

“That one was actually a silkscreen done by a fellow in New York,” Wilson explained.  “There was a gallery that was having a show and so that poster was reprinted. The original one was orange and black, the colors that were available. The silkscreen was a different sort of idea that the gallery guy went with, a different set.”

 

As we move ahead a few short months after BG8 was created there was a poster done for The Wailers (no, not the Bob Marley band) known as BG11.  With this poster Wilson became a bit more experimental with his lettering wrapping it around the center and shaping it.  This poster is very early trippy, but not yet psychedelic, much like the music in early 1966.

 

“That one was probably a matter of mainly getting lettering,” Wilson said.  “I kinda got into lettering on that one and I remember I was trying to get different shapes with the lettering and stuff.  A lot of these posters I had to do so fast that I didn’t really have time to do any figure drawing or anything on these early posters.”

 

One aspect to note about the extremely early concert posters in the show is that many are in somewhat poor condition.  This is because the first posters were only meant to advertise shows that were attended by a fairly small gathering.  As the attendance grew at the shows the posters also became more popular as a result.

 

The lettering used in these early concert posters is probably the most revolutionary part of the art in this display.  These posters were initially meant for a small crowd and had a style that reflected the culture it advertised.  After doing around 30 concert posters Wes Wilson came into his own created a signature lettering style that changed art.

 

Across the room in the Tweed display is BG 43 and features Otis Redding with The Grateful Dead as an opener.  The pink lettering really bubbles up in this poster and highlights Wilson’s revolutionary style that continues to be copied to this day.

 

“Otis Redding, I remember that one,” Wilson said.  “That one had kind of a pinkish red lettering… That was a really nice one.  Otis Redding was a soul-blues guy and I thought he was pretty influential in terms of their sound.  I think there was a station over in Oakland called, KDIA or something, and they played a lot of that black soul stuff.  Plus, we were blending at the Fillmore and the Avalon and it was kinda everything from Flatt and Scruggs to Otis Redding. It was an interesting combination sometimes.”

 

For Otis Redding’s show there were also two posters created to advertise it.  One was the very psychedelic piece in the show and another was very traditional looking.  I asked Wilson if including a picture in his poster was meant to appeal to a larger audience.

 

“No, I was just always trying to do the job of illustrating and working on the posters for the printer or event… And with that one there was 7 days I think, and I really enjoyed the lettering on that one just kind of rhythmically went across the picture. I thought that was a really a good contrast, you know, the background with the sound going across in the form of lettering, like sound”

 


 

 

“It was the best of times…. unless you were in Vietnam, in which case it was the worst of times,” - Victor Moscoso 

Victor Moscoso was the first of the rock poster artists with serious academic training. After studying art at Cooper Union in New York City and at Yale University, he moved west in 1959, where he received his MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute.

Moscoso saw rock posters at the Avalon Ballroom and knew he could do as well. In 1966, he began designing for the Family Dog. Under his own imprint, Neon Rose, he did a series for the Matrix nightclub and other mainstream companies.  There are five Moscoso posters in the Tweed show highlighting some of his greatest pieces.  From his first poster he ever did in 1966 through his own Neon Rose series Moscoso has many posters in the show to enjoy.

“I like it when people like my work, even if it does confuse them,” Moscoso said.  “That’s alright, it’s part of the entertainment. What happened was the posters, which are advertisements, as there were not other advertisement for these shows…  There was no radio, no newsprint, no TV - certainly not.  The only advertisement were these posters, and very soon the posters became their own advertising, in other words, they became a form of entertainment onto themselves.  And we, the artists, became famous before the bands did, at least their music, because the posters were being done before the bands had any record contracts.  So people would take posters to New Hampshire, New York, to LA, and they’d see these posters and read the names of the bands.  So they were familiar with the names of the bands, but they didn’t hear their music unless they came from San Francisco.  Once the bands signed record deals - then they became more famous than we did.  Because, that’s the way it works.  But for awhile there we had it made.  It was the best of times…. unless you were in Vietnam, in which case it was the worst of times.  You can use that line – Dickens… It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.  If you were at the Avalon Ballroom, best of times - If you were in Vietnam, the worst of times.  Same time.”

 

Moscoso's style is notable for its visual intensity, obtained by manipulating form and color to create effects like those seen in Op Art of the day. Given his sophistication, it is no surprise that he was the first of the rock poster artists to use photographic collage. Moscoso describes how drastically the concert posters changed his academic design philosophy and his process:

“…reversing all the rules I ever learned in school . . . I had been told lettering should always be legible, so I turned that around to say: Lettering should be as illegible as possible. Another rule was that a poster should transmit its message quickly and simply. So, I said: A poster should hang you up as long as possible. Another one is: Do not use vibrating colors; they're irritating to the eyes. So I said: Use vibrating colors as much as possible. After all, the musicians were turning up their amplifiers to the point where they were blowing out your eardrums. I did the equivalent with the eyeballs . . .”

 

Among the many vibrating Moscoso posters in the display, the hardest to read is one created for the Youngbloods.  Along with the lettering another cool effect about the poster is if you look through blue glasses you will see one image, while through red glasses a different one appears.  The lettering is very difficult to read due to the colors on that one.  The Youngbloods are best known for their song, “Get Together,” but another band is featured in all of the other posters by Moscoso in the Tweed display, The Doors.

 

“’Break on Through,’ oh, that was an early one,” Moscoso said.  “That was the first Doors poster that I did.  In fact, it was the first poster for The Doors from San Francisco, because they were an LA band.  “Break on Through” was the first single off of their first album and it got airplay, in other words radio play, and so nobody knew who the Doors were in San Francisco.  They said, “hey, put this, ‘Break on Through to the Other Side’ somewhere in the poster so that people will know who The Doors are.  See, nobody knew who the Doors were.  I just went ahead and did what I felt like doing, and so I put a snowflake in the third eye position on the lady, overprinting, and then I put the, “Break on Through to the Other Side” where I felt like. That’s the thing about these things, I didn’t have to show a sketch to anybody.  I did not have to get approval on this. When I finished the poster I went directly to the printer.  Because they were being done so quickly and also, by then, the posters were selling very fast.”

 

 

Rick (Richard Alden) Griffin
(American, Los Angeles, CA 1944 – Santa Rosa, CA 1991)

Drawing on influences as diverse as Native American culture, advertising, and the California surf scene, Rick Griffin produced psychedelic poster art, album covers, and logos of such visual impact that they are among the primary images associated with Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, and other legendary performers.

Attending Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles in 1964, Griffin befriended the Jook Savages, a bohemian art/jugband group recently arrived from Minnesota. Later he designed the poster for their 1966 exhibition at The Psychedelic Shop in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, which led to an invitation to design a poster for the Human Be-In, a 1967 festival integrating the Berkeley radicals, the Beat scene of San Francisco’s North Beach, and hippies from all over the country.

Early in 1967, Griffin was commissioned to design the logo for a new magazine called Rolling Stone, and between 1967 and 1968, Chet Helms and Bill Graham both recruited Griffin to create over two dozen concert posters. In the early 1970s, Griffin became a born-again Christian; his later works are focused on ideas of mortality and continuity. Griffin was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1991.

 

Paul Olsen, a native Northern Californian who grew up on the Haight and actually attended the show in question, described Rick Griffin’s poster of the Flying Eyeball featuring Hendrix this way. 

 

“This is the Jimi Hendrix of Fillmore Psychedelic Posterdom...the Big Kahuna, the Brass Ring, the King of the World. It doesn't get any better than this...the justifiably famous "Flying Eyeball" poster by Rick Griffin,” Olsen said.  “When you own this, you own THE poster, mama. THE poster!  There are three Avalon Griffin posters which are in this league...but at the end of the day, this is THE ONE. This is Pure Stuff, right from the center of Griffin's incredible imagination and artistic skill. His Masterpiece of Masterpieces.”

 

The other Rick Griffin poster in the show was eventually used for the cover art on the Grateful Dead’s third album titled, “Aoxomoxoa.”  Live-Grateful-Dead-Music.com describes the album as one of Rick Griffin’s finest Grateful Dead album covers and writes.

 

“The painting was originally created as rock poster art advertising the Dead at the Avalon Ballroom in January '69,” They wrote on their blog.  “It's one the greatest and most highly sought after psychedelic posters ever. The band liked the poster so much that they asked Griffin to rework it for the cover of their third album.”

 

These poster artists created and influenced the album art that blossomed as a direct result of their art on display in the show.  If you are into old vinyl records and the beautiful covers they have, then this is the art to see.  This is where those artists started a movement that visualized the sound of rock and roll.

