Nice interview with Klaus Voorman from Goldmine Magazine:Klaus Voormann on the story behind the cover art of Beatles' 'Revolver'Goldmine talks with artist/musician Klaus Voormann about the production of the album cover that became iconic for Beatles fans and even the pop culture at large.Ken Sharp, Apr 28, 2023BEATLES REVOLVER
While the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album has reaped reams of critical acclaim as a milestone in the group’s recording career, the album that preceded it, Revolver, for many, is deemed the watermark recording in their history. It’s a trailblazing album that changed everything marking a pivotal moment when The Beatles’ sound transformed from black and white into vibrant wide-screen technicolor. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were peaking as songwriters during this time — “Here, There and Everywhere,” “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Eleanor Rigby” for starters — and George Harrison truly blossomed as a songwriter “in his own write” with “Taxman,” “I Want To Tell You” and “Love You To.” As latter day Beatle albums, Sgt. Pepper, The White Album, Let It Be and Abbey Road, have been given the super deluxe-edition treatment, thanks to radical de-mixing technology spearheaded by Emile de la Rey at Peter Jackson’s WingNut Films Productions Ltd., the band’s spectacular 1966 long player Revolver is the next set replete with a new stereo mix and revelatory outtakes of most of the songs on the record. Goldmine spoke with Klaus Voormann who did the groundbreaking artwork and design for the lowdown.
GOLDMINE: It’s late June 1966, and the phone rings. Who is it?
KLAUS VOORMANN: John called me and said, “It’s John,” and at first I was thinking, “John who?” I didn’t know who it was. Well, it’s John Lennon ,and he said, “Do you have an idea for our next album cover? We don’t know what we want on there, so if you have any ideas, let’s see it.” Then he invited me to come down to the studio and I listened to the tracks for what would become the Revolver album. At first, my impressions of the music they played me was that it was just incredible. It was just really hard to explain. It was so far ahead of whatever any pop group had done before. This was going into Stockhausen and other kinds of avant-garde music, and suddenly you had the Beatle fans from the early days and now you had this new music. I didn’t know if they’re going to accept it or not. It was really a big step into the future.
GM: And you were scared after hearing “Tomorrow Never Knows.” What scared you about it?
KV: It was just so fantastic, and at the same time scary, because I was always thinking of those little kids that love “Love Me Do.” I thought, how are they going to accept this music? So my job was now to find a way to show the new idea, the new experimental stuff that’s on that record, to the public. It couldn’t be another cover with lots of color and their faces. It had to be something completely different and that’s the hard job, which I had to get into.
GM: So the next step was you went home and you worked up some drawings and sketches, and then you went back to EMI Studios, right?
KV: Yeah, right. I came up with a few things. I came to the conclusion that there had to be lots of photos on there because those kids always love to see photos of The Beatles, as many as possible. I didn’t even know if I was going to do it as a design with their hair. I tried different ideas like with an air balloon, and one was in a boat, and then I came to this idea with the hair. I said, “Hair, that’s really important.” So I did sketches on one big piece of paper; a two-sided, really large sort of sketch block, which artists use. I had the first magic marker that came out and I did those scribbles, and scribbled them down, all on that one big piece of paper, and folded up that piece of paper. When I was finished I took it down to EMI and into the canteen. That’s where the boys were sitting. Many years later I did this graphic novel where I explained as much as possible what the feeling of what it looked like and what they looked like and what I did. When people get the box set, there is a book in there, and there are excerpts from the book, seven pages from the graphic novel, so people can see what it’s about. The full graphic novel is in a book that’s called Revolver 50: Birth of an Icon.
GM: So you walk into the canteen and The Beatles are there and you lay down your sketches.
KV: As a matter of fact, I don’t know who said anything first, but they all kind of pointed and said, “This is the one, the one here with the hair. That’s fantastic. It’s great, the little figures in the hair,” and then I was happy because I liked the idea, too. But in truth, I already knew they would go for that one. All the other ones, we didn’t even talk about. None of them said, “This other one could be nice.” They went for the one with the hair and lots of figures.
GM: Characterize the inspiration behind the hair, which is so beautifully rendered. It’s not just hair, it’s a work of art.
KV: Well, the thing was at the time, which is very hard for people to sort of imagine today, it was sensational that people were actually wearing long hair like that. That was just not known before. It was a very important part of The Beatles collective look. I did this sort of style of drawing it with a pen and ink and making it something that glues the whole thing together, and it worked fine. It was good.
GM: Was there any particular artist or artwork that you had in your mind to inspire you? Was Aubrey Beardsley an influence?
KV: He certainly was, but he’s not the only one. When you think of a collage, I was thinