Having spent a number of years working with “creative types” in the music, television and computer/web production worlds, I have been fortunate enough to be exposed to talents both large and small. While I often times found myself relying on a short list of “go-to guys” I’d developed over time for projects that required a fast turn-around or had limited budgets (wasn’t that most of them?), there were occasions that I was able to approach projects without those constraints and look at a greater number of options for people who might bring their unique abilities to bear and help me/my team produce some awesome products, making both myself and my bosses/clients quite happy with the results.
While I won’t name names today (you know who you are!), suffice it to say that when I discovered people who could help me take a project “to the next level”, I also took great interest in watching for what it was that made them/their output so special. Sometimes, it was the simple things that made their input that much more valuable, whereas other times it was the ways they looked at projects that helped them approach their tasks in such ways that when they came to me with concepts to review, I would either have to shake my head in wonder (either wondering what the @&%! was going thru their minds, or why I never saw the possibilities as they did) or simply step back and say “you’re amazing”. To someone like me who’s been involved in creative development and production and who’s been collecting art for over 30 years, it still to this day never ceases to impress me that there are so many talented people in the world, with most of them remaining “below the radar” or simply enjoying their talents as a hobby.
I also found that my job as a producer could be even more difficult when I had two people of prodigious talent (and, sometimes, egos to match) collaborating on a design project. If I was good at getting the best from both players – while at the same time keeping them from destroying each other during the process – the results could be quite impressive. More often, though, two big talents/egos would come to loggerheads during a project and I’d be forced to use my own judgment to decide who was better-suited for a particular effort and then gently let the other one down so that they’d be willing to make themselves available again for the next project. With this experience in mind, I was truly amazed to hear the story of how artist/designer Ernie Cefalu teamed up with now world-renowned artist Drew Struzan in the mid-1970s to successfully work together on the creation of dozens of iconic album covers for clients of Cefalu’s Pacific Eye & Ear agency. As you’ll read in today’s edition of UnCovered (the third in a series of interviews with Ernie C.), when such a relationship is based on a high degree of respect, friendship, and the desire to always do something new and different, the results of such a collaboration can surely be awe-inspiring. Today’s story takes up after the formation of the Pacific Eye & Ear agency in the early 1970s…
In the words of the artist, Ernie Cefalu (interviewed September, 2009, in Los Angeles, CA) –
What would you call a reality-altering, career-forming experience that allowed you to touch the world with what you did best and leave a lasting impression, but not even realizing the impact of your accomplishments until 36 years later? I know what I would call it – “My Life.”
In 1972, with the Jesus Christ Superstar, The Rolling Stones Tongue, Cheech & Chong’s Big Bambu, The Jefferson Airplane’s Long John Silver and Alice Cooper’s Schools Out albums to my credit, I now my own company. I was starting to gain traction in the album design category and as an extra bonus, building quite the reputation. I was also working 18 to 20 hours a day 6 to 7 days a week just to be able to stay in front of it all. I needed help and I needed it quick!
That help came in March of 1972, when Joe Garnett, who had been a freelancer, signed on as our first staff illustrator, and not a moment to soon. I had just secured our next major cover from my friend Lee Dorman. Lee had been the bass player and “front man” of Iron Butterfly, and the group was reforming into a new band – Captain Beyond – and they wanted me to do their cover.
Over the next few weeks, I worked very closely with Lee creating the look and feel of “The Captain” character. I then asked Joe Garnett to create the cover illustration depicting a futuristic captain, standing on a meteor in space, with his foreshortened hands reaching out for an iconic globe with two inverted triangles glowing inside it.
When he was done, I took a 5”x9” piece of Lenticular (3-D) plastic and printed Joe’s illustration on the plastic’s surface, which created an amazing illusion of movement and depth. We then added the plastic onto the printed covers. This was the first time that anything like that had been done on an album cover, and even though the record company fought it at every turn, Joe and I had nailed it. The cover and the group were both big hits!
Over the next months Joe and I did packages for the Door’s Full Circle, Cowboy’s Glad To See Ya and Grand Funk Railroad’s Phoenix albums, but this was all about to go South. In the middle of a shoot for the new Dennis Provisor (the lead singer for The Grass Roots) solo album called 7 Deadly Sins – and the biggest photo shoot we had ever done – Joe took ill. Shortly afterward, he moved away from Los Angeles and, needless to say, I was devastated.
Joe was a really versatile and fast illustrator that I had become both comfortable working with and dependent upon. On top of that, at the request of the Jefferson Airplane, I needed to go to San Francisco to meet with Grace Slick, Paul Kantner and Jorma Kaukonen to work with them on the design for their new album FAT. Even though I was stoked about that and 1972 was shaping up to be one “hell of a year” my go-to-guy, Joe Garnett, was gone.
I had to remove those diversions from my head and focus only on what was in front of me. It was going to be great seeing the band again. When I was finally with them, we immediately picked-up where we had left off months earlier with their Long John Silver album. Our meeting went very well and ended three hours later on a very high note.
On the flight back that evening, I had extreme mixed emotions. On one hand, I was elated to do another album design for the Airplane… what a high. Joe had gone, what a bummer! But maybe it was OK. Even though I didn’t have Joe, maybe I could do what was needed. A strong concept and some really cool lettering could work – after all, I had done the last Airplane cover myself, and it came out great. It sounded good, and I was glad to settle that conversation with myself!
I have always been a firm believer in “Good Karma” and have tried to live my life that way. But at this point I was wondering which of the bad things that I had done was coming back around to impact this situation. It was surely, the best of times and the worst of times all… at the same time!
Soon afterward, my concerns evaporated when this clean-cut kid by the name of Drew Struzan showed up at Pacific Eye & Ear’s doorstep. He was very friendly, in a quiet way. He had short hair and looked very straight, but as we talked, I found that he was interesting and articulate, with a certain air of confidence about him that I liked.
I remember thinking to myself, there’s something different and very special about this guy. Then I saw his book and immediately knew what it was… and it hit me like a wet kiss at the end of a hot fist! I want to go on record today and tell you that, to this day, 36 years later, I have never seen such incredible work in my entire life! Even though he hadn’t been out of Art Center all that long, Drew’s work was unbelievable!
His understanding of anatomy and ability to draw and paint was uncanny. His command of light and shadow, as it defined the form of his figure drawings, brought them to life on his page. I was simply “blown away”! I told him about the new Airplane album and we both agreed that “there was something there” in the title FAT – something that his control of the human form would best help illustrate.
We truly hit it off, and at the end of the interview, I hired him on the spot. However, as he was a new father and wanted to spend time with his family, he accepted my offer with just two stipulations: first; he would only work from 9:00 to 5:00, and second; he wouldn’t work on weekends. I remember telling him that if he could contribute at the level that his work implied, that would work for me. We shook hands on it, fastened our safety belts and never looked back!
As I worked over the weekend putting together the presentation for the next week’s meeting with The Airplane, I couldn’t stop thinking about Drew and the level of talent and value he would add to our efforts. Because I had been so hoping that I would be able to replace Joe with someone quickly, I had to stop what I was doing, several times, just to be sure that I hadn’t been dreaming – and I hadn’t!
All of my concerns went right out the window when Drew showed up Monday morning at 9 am sharp. He said that he had been thinking about our discussion on Friday and had an idea for a drawing. Over the weekend, he had done a charcoal sketch, on sepia tone paper, of two figures in a landscape framed in an Art Deco-style border. When he showed me the sketch it wasn’t exactly the direction that I was going in – I was seeing more of a up-scale Maxfield Parrish-style effort – but I felt good enough about his drawing to add it to my presentation.
As it turned out, adding Drew’s sketch was a good thing, which I didn’t discover till I was about to present our ideas to Grace, Jorma and Paul. The group had changed the title to Baron Von Toll Booth & The Chrome Nun and forgot to tell us! It didn’t hurt that they had some of the best smoke there ever was to assist in their forgetfulness! So there I was wasted, meeting with The Airplane, and finding out that the title had changed on what I was about to present.
It’s these moments “where the rubber hits the road” that adrenalin and creativity must be at their highest levels. In that same breath, they all turn to me and with that “C’mon, blow us away” look in their eyes and said “so show us what you have!” Considering what had just gone down, I started presenting the concepts with a slightly different spin than originally planed. When Grace saw Drew’s sketch she absolutely loved it, and suggested putting it into the Parrish-style concept I had also presented. Right then and there, we combined Drew’s figures into a neo-classical landscape and this great exchange of ideas led to an even better album cover.
On the final piece, we lost the heavy Deco border and used a more traditional border with a “fine art” museum type placard and quality. The cover concept and direction were done. All that was left was to do it, and Drew did it! His final painting was done in oils and colored pencils on canvas. He made the figures even more anatomically revealing than his original sketch, by painting them without skin and added a leopard to the composition. The group loved it! The entire painting took him two days to paint.
This was the first time that Drew and I had worked together, and it was destined to not be our last. Neither of us realized the magnitude of what laid ahead for us. There was a comfort level and professional respect that we found with each other that can only be described as “finding that missing piece that would accent and strengthen a weakness without taking over your soul.” I honestly felt that now, together with Drew, our agency could do anything… and for me that feeling was everything!
Less than 60 days later, I found myself on my way to Beverly Hills at the request of Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath. I remember the 3-minute ride from their front gate, leading up to this huge 3-story “Gone With The Wind”-style mansion. I parked and walked up to this massive front door with a huge turn-bell in its middle surrounded by leaded glass. I gave the bell a good turn and while I waited for a response I tried to imagine how crazy it was going to be meeting Ozzy?
Within a few seconds the door was answered by this 6’-5” dude that looked just like Riff-Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Before I could open my mouth he said, in the deepest baritone voice, “you are expected, so please follow me.” The inside of this house was beautifully furnished – very upscale and conservative – with piped-in classical music throughout. Not at all what I imagined – where were the bats and headless chickens? But that was about to change – quickly. We finally came to two of the biggest doors ever made and as Riff-Raff opened them, the sound that blew out between the doors was so strong it almost knocked me over.
When we entered the room I was amazed. It was just like being in the front row at the Forum. The band was in a full dress rehearsal, with the smoke, lighting and sound all at full blast… it felt unbelievable! I have always felt that Black Sabbath was arguably the most-influential heavy metal band of all time, and this private Black Sabbath concert certainly validated that assumption for me. It was loud, colorful and amazing.
It turned out that they had rented the mansion because of its soundproof, full-size ballroom, which they had converted into a concert venue. They were preparing for a tour to support their new album Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and wanted us to do the cover of the album. When I asked how they had found us, it turned out that both Ozzie and Geezer (Butler) were huge Alice Cooper fans and loved the covers that we had done for him. I spent the day hanging, talking and listening to the new tracks while they explained what they were conveying with the songs. The really cool part for me was getting a chance to meet and party with all the bands that I loved. Rock n’ Roll Life can be so great…
I based the Sabbath concept on two turn-of-the-century illustrations that I received at my confirmation in the 5th grade. The first was a “good man” and the second an “evil man”, each captured at the split-second of their death. Drew then created two 30”x40” illustrations in colored pencil and acrylic that blew everyone’s socks off, including mine!
Here’s a bit of insider info: Some fans might know that the man in bed on the front and back covers is Drew and that he is all three demons pictured as well. Now here’s something that just a handful of people know: the woman on the front cover left is Ingrid Haenke, who beautifully-illustrated the Toys In The Attic cover for Aerosmith. The woman on the right is my beautiful wife Bonnie. Also, one additional note – I had designed an incredible logo (see left-hand image, below) that, to my dismay, was replaced with a crappy one (below, right) – at the last minute – by the band.
By 1975, Pacific Eye & Ear had not only become known for its break-through concepts and design but had built a solid reputation for creating ”Fine Art.” We had added three other key artists to the art department. At the beginning of April, I was contacted by The Bee Gees manager and Robert Stigwood, whom I worked with on the first Jesus Christ Superstar stage tour.
Robert and I had worked really well together in the past, so calling me was, as he put it, “a real no brainier!” He was deeply involved with the “Brothers Gibb” and he went on explaining why their new album Main Course was going to be so critical, as it was going to be their entry into the “hot” new Disco movement of the 70’s.
Robert always said the Jesus Christ Superstar logo was one of his all-time favorites. He was also a huge fan of Drew and Pacific Eye & Ear. He wanted me to create a new unique “own-able” logo for the Bee Gees – using their name – that would represent the Disco era for the band. Then, working with Drew, we’d marry my logo it to a memorable album cover. I created a really cool lettering logo – one of my best ever. Both the logo, together with Drew’s illustration of “Beauty in a Coke Spoon” quickly became iconic symbols, synonymous with the Disco craze.
Alice Cooper’s Welcome To My Nightmare in 1975 was to be the last package that Drew and I did together, and it was our most famous collaboration. Working with Alice and Shep was always a great experience, and this time was no exception. I love them both, and Shep is the best manager and human being in the business. We spent a lot of time together discussing the messages behind the music and listened to some of the rough tracks. Then I met with Joe Gannon – who produced all of Alice’s tours – and he conveyed his needs and concerns. Finally, I got with Drew and that’s when we created the “nightmare Ring Master” concept. With his sketches and my lettering it all came to life, and the rest is “Rock N’ Roll” history.
Welcome To My Nightmare has been ranked by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the top 100 album covers of all time (Editor’s Note – Ernie had four covers in the top 100!). This is, in my opinion, by far the best Drew Struzan illustration ever done, and it is my personal favorite. It is the quintessential example of the Struzan style that first got him noticed in the movie poster business.
When we started working together Drew hadn’t developed any specific look yet and that’s why his early works were so varied in style and medium. It was his thirst for versatility and maximum control of a new medium that drove him, and it was contagious for us as well. He would do one assignment in oils on canvas, the next with brush and Doc Martin dyes or India ink. Then, the next piece would be a watercolor, and then he would jump on Carl Ramsey’s airbrush and, after a few tips from Carl, master that tool it as well.
Always stretching the limits and the medium, Drew was consistently experimenting with different styles and building muscle, then creating variations on those styles. There was always a creative exchange and ultimate respect between us. The really interesting spin to all of this is that Drew’s distinctive signature style – which ultimately changed the world of movie poster art – is the direct sibling of the style that he developed and refined while at Pacific Eye & Ear.
For artists and designers, the biggest lure about doing album covers was that the bands wanted creativity and uniqueness, which gave us complete permission to “get loose,” listen to their music and come up with lots of cool, different concepts – whatever we wanted to do, and the crazier the better!
I must say that Drew’s contributions of his talent and energy to Pacific Eye & Ear was a true learning experience for us all. That being said, the growing and learning exchange worked both ways. I feel that what Drew ultimately learned from me was that being a really great illustrator was only one part of a much bigger solution. The other key ingredients were concept, design and a better understanding of how product packaging (and other ways his art would be used) might affect the visual impact of his final pieces But, most importantly, he learned how to take direction and work with a Creative Director.
As an artist, I have always believed that, to survive and thrive, artists must continually have variety in their projects. For me, producing consistently great creative results meant taking on a variety of projects, across both album cover and non-album cover business categories. There is something about juggling different assignments and working under pressure that brings a fresh perspective, clarity of mind and focus to everything that you do.
Together, Drew and I pushed the bar higher and higher – never satisfied with what we had just done, but always focused on how we could make the next one even better. Even though our work together was a short-lived 3 ½ years, we created 25 album covers. Some were iconic and some not as much, but they were all really “Fine Art.” It is how we, along with a hand full of others, through our art – just like the music itself – left images for the world that will live on forever.
We created roughly 60 projects together and I can say that, without any equivocation, I never got tired of watching him work, and have never seen or worked with anyone like him since. He was fast, accurate and confident. Honestly, I don’t ever remember him making a mistake on any piece he did… ever!
For me, Pacific Eye & Ear was like the child I never had. It was an intensely tangible creation that quickly took on a life of its own. The original plan was to always promote the company over us as individuals, and now that really made more sense than ever.
I will be honest – I loved Pacific Eye & Ear so much that it quickly became all-consuming – it was an almost-worse-than-having-another- lover kind of commitment. I thank God every day that I had a wife in Bonnie who understood my passion and stood by my side every step of the way. Without her strength and love, I know that I could not have come close to achieving what I did, and I strongly feel that my body of work clearly speaks to that.
I am certainly thrilled at the exposure that this and other stories have allowed me and I am humbled greatly by the interaction from you the readers. It is both overwhelming and inspirational. My sincere Thanks to you all for enjoying my stories as much as I did telling them.
About the artist – Ernie Cefalu –
Ernie Cefalu is the owner and Senior Creative Director of HornBook Ink. the original cyber-agency with an arsenal of 25 world-class creative professionals.
Recently, Ernie was Senior Creative Director and Co-Owner of Y & M Associates in Los Angeles, an agency known for its breakthrough business solutions fueled by keen strategic focus and unparalleled creative design. He sat at the helm of this cutting edge boutique and his eye, and hand, touched and guided every client’s assignment. He remains a leader in this industry.