 

 

Alton Curtis Kelley (American, Houlton, ME 1940 – 2008 Petaluma, CA)

Kelley had a fascination with things mechanical and came to love cars, motorcycles and hot rods, including pin striping and detailing. He studied industrial design at the Philadelphia Museum and College of Art, and worked as a helicopter mechanic. Looking for a more creative lifestyle, Kelley moved to San Francisco in 1964, living with several other hippies in the Haight-Ashbury district. He became a founding member of the Family Dog, a collective of enterprising activists who staged events at the Avalon Ballroom.

Kelley handled promotion for Family Dog events, including drawing posters and handbills and his design collaborations with Stanley “Mouse” Miller nurtured his success as an artist. Kelley had a talent for collage and a keen eye for combining imagery and styles from diverse sources. Kelley sometimes worked with Rick Griffin as well, claiming that a sense of rivalry among artists was a positive incentive. With Stanley “Mouse” Miller, he published their biography, Mouse and Kelley, in 1979.

 

Stanley George “Mouse” Miller (American, born Detroit, MI, 1940. Lives and works in Sonoma, CA)

Like Alton Kelley, Stanley Miller found an outlet for his creativity in pin-striping cars and airbrushing designs on posters and T-shirts. By 1963, he had established his own corporation, Mouse Studios, producing a line of decals, posters and T-shirts for the hot-rod circuit.

Mouse migrated to San Francisco in 1964, where he met the artists associated with Family Dog, the organization producing dance concerts at the Avalon Ballroom. With collaborator Alton Kelley, Mouse experimented broadly with composition and lettering, as Kelley selected imagery to appropriate.

The team produced a number of striking concert posters between 1966 and 1968, one of the most famous being the Grateful Dead skull and roses motif. Mouse lives with his wife in Sonoma, where he manages the rights to his rock poster designs, and paints.

 

“When I started doing the posters, I knew nothing about poster art,” Mouse said in my interview with him.  “I teamed up with Kelley and we would go to the SF library and scour thru the books on poster art. We learned a lot in a short time and used a lot of the styles and images from old posters in our new posters, which I found brought back into the viewers eyes some of the great styles and images of old poster art. My favorites were Klimpt and Mucha.”

 

An extremely rare piece in the Tweed show is the poster advertising the Human Be-In that occurred in January of 1967 at Golden Gate Park.  The goal of the Be-In was to have so much music, and so much love, that the gatherers would stop the Vietnam War.  It featured all of the San Francisco bands like Grateful Dead, Airplane, Country Joe, Big Brother (Janis Joplin) and many more.  The featured speakers ranged from beat poet Allen Ginsberg and his tribe of hipsters, Timothy Leary and his LSD followers, Gary Snyder and his Zen poet warriors, and many of the Berkeley anti-Vietnam war groups.

 

Michael Bowen, the creator of the highly successful San Francisco psychedelic magazine called, The Oracle, was behind the “Gathering of the Tribes” for the “Human Be-In.”  The Oracle sponsored, advertised, and was handed out at the event for free.  

 

“Michael Bowen brought to me a picture by Casey Sonnaband to do a poster for the Human Be In,” Mouse said.  “I laid out the poster with the lettering and drew a third eye on the picture. It was a wonderful event.”

 

The next great Mouse Studio poster in the show features Janis Joplin and her band Big Brother and the Holding Company at the Avalon Ballroom.  Done in 1966, it is signed by the remaining members of the band at the bottom and was advertising one of Joplin’s first performances with the band.  This was before they were known by more than a handful of people and when there wasn’t really a scene for their new type of rock music.  

 

An interesting note about the poster in the Tweed show is that it is stamped at the top reading, “RA.”  The ink stamp confirms that it was hung up somewhere (like a college) and is a rare poster because in 1966 these ballroom psychedelic dance events were only attended by a few people.  The limited number of concert posters created at that time to advertise the events were disposable and most were destroyed as a result. 

 

“In the center of that poster is a photo of Gloria Swanson,” Mouse said. “She was a hero of mine because of her eating habits. She was a macrobiotic. The photo from that poster was from Life Magazine and it pertained to how they fit helmets for space travel. It was popular in those days to find a groovy old image and build a poster around it.  We obtained photos from everywhere.”

 

Sam Andrew, guitarist and author of most of Big Brother’s hits, left the band with Joplin when she went solo and continues to tour today and lead Big Brother.  He explained how important the posters were to the music and artistic movement of that time, but he wonders which legacy will survive the longest.

 

“They were extremely diverse,” Andrew explained about the posters.  “There was no school, no trend. Anything you can say in general about the poster art then will be foolish, because immediately ten exceptions to what you just adumbrated will appear. Complete freedom. The entire canon of world art was ransacked to create these amazing works. They will be important long after the music has become quaint. Think of Toulouse-Lautrec. Have you listened to the music that he was listening to when he did his amazing work?  It's great music, but what is more alive and vital today, the music or the art?”

 

The last two posters in the show were created by Mouse in collaboration with Alton Kelley. The most interesting aspect to notice about these two posters is that one is the original concert poster for Bo Diddley with Janis Joplin’s Big Brother opening and the other is an experiment done by Mouse to see what that poster and another would look like printed on top of each other.  They are both also signed by the artists at the bottom.

 

“The “Earthquake” poster has a picture of Santa Rosa's City Hall in the early 1900s earthquake,” Mouse explained.  “The title seemed to fit Bo Diddley's music.  The other poster was from a silk screen I was doing later on in the eighties. I combined two different posters together and I thought it was an interesting look.”

 

 

Tom Wilkes – The Monterey Pop Festival

 

Tom Wilkes was an award-winning Creative Director, Art Director, Designer, Illustrator, Writer, Photographer and Producer-Director. He was the art director for the Monterey Pop Festival, A&M Records, ABC Records, The Human Dolphin Foundation and has also served as a partner in Camouflage Productions. Wilkes was also responsible for scores of award winning designs including a Grammy for his 1973 "Tommy" album package. He created hundreds of hit record covers, posters, logos, books, trade ads and illustrations.  Wilkes passed away last year at 69 years old leaving a legacy of great artwork that was the backbone of rock music.  This is how he described the Monterey Pop Festival:

 

“The Monterey Pop Festival was the main event of 1967's "Summer of Love" and one of contemporary rock's defining moments. This peaceful revolution was expressed through a universal language of music, poetry, the graphic arts and new lifestyles. The lyrics of popular songs reflected the feelings of the movement. Monterey Pop was a gathering of the tribes to celebrate the dawn of a new age and bring about a positive change in existing politics, ideals and institutions.”

 

Most people know of this festival for the American debut of Jimi Hendrix and when he lit his guitar on fire.  It also was where the Who had to open for Hendrix and Janis Joplin became internationally known.  The festival was put on and featured the end of The Mamas and Papas and the beginning of Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish, and the psychedelic sound to come. 

 

A few short months after the Human Be-In, The Monterey Pop festival happened to be where Otis Redding stole the show and put soul into the soon to be named “hippies” (young people who sprung from the hipsters and folkies of SF’s early Free Speech, Civil Rights, and Beat Poetry movements).  Redding died less than six months after the event, but there is also a great Otis Redding concert poster from The Fillmore in the Tweed show.  It was from when he made his first debut in San Francisco in 1966 and was done by Wes Wilson.

 

 

Bonnie MacLean (American, born Philadelphia, PA. Lives and works in Bucks County, PA)

MacLean was the only female designer of early rock concert posters. She was married to Bill Graham and in the Fillmore Auditorium’s infancy she collected tickets, passed out handbills, counted money and lettered the names of upcoming bands on the hall’s blackboards.  That early lettering influenced her poster style that would follow.

After Wes Wilson left, Bonnie MacLean became the Fillmore’s “house” artist, creating almost 30 posters. Initially self-taught, her style evolved into ornate, Gothic looking designs, with faces sporting trance-like stares that evoke the detached spirituality of the 1960s.

 

The “Peacock” poster with the Doors and Yardbirds (BG75) has a great story of rock lore that goes with it. In the Hollywood movie “The Doors,” made by Oliver Stone, Jim Morrison swings and hits the promoter of his show in Miami in 1969 with a microphone in the head.  In the movie Graham actually makes a short appearance trying to calm the riotous crowd early in that Miami appearance because Morrison was running late. In reality Graham himself was the promoter who was hit in the head with a microphone back at a show in 1967 by Morrison at the Fillmore Auditorium. 

 

“Right before the show Jim presented promoter Bill Graham with a helmet adorned with bright psychedelic colors and written across the front was "The Morrison Special".  This was of course an apology for drilling him in the head with his twirling microphone during their last performance on June 9th and 10th.  The Doors played marvelously with an extended 10-minute version of "Light My Fire" that totally erupted the packed auditorium,” according to www.doorshistory.com.

