Copyright 1993-2005 and 2006, Robert Minkin and Minkin Designs – All rights reserved.
Subject – Dick’s Picks, a series of CD releases by The Grateful Dead on Grateful Dead Records, with cover images by Robert Minkin
In these days of declining record sales, many people who report on the music business wonder aloud how it is that musicians are supposed to be able to survive (and, even, make a good living) without selling millions of CDs or digital downloads. Throughout the short history of Rock and Roll music, there have been a few great examples of musical acts that have connected with their fan bases in such as deep way that they have been able to build and support their careers (and their families) on the sales of the wide range of related enterprises, with touring being the most obvious (and, done right, a very profitable) method.
The consummate touring band, The Grateful Dead is a great example of such an act. For 30 years, from 1965 to 1995, the band played almost constantly, traveling throughout the U.S. and Canada, as well as Europe and, in 1978, in Giza, Egypt, near the Great Pyramids. All during this time, the band lived in an open marriage with its fans, allowing them to record and share their music and, in some cases, providing the throngs of Deadheads who traveled with them from show to show with the necessities of life (free food, shelter, first aid and, quite often, music).
And while this didn’t translate into commercial success in a traditionally-measured way (for example, it took nearly 30 years for American Beauty and Europe ’72 to go Double Platinum, with only one recording – Skeletons from the Closet – going 3X Platinum, and that after 20 years!), the band made a VERY good living from touring and merchandise, and they were very wise to record (on audio and, when possible, video tape) nearly every concert to be put into a vault for use later on.
Beginning in the early 1990s and continuing to this day, the band made good use of their archives by releasing three series of live concert recordings. Two of these series use the multi-track recordings made, remixed using the newer technologies now available. The third series, titled Dick’s Picks, were based on more rudimentary 2-track recordings – more like what would have been recorded by fans at these shows. The series was launched in 1993 and was named for Grateful Dead archivist Dick Latvala, who personally worked with the band members to select the shows for the series and then oversaw production until his death in 1999, after which the new archivist, David Lemieux, took over these responsibilities until the series was completed in 2005.
And although the Dead has fairly-well fully-embraced the new Digital Age – offering their new, internet-only “Grateful Dead Download Series” both on their www.gdstore.com site and through iTunes – the packaging of “traditional” products in high style continues to be a priority for the band. While early records featured the artwork of some of the leading artists of the San Francisco psychedelic and underground scene – Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, John Van Hamersveld, Gilbert Shelton, Philip Garris and others – they chose a long-time fan, artist & photographer Bob Minkin, to create the look of the last 11 volumes of the Dicks Picks series. How this opportunity for a Deadhead to leave a lasting mark on the products for his favorite band is the subject of today’s Cover Story. Read on, dudes…
In the words of the artist, Bob Minkin –
According to Bob – “As a long-time Deadhead, I began photographing the Grateful Dead for fun. In 1977, I had the opportunity to show my work to the publisher of Relix Magazine in NYC. From then on, my photography and artwork was published in almost every issue of Relix – even to this day.
My relationship with the magazine allowed me to get credentials to photograph many artists, and so in the 1980’s, I contacted Grateful Dead Productions directly and they began using my photography for calendars, books and, later, the internet. Although I was also graphic designer with my own business, The Dead’s organization primarily knew me as a photographer.
That all changed in 2000 when they were looking for a new packaging designer. A friend who works for Grateful Dead Productions recommended me to fill that role. I made a presentation and they were impressed and hired me to create a new look for the CD cover and other packaging for the 25th Dick’s Picks. Dick’s Picks is a numbered series of live concert releases that were hand picked by the Dead’s archivist, Dick Latvala, and so the criteria was that the design had to lend itself to a numbered series.
Number 25 was a stand-alone design, but my client was so pleased with that package that they hired me to design and produce all of their subsequent CD, DVD and box set releases. The artist’s management provided me with no visual direction at all. It was wide open for me to come up with an array of possibilities for them to consider.
The next 11 releases that I created were divided into two series with different designs. For Numbers 26-30, I created the ‘stamp’ series. As a fan of the band, I was already immersed in their imagery. Their song lyrics conjure up visions of the Wild West, trains, hobos, poker games, dancing bears, roses, outer space and so on, and since these were live concert recordings, microphones, tape reels, the venue and location could all play a part in the visuals.
I had proposed a few different themes for the series – a ‘road case’ theme, a ‘space’ theme, and a theme based on postage stamps. Here are some comps of the designs I had proposed –
Copyright 1993-2005 and 2006, Robert Minkin and Minkin Designs – All rights reserved.My client ultimately chose the ‘stamp’ design. The idea was to make the CD look like a mailed package, complete with stamp and postmark. The postmark would reflect the date of the concert recording and the stamp would be evocative of the Dead’s imagery.I looked through my childhood postage stamp collection and found beautiful stamps form South America dating from the 1930s-40s. When I scanned and enlarged the stamps, the detail was incredible. Working in Photoshop, I manipulated the images to make the postage value conform to the series number of the Dick’s Picks. Then I replaced the central image and merged it seamlessly into the original stamp design. Two of the central images were from photographs I shot – the skeletons on #26 were taken in Mexico, while the rose on #30 was taken in my garden. The others I found in my collection of ‘old stuff’.
I scanned wrapping paper for the background and created a ‘postmark’ in Adobe Illustrator. I imported the postmark into Photoshop and incorporated it into the paper scan and added shadows and de-bossing effects to make it look real. In the end, everyone was extremely pleased with the results, so much so that they hired me as their principal designer for their new releases over the next five-year period. Nothing wild took place during the development process – it was all very business-like – but it was and still is thrilling for me to work with my favorite band.”
About the artist & photographer, Bob Minkin –
In 1974, when Bob brought his Kodak Instamatic camera to a New Riders Of The Purple Sage concert at New York City’s Academy Of Music, he had no idea he was about to embark on a lifetime journey.
A graduate of New York City’s School Of Visual Arts, Bob earned his BFA in graphic design and photography. He was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, and currently lives with his family in Marin County, CA. He is a partner in Minkin Design, a full-service web design and graphic studio.
His photographs have appeared internationally on CDs and DVDs, and on the covers and insides of many magazines and books. Clients have included Time Magazine, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Guitar World and Grateful Dead Productions.
As Bob tells it – “When I was 13 years old, I fell in with a clique who turned me on to the music I still love today. By 1974, I was going to concerts by Eric Clapton, Grateful Dead, Johnny Winter, Mountain, NRPS, and others. Greatly impressed with this new world, I wanted to capture a memory or keepsake for myself. I began taking my camera to almost all the concerts I attended.
Living in NYC afforded me the opportunity to hear plenty of live music. It became a hobby, an obsession and I went to many shows, seeing not only bands that I was familar with, but exploring new bands that were unfamilar to me – The Plasmatics, Todd Rundgren, Ramones, B-52s, Talking Heads, etc.
By 1977, I had already amassed a considerable portfolio. At that time – through a chance encounter – I hooked up with Relix Magazine, then a Grateful Dead fanzine. My photos were published in Relix and I began gaining official access, that is, photo passes to many concerts. I continue to work with Relix to this day.
Copyright 1993-2005 and 2006, Robert Minkin and Minkin Designs – All rights reserved.<- Bob and his favorite guitarist
As time went on, I expanded my contacts in the music industry. Working with Monarch Entertainment in the Northeast, later Bill Graham Presents when I moved to San Francisco. During the 1980’s I began a close relationship with Grateful Dead Productions which continues to this day in the form of my role as their package designer for most of their CD and DVD releases.
I still do a lot of photography, of course. When shooting, I like the beauty of natural light and try to be as unobtrusive as possible, allowing my subjects to be their natural selves. Capturing the definitive peak moments of an event is what I strive for.”
Bob’s design studio – Minkin Design – opened shop in 1990, the year Bob and Anne Minkin escaped from New York and settled in the San Francisco Bay Area. The two talented designers met at Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts, graduating with BFAs in Graphic Design and designs on a future together.
Their entrepreneurial start in California after stints in the NY corporate world netted them clients ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500’s. In addition to many long-term client relationships, they developed a full network of support people and services, along with the ability to successfully manage any marketing communications project, no matter the size or complexity.
1. Listen and learn
2. Respond creatively with clarity, function, usability and good looks.
To see more of Bob Minkin’s current work, please visit his site at –
To see more of his work as a photographer, please follow this link –
To see Bob’s work available through RockPoP Gallery, please follow this link –
To see all of the Grateful Dead-related items in the RockPoP Gallery collection, please click here – http://rockpopgallery.easystorecreator.com/items/grateful-dead/list.htm?1=1
About Cover Stories – Our weekly series 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 Cover Story, 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 Cover Story are Copyright 1993-2005 and 2006, Robert Minkin and Minkin Designs – All rights reserved. Except as noted, all other text Copyright 2008 – Mike Goldstein & RockPoP Gallery (www.rockpopgallery.com) – All rights reserved.