Ernie started his career on Madison Avenue in the late 1960’s. He was hired at Norman Levitt Advertising and his award-winning work for Decca Records (including designs for the Jesus Christ Superstar album) quickly established his creative genius and created demand for his talents.
Ernie’s drive and passion for excellence led him to a new chapter in 1970 when he joined forces with Craig Braun, Inc. in New York. Knowing the importance of first impressions, he wanted to make a mark on his first assignments. The results have become rock icons – the tongue logo for The Rolling Stones and the rule-breaking Sticky Fingers album.
Three months later, Ernie opened a satellite office for the agency in California where he would be the head Art Director. The hits kept coming for Ernie..Led Zeppelin III, Alice Cooper’s School’s Out, Cheech & Chong’s Big Bambu, and Captain Beyond, among others..
In 1972, Ernie was at the top of his game and knew it was time to leave and start his own agency. He opened the legendary “Pacific Eye and Ear” agency where, over the next 13 years, he created another 183 album covers for rock legends such as The Doors, Aerosmith, The Bee Gees, The Guess Who, Black Sabbath, Jefferson Airplane, Grand Funk Railroad, and Iron Butterfly. Pacific Eye and Ear was now on the map forever – easily recognized as one of the top three album design companies in the country.
In the late 80’s, as work in the music business was slowing, Ernie knew it was time to reinvent himself. He would “go mainstream” where traditional advertising was expected, but he would offer clients a very different kind of service and product. If they were half as bored as he was with status quo in advertising, packaging design, consumer promotions, and merchandising materials in stores, he knew he would have an exciting, thriving business. He felt he was really in touch with people – he understood how they thought, how they felt and how they acted. Ernie felt different businesses require different solutions…but they all need an attitude, a heart and a soul. Ernie could provide that connection.
In 1989, Ernie added an unlikely account to his client roster – Nestlé USA. Over the next decade, his work helped over 20 brands in Nestlé’s five divisions post double-digit sales growth. As word of mouth grew, he added Sara Lee, Wolfgang Puck, Sizzler, La Brea Bakery, Jerbeau Chocolates, Adams and Brooks and many more food companies to his client base. At InBev USA, he worked on all the national promotions for Beck’s, Bass, Stella Artois, Labatt and Koknee Beer Brands. He soon cut across industries and added clients including K-Mart, Disney, Universal, Game Works, Valvoline, Nature Made, The National Hot Rod Association, Mopar, Baskin Robbins Ice Cream and Matell/NASCAR, among others.
Today, he is retained by four Fortune 100 companies as their in-house Creative Director, with Cott Beverage (the #1 non-name brand beverage company in the World), HSBC Financial, Chang Beer (Southeast Asia’s #1 Beer), Coca Cola and Energy Club being the most recent additions to Ernie’s client roster, and with the 2009 release of Burton Cummings’ new album, this brings the total number of albums designed to date to 209. He has received three Grammy™ nominations for his work, 10 Music Hall Of Fame awards, four awards of excellence from the Los Angeles Art Directors Club, and has been presented with 25 gold and platinum albums by some of the bands whose album covers he had designed.
He is a dynamic speaker who captivates and electrifies audiences as he travels the country. If you ask him to reflect on his illustrious career his response is always the same…”Career? What do you mean, I’m just warming up. Wait till you see what’s next”.
To see more of Ernie’s work – and to purchase an original work from his collection, please visit his web site at
About UnCovered –
Our ongoing series of interviews will give you, the music and art fan, a look at “The Making Of” the illustrations, photographs and designs of many of the most-recognized and influential images that have served to package and promote your all-time-favorite recordings.
In each UnCovered feature, we’ll meet the artists, designers and photographers who produced these works of art and learn what motivated them, what processes they used, how they collaborated (or fought) with the musical acts, their management, their labels, etc. – all of the things that influenced the final product you saw then and still see today.
We hope that you enjoy these looks behind the scenes of the music-related art business and that you’ll share your stories with us and fellow fans about what role these works of art – and the music they covered – played in your lives.
All images featured in this UnCovered story are Copyright 1970 – 2010, Ernie Cefalu – All rights reserved. Except as noted, all other text Copyright 2009 – Mike Goldstein & RockPoP Gallery (www.rockpopgallery.com) – All rights reserved.