 

That July show took place right at the moment that The Doors first hit, “Light My Fire,” hit number one on the charts.  The poster itself is based on earlier art, but the peacock feathers and woman painted by MacLean give a visual image of what the Summer of Love is remembered as by most. As for the other band on the billing, The Yardbirds, this would be their last American tour before their lead guitarist Jimmy Page formed Led Zeppelin out of its ashes. 

 

The first poster that really caught my eye and began my search for really rare concert art was the other poster in the Tweed show by MacLean that features The Doors, Chuck Berry, Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and the Holding Company (Janis Joplin).  Imagining a week of shows with all of those bands to kick off the New Year makes me jealous of the shows and lineups we get today.  

 

That concert poster, known as BG99, was created for the New Year’s Eve week of shows of 1967-68 being held at the larger Winterland venue.  The peace sign in the center summarized the 1960s in my mind, and back in 1998 when I purchased the poster the peace sign was still a really cool thing in pop culture.  During the mid-2000s however the poster plummeted in value as the peace sign became passé, but it seems to be having a slow recovery in the collector market. 

 

 

Tom Cervenak - The Great Society and the Mod Hatter

 

The first poster you will see when you enter the show feels like it is a bit out of place, but it is not.  The large yellow advertisement is from 1966 for the “Grand Opening of the Mad Hatter.” What pops out most is the punkish looking Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane in her earlier band (with her then-husband Jerry Slick) called The Great Society.  This poster promotes the opening of a new type of “Mod” store with expanding conscience rings, mod outfits, and free Pepsi.  It is really fun to read all of the happening stuff going on in this poster.   

 

When Slick was with The Great Society she wrote “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love,” two songs that later became the biggest hits of Jefferson Airplane.  Most people don’t know that Jefferson Airplane had a different singer before Grace Slick named Signe Anderson. Slick left The Great Society in 1966 to replace Anderson when she got pregnant and the rest is history.

 

 


“I followed the path of least resistance, which for me has always been to make marks on paper,” - Lee Conklin

 

Lee Conklin lists many references for his imaginative concert poster art. From Mad Magazine, Hieronymus Bosch, William Blake, Hokusai, and pen and ink virtuoso Heinrich Kley; to Salvador Dali, Rick Griffin, they all formed his art.

Today in the music industry a performer is a brand with iconic images, perfume lines, and action figures.  I asked Conklin if he felt the need to conform to a band’s image in the concert posters he created or if he had free range to interpret them in his own way.

 

“Generally the bands had nothing to do with the poster,” Conklin said.  “I felt obliged
to do something aeronautical for the Jefferson Airplane. A trail of skulls and roses seemed to follow The Grateful Dead, but these were exceptions. Occasionally there was an association between the name of the band and the lettering, as in the Cream and the Yardbirds posters.”

 

The first poster that Conklin produced that is in the Tweed display is called, “The Invasion of the Earhearts.”  The Who had made their American debut at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, but for their second American tour they were now well known and rocking the scene.  This poster highlights Conklin’s impressive pen and ink skills with numerous happenings occurring throughout the piece.

 

“With forty years of hindsight it is obvious that the nasally endowed couple in the background are Joy (we still share the view) and myself,” Conklin said.  “We were newly arrived on the precipice of A Brave New World.  I had previously shown Bill Graham a sketch of an Earheart and adapted it, plugging the speakerflower into a boulder to make rock music. The Who, I'm all ears, man. I was certainly innocent of the craft of color printing. The area behind the lettering was lightened while the poster was on the press at the suggestion Levon Mosgovian, the printer who was most generous with his craft.  He and Erroll Hendra, who created the transparencies from the artwork from which the metal lithography plates were burned, were my tutors.”

The next poster that Conklin did for Graham highlighted another superstar British group, Eric Clapton led Cream.  This was their second tour of the United States and the people of San Francisco were excited to hear this hybrid rock sound. 

 

The colors in the poster promoting the Cream show are very beautiful, and this was the first time, and one of the only times, that Conklin used an image of the band in the poster.

 

“Usually, one artist was responsible for two posters for succeeding concerts, both of which were printed at the same time on the same sheet of paper, using the same ink,” Conklin explained.  “Later, the two posters were cut apart.”

 

Was there a reason for moving from using a sheet for postcards and posters in printing to just printing two posters on one sheet?

 

“I am not sure why Bill Graham chose to do it this way,” Conklin said.  “I suspect it was financial. However, in the case of BG109 (The Cream poster) and 110 (another Cream poster done by Mouse Studios not in the Tweed display) the posters were meant to celebrate a six day stand by one of the hottest English bands of the day.  We decided to use the "process" colors: Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow, (CMYK, without the K [black actually]).  Bill Graham gave Stanley and me photos of the band to incorporate into the posters. Since I had no clue about working with photographs I opted to copy the faces in pen and ink.  I found a more "drawable" photo of the band in a fan magazine.  When the posters were printed, I discovered that Mouse had also decided to draw the faces, and had used the same photograph. The colors however could not have been more different, and Mouse’s lettering zoomed while mine oozed.”

 

One poster that stands out compared to the others in the show is known to collectors as BG127.  This poster has two separate billings on it, but what grabs the eye most are the strangely contorted body parts weaving their way through the center of the image.  It is true Conklin and features great bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival and Truth.


“For that poster I used the CMY colors again,” Conklin said.  “The pen and ink line drawing was printed in all three colors on top of each other. The softer colors in the background were created not with watercolor or pastels, but with a graphite pencil on three separate sheets of tracing paper.  They were then photographed by Erroll Hendra and added to the appropriate plate. When the design was completed I realized I had forgotten to name the venue on the poster. I cut into the yellow background to make the green on blue Fillmore and avert a small disaster.  For the summer of 1968 Bill Graham expanded the Fillmore schedule from three to six nights per week, split into two bills on one poster, with twice as much hand drawn lettering  (for the same pay). That may explain the schizophrenic vibe of this poster. Or maybe it contains some deep philosophic insight. Maybe not…”

In the corner of the Activities Gallery there is a great example of an extremely rare overprint (two posters printed on top of each other) by Stanley Mouse.  Just to the left of those two Mouse posters is a great Canned Heat poster done by Conklin.   What I originally had assumed was Conklin’s interpretation of the famous liquid light shows, highlighting the psychedelic ballroom experience, turned out to be the artist trying to copy overprints that he had seen lying all around the printer’s shop.  Conklin refers to the poster as “The Toilet.”

 

“The toilet - Canned Heat, get it,” Conklin joked.  “That poster was actually
inspired by my trips to the printer, where I couldn't stop staring at the stacks of recycled posters printed over each other to avoid wasting new sheets in the preliminary stage of printing. They were full of surprises. I wanted to make a poster that had that accidental energy. I made four different images that had little in common with each other and chose the process colors (CMYK) to print them in. It was only after seeing the printed posters that I realized that I had made an homage to the lightshows that always held me in thrall.”

Lee Conklin is the most unique poster artist who has produced this type of art, which makes him one of the most memorable in its history.  I asked him how people reacted to his style, being that it is so different from his contemporaries at the time.  He said, “Some people said, “That's cool,” Some didn't.”

 

So how did he decide to be so original in his designs?

 

“I didn't decide anything,” Conklin said.  “I followed the path of least resistance, which for me has always been to make marks on paper.”

 

 

Randy Tuten: Led Zeppelin and Bill Graham’s Concert Poster Artist

 

In the mid-1960s making concert posters in San Francisco was similar to Paris a century before when Toulouse Lautrec did posters for The Moulin Rouge.  It was a spiritual marriage of music, artists, rebellion, and revolution that made advertising images more important than just rock show ads.

 

“I’m 64 years old,” Randy Tuten said.  “So I guess I started when I was 25 or something like that. But the other artists were young when they started too… Alton Kelley, Stanley Mouse and Rick Griffin; none of us ever thought we would be doing this more than a year or two.  So it wasn’t a big thing, it was like little episodes because it didn’t pay much.”

 

The first concert poster that Tuten did for Graham’s Fillmore was of a ship bursting through a red door.  It featured The Grateful Dead, Blood, Sweat and Tears, and Spirit for a show on January 2-4 of 1969.  His next poster was for Led Zeppelin, which began a career of many Zep posters to follow. 

 

“The first concert poster I did for Led Zeppelin had a car on it,” Tuten said.  “It also featured County Joe & The Fish.  The next poster was an update of an avocado art piece I did in college, so I didn’t start to do the blimps until after it was all said and done.  Funny thing is that Rick Griffin always got Jimi Hendrix posters and I always got Led Zeppelin posters.  It wasn’t planned that way, it just worked out.  I don’t know about Victor Moscoso and The Doors, but it was just a random selection of who did the posters for what band.  We had no fiendish plot behind it all.”

