Ernie Cefalu’s art has defined an entire genre of music.
Cefalu’s album cover art collection, Original Album Cover Art, is the single largest privately owned collection of its kind. His album covers have earned him scores of awards including 15 Gold albums, 10 Music Hall of Fame Awards, and a triple platinum album.
In recent years, Cefalu has ventured into the cannabis industry with the King Klone Brand.
MERRY JANE had a chance to chat with the man behind the Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers album cover. Cefalu shared some stories over flowers from the CA Collective.
MERRY JANE: Your art has reached millions. How does pop art influence mass culture?
Ernie Cefalu: It's really a lot more than art. It's the whole idea. The communication. Mass culture is really kind of a lifestyle that’s set by art, photography, and music. Music is one of those lowest common denominators. Music has a pace and a rhythm to it. Art is more of a visual, personal, emotional thing. There is no pulse or rhythm. Music is the common language that we all speak. Long after I'm dead and gone, the images that I've created will live on.
MJ: You've been behind many album covers including The Doors, Earth Wind & Fire, Jefferson Airplane, Aerosmith, the Bee Gees, Quincy Jones, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath and The Guess Who's Burt Cummings. Does album cover art still get the recognition it deserves?
EC: It's a whole different world now. Everything is on iTunes. It's one image that they post. Everything is so small. Everything is shared. That whole industry has changed. If you do go out and pay for a CD, everything's miniature. I get a lot of people that tell me how they miss how covers used to be. It was really something important.
MJ: How did Pacific Eye & Ear, the agency you launched in 1972, rise to power?
EC: We really took the time to understand the musician, to understand the message that they were conveying. A very good friend of mine, Lee Dorman, who was the bass player in Iron Butterfly, reformed his group to become Captain Beyond. We started doing all of their covers. We did 13 album covers for Alice Cooper. Burton Cummings is another one. We did seven or eight albums for him. The Rolling Stones went to a different company each time. They could do just about anything they wanted. Working with consumer companies for over 40 years, I understand the masses more.
MJ: How were you involved with the Sticky Fingers album and the infamous lips?
EC: I went to an interview and showed the man my portfolio with the Jesus Christ Superstar material. Later he said, “I really love this label with this pair of lips. If you went upstairs in my art department and put a tongue on the outside of theses lips I think you could sell it to the Rolling Stones.” I went upstairs and spent 15 or 20 minutes drawing on it. He said “This is perfect. I'll be right back.” You could see the street that went down to Andy Warhol's Factory, where Marshall Chess was. I showed it to Marshall Chess, who came back about an hour later. After about 5:00 pm they bust out the pot. I said, “I wanna work here!” Marshall gave me $200 and a job. That's what I got. In turn, he gave that logo to the Stones for free.
Marshall gave him licensing rights to that logo for one year—so we made everything—patches, posters, belt buckles, you name it. I expected to see my version of the logo to come out on the record. They gave that to John Pasche in England. They gave it to this designer in England who made a couple changes and that what was on the record—very small. I eventually became the creative director. I took notice that two new groups were coming out—one was Alice Cooper, and the other was this duo called Cheech & Chong.
MJ: What's the story behind the cover of Cheech & Chong's Big Bambú?
EC: Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong loved it so much, that they went back in the studio and recorded an additional skit with a giant joint. The funny thing is two years ago when I was working on Alice's box set, I ran into Cheech Marin at an event. Rob Zombie was there. Cheech Marin was there to give a check to a charity organization. I looked across the hall, and Cheech Marin came out. He looked at me quizzically “Don't I know you? Oh yeah. You did the cover to Big Bambú! That album sold an extra 100,000 albums because of the cover that you did!!” He shook my hand, and said “I must sign... two of these a week.” At the end of 1971, the vice president and I decided we were going to drop some mescaline. Marshall Chess had great mescaline. That night we really bonded. Mescaline has that ability. On that mescaline trip, we figured out that we decided we would start our own company, called Pacific Eye & Ear — because we were on the Pacific Ocean and eye and ear is the sight and sounds. We grew fast. We did Alice covers. We did a Doors album cover. We eventually became the place to go if you really cared about an album cover that people would react to.
MJ: You're part owner of King Klone Brand. How did you become involved in the cannabis industry ?
EC: We're the most ambitious clone business in the industry. We supply 38 other collectives including Harborside. We have a client with a 50,000 square foot facility at the CA Collective in San Jose. The largest one in the city. I carried 35 years of corporate knowledge into the marijuana industry—creating Grand Daddy Purp and now King Klone. We're way ahead of the curve. There's no doubt in my mind that it will all be corporate eventually. Everything is going really well with our efforts at King Klone in San Jose. It's a very exciting future.
MJ: What is OriginalAlbumCoverArt.com?
EC: We have 70 of Drew Struzan originals. Some of them album covers, some of them corporate. I have over 350 images. Not only do I own them all, I have the intellectual property rights. When I sell the piece, I keep the rights and they can hang the piece on the wall.
MJ: Where did you get the idea for the crest on the cover of Jesus Christ Superstar?
EC: A headhunter sent me to an agency. I showed them my Dolls Alive piece and my portfolio. The interview was on the 37th floor of the New York Life building. It was real scary. I did a lot of praying. I grew up in Catholic school; so all those images came together. I did a circle with two angels. That's it.
MJ: I understand your work is on display at the Rock n' Soul Museum in Memphis. What can people expect to see there?
EC: My continuing exhibition is at the Rock n' Soul Museum. It's on the corner of Highway 61 and Beale street. The shows are continuing in all the locations. They're at Radio Partners, the Disciple Gallery downtown. It's also at Art & Speed. In September, a part of the collection is going to New Westminster at the Anvil Centre. Burton Cummings will also be performing there. In October, part of the show is going to the Morrison Hotel Gallery.