Have you ever wondered what inspired the images on your favorite album covers? With Uncovered, we discuss the stories behind the artwork with the people who made them. This week, we talk with Larry Vigon, the artist responsible for the cover of 1984’s Chicago 17, as well as a long list of other albums.
You’d done some work for Fleetwood Mac, and other artists, before you were hired for Chicago 17.
Yes, actually, I got my start with Fleetwood Mac. I did the hand-lettered logo for the self-titled album, and the hand-lettered logo for Rumours, and then I took over the whole account with Tusk — I did that, and the live album, and Mirage. Lot of work with Fleetwood Mac.
It’s interesting that you mentioned creating logos for Fleetwood Mac, because my first question is about your approach when working for a band whose logo was really its identity. Did you look at it as a restriction, or did you look forward to the challenge?
Well, it was definitely a challenge, because that logo, as you pointed out — well, it had had a 16-album history. And it was probably one of the best-known logos, if not the best-known logo, in rock music at that time. So being picked to do my interpretation of that logo was more of an honor and a challenge than a restriction. I mean, I wanted to do the best one! (laughs)
I definitely think Chicago 17 was, at the very least, the last time someone did something really interesting with the logo.
It’s interesting, because much later, I did the cover for a Chicago album called Night & Day, and when Robert Lamm called, he said, “We haven’t had a good cover since the last one you did.” (laughter) And, you know, the Night & Day cover was good, but it wasn’t as good as 17. It was a whole different genre, and a whole different feel to what they were doing, and the cover reflected that. But 17 was just a lot of fun to do, and I was chosen because I had developed a certain style of airbrushing. I don’t even remember — which record company was that?
Indirectly, Chicago was on Warner Bros. at the time.
They had seen some other things I had done with that airbrush technique, so they hired me to interpret the logo that way. It’s an airbrush illustration, a technique I had developed. I had done a logo design — but it wound up being a box set package — for Herb Alpert. An illustration of a trumpet done the same way — wrapped in cloth. I had done a few projects playing around with that, so that’s how they chose me.
That ties into something I wanted to ask you about, which is how quickly the “package” concept developed, and whether there were other versions of the cover you presented.
No, I was hired specifically to do that. Whoever saw the style I was doing — this was a long time ago. How long ago was it?
The album came out 26 years ago.
(Chuckles) So this was more than 26 years ago. I can’t remember all the details, but we were going for one look and one look only. I may have tried a couple of versions of it, but that was the one where I felt like I really nailed the illustration.
And how long did it take to finish it?
Well, this was back in the old days, you know, the pre-computer times, so…it probably took a good week to get that all together. It’s funny, I get several e-mails a year about the Rumours logo from young designers who want to know what the typeface is, because they can’t find it — but it was all hand-lettered, which is kind of a dying art. Or a dead art, I don’t know.
That statement ties in pretty perfectly with this particular cover, I think, because it’s the last of the Chicago album covers that has that real, human feel — that looks like it wasn’t computer-generated.
Do you remember who originally designed Chicago’s logo?
It was John Berg, I think.
Yeah, I don’t know anyone who’s doing hand lettering anymore. I mean, I haven’t really been doing music graphics for awhile, but I can’t imagine — I mean, there’s still brush-stroke lettering and things like that, but so much of that is on computers now too.
You know, even a week sounds pretty speedy for a job where I imagine you had a lot of chefs in the kitchen with you.
Not really — I mean, it was one of those things that just came together. Obviously, the whole thing, with the back cover and the sleeves and everything, took longer than a week, but as far as that illustration goes…
I know you were working with an art director on this. How much freedom did you have?
Basically, I had free rein. I mean, I came up with the idea of putting a real piece of string around the painting, and I think the credits were on a slip of paper — a real piece of paper that I stuck on the back cover, trying to make it look like a real package with several interesting layers.
What’s the experience like for you when you work on something that ends up being this huge?
I still get a kick out of it. (laughs) I mean, even to this day, it’s rewarding and gratifying that things I do have stayed around so long — like the Fleetwood Mac logo, which is still being used. I must say, though, that with all the albums I’ve done — even the ones that didn’t become hits — I always put everything I had into it. It was always about the art. I was thrilled when a big-name group called me — I was a Fleetwood Mac fan before they called me. Remember Then Play On? I think I wore that album out. Same with Chicago — I’d seen them live before. But you never knew when you were doing the next big album. Like when I did the cover for Counting Crows’ August and Everything After, no one had any idea that was going to sell five million copies out of the gate.
But I always got a thrill walking down the street and seeing my work in the window of a record store, or walking down the street in Paris, Rome, or London, seeing my work in a record store, knowing it’s out there all over the world. It’s gotta be a kick, you know?
You mentioned that Robert Lamm called you before you were hired for Night & Day. How much interaction did you have with the band on Chicago 17?
Well, I met the main guys, and of course they had approval. We got along really well. Once again, it was a very smooth thing — everything came together just the way everyone wanted to. They were all really nice guys, very open and receptive. Yeah, it was a good collaboration with everyone.
You said you haven’t done a lot of album artwork in the recent past. What are you working on?
Well, I’m not retired, but I’m not looking for work. I just finished a really big project that’s actually making a splash all over the world — it’s called The Red Book. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Carl Jung, but he worked on a book, a personal journal, for 16 years…
I think I read about this.
Well, I’m the one who brought it to W.W. Norton, the same publisher who released my book, and it’s the most important Jungian publication to date — one of the more important psychological publications over the last 100 years. And I still get the same thrill, knowing it’s selling all over the world in five or six different languages. It’s a really big deal.
You’ve had an enviable career.
Well, I must say I’m really grateful for the ability to have made art all my life, and being able to actually live and put food on the table, own a house, and…just making art.