 

It wasn’t until later that Tuten decided to use a blimp in his posters. BG199 (11/6-9/1969), featuring a blimp to advertise an upcoming Led Zeppelin show, is one of the more famous Fillmore posters.  It’s also one of the top posters sought after by collectors.

 

“Led Zeppelin always used a blimp,” Tuten said.  “I was tired of using a blimp all the time, so I put the blimp in the hanger on BG199 rather than just having a blimp in the sky.  It was like when a zeppelin is on the ground or Led Zeppelin was on the ground and it was repair time.”

 

That same poster has a small blurb about an upcoming Rolling Stones show that Graham was promoting at the bottom.  Graham saw an opportunity to band the groups together to advertise both upcoming shows. 

 

“Bill just said let’s put a little notice at the bottom because Led Zeppelin was a big English act and the Rolling Stones are a big English act, so we thought it would do some advertising for that at that point.”

 

The things that really stand out about the BG199 poster are the color choices and Tuten’s trademark lettering style.  The blue and red offset give a great visual effect to the poster.  I asked him if that was done on purpose.

 

“It was supposed to be that blue and red kind of go together like a little visual sync,” Tuten said.  “From blue to red… But I didn’t use enough red. I was more interested in the bold lettering with bolts like an airplane.  There were only 3000 of those printed, so that’s not very many really.”              

 

Tuten’s BG199 Led Zeppelin concert poster is on display along with many others that could not be fit into this article.  Go to www.thefountainheads.com for more information on the show and a guide.  Additional information provided by Peter Spooner and all interviews were collected by Andrew Olson.  The show runs at the Tweed through January, 2012.

 

____________________________________________________

The Question: How Did I Begin To Collect Old Posters?


When I was 18 and a senior in high school I visited a haberdashery in Elk River, MN, looking for odd antiques.  Surrounded by stacks of albums from the 1960s, incense holders and 8-tracks, was a small painting about the size of a postcard.  When I looked at it closer I could barely read the names, "The Grateful Dead" written in fire.  There was a date and some other information I could make out, but the card was torn and not in very good condition.  The price-tag also read $30, so it was a bit much for something so tattered in my view.  When I asked the clerk about what the postcard was the story that followed changed my life. 

The owners of the establishment had grown up in San Francisco and told me that these were advertisements sent out to promote shows being played at the Fillmore Auditorium back in the mid-1960s.  As I researched first in libraries and then as the internet began to improve, I learned much more about these pieces of art.  The information I later learned was that these were handbills and were a portion of Bill Graham's Fillmore Concert Posters series.  Using hand painted artwork that was reproduced for handbills and posters advertising rock concerts began in 1966 in California.  It soon spread quickly all across the country and other venues and artists from Detroit to London began to copy the idea within a year or two.




The Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco was where Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters decided to hold an “Acid Test,” which was completely legal and even included graduation certificates in 1966.  The Acid Test was really just the Pranksters renting a hall to show their silent movie they had shot of driving out to the East Coast to meet Timothy Leary (the novel “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” was written about the bus ride).  The soundtrack for their movie was performed live by a brand new band called The Grateful Dead, who changed their names from The Warlocks for the event.

 

  

 

Very quickly after the first test by Kesey at the Fillmore, Bill Graham, the manager of a mime troupe performing at the Acid Tests, began producing shows there with the Merry Pranksters and other acts. Graham took Kesey’s crowd and created a dance hall atmosphere with balloons on the floor, apples to munch on, and a safe environment for everyone. He also wanted a unique flyer that promoted the bands playing to young people.  Wes Wilson at Contact Printing was the first artist to be called upon to create the advertisement posters for Graham and he also did all of the first Family Dog produced show posters at the Fillmore as well.

 

(Above: Bill Graham)

The Family Dog, led by Chet Helms, was a group of hippie rock show promoters who were the opposite of New York bred, adopted, holocaust survivor, Bill Graham.  Graham saw dollar signs that led him to a career that will never be surpassed in rock promotion and would require many more words to describe.  He tragically died in a helicopter accident in 1991.  This was just as he was finally achieving the elusive success he had sought in his personal life that he had already achieved in his professionally.  Graham’s Fillmore posters number just short of 300 from the years 1966 to 1971.  There are other venues included in that series, but the art is, in my opinion, the greatest of the last century. 

 

While the Family Dog also threw their first shows at the Fillmore, they found their own home at the Avalon Ballroom after being pushed out by Graham a few months into 1966.  Chet Helms ran the Family Dog and he soon went back home to Texas to convince Janis Joplin to come back and play for a band at his ballroom called Big Brother and the Holding Company.  She had been out in San Francisco previously in the early sixties trying to make it as a folk singer and had returned to Texas a year before Helm’s visit feeling like a failure.  When she came back in 1966 her band became the house band at the Avalon and she later became a star.

 

The Family Dog posters number significantly fewer than Fillmores, but they are more true to the philosophy of hippie ideals.  Wes Wilson did the first few concert posters for the Avalon Ballroom Family Dog shows, but he was soon replaced by Alton Kelley, Stanley Mouse, Rick Griffin, and Victor Moscoso.  Helms wanted control over his posters, and most of the early ones followed a theme.  They are slightly western, but most contain cut-out pictures from very old magazines.  This is an entirely different kind of art than the Fillmore posters that Wes Wilson was freely making without any restrictions or input.  Graham knew that people loved the free expression that he was promoting in 1966 and let Wilson grow into an amazing artist. 

 

While speaking with Victor Moscoso, one of the first artists to do these types of posters, he gave his initial impression of the art in 1966.

 

“Although I went to the events, I didn’t think much of the posters at first until I saw a poster by Wes Wilson for Paul Butterfield,” he said.  “Chet Helms picked the image out of the back of a magazine and it was from an ad for headaches.  There’s this guy and he’s got his hands over his head, ya know, side view, as if he’s in pain.  It was very interesting lettering and I saw it in the doorway of a coffeeshop.  That one caught my attention for graphic and design reasons and I looked at it and I said, “hmm how crude, but interesting.” That was my response to Wes Wilson’s poster.”

 

It bothered Moscoso that here he was fresh out of Yale and teaching about the art of lithography at the San Francisco Art Institute yet a new artistic movement was springing up all around him.

 

“I went to Chet Helms at the Avalon and showed him my portfolio, and I had an excellent, real slick, portfolio,” he said.  “So I did Family Dog number 11 for a show featuring Big Brother and the Holding Company.  That’s how I was going to become a part of the movement and do a really good poster - and it stunk.  The reason it stunk was because I was trying to make the lettering legible, see, and for all the wrong reasons - which was what I was taught in school.  And um, I was crushed.  Here’s this guy who is self taught and he did a much better poster than I did.  That really bothered me.  And not only that, but within a couple of weeks, Mouse and Kelley, Mouse Studios, came out with the Zigzag poster.  You know, the Zigzag rolling posters… They made it into a poster with Big Brother headlining and it knocked my socks off.  It was obvious to me that something was going on and I didn’t know what it was…. Just like in the Bob Dylan song, the ‘Ballad of a Thin Man.’”  

 

That first (FD11) is featured in the Tweed show, but it stood as an artistic obstacle for Moscoso as he felt intimidated by the other artists’ work.

 

“I didn’t do another poster for about five months,” he said.  “I thought I was gonna miss the bus.  Fortunately however, by looking at the work of Wes Wilson, Mouse and Kelley - and they were trucking, they really were you know - each poster would be better than the previous poster.  Because the nice thing about the posters is you get the assignment, it takes a couple of days to do, another couple of days to print it, and then its up and you can see it.  And you’d get feedback...  The feedback then you can put into your next poster. I had never had a situation where I had gotten the job and the public would see it within a week.  That was very, very valuable.  Still, like I say, it took me five months till I did another poster, and that one was alright.  It was chickens on a unicycle. It’s alright, it wasn’t a total failure, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do yet, it wasn’t what Mouse and Kelley and Wes Wilson were doing.  Then I did another one with flowers on it that I got off of music sheets. Like in the old days before phonographs they sold sheet music and sheet music had covers on it… It was usually a couple of pages, and that was a little better.  But still, it did not please me very much. And then finally I did the man with the family dog logo Indian, with the swirling eyes. He’s got eyeglasses on and the eyeglasses are swirling…  Red and Blue… That is what I consider my first successful psychedelic poster.  At this point now I’m in the ballgame.”

 

There are two known psychedelic concert posters in known exsistance from Minnesota.  One poster has Steppenwolf from 1968 and the other is a “happening” with Jefferson Airplane performing in 1967.  They are beautiful pieces that have sold for thousands.  The most valuable concert poster out there may be in your basement or a grandparent’s barn.  The Buddy Holly Winter Tour poster from Duluth is worth more than any other concert poster out there.  If you find one of those you can probably pay off the mortgage of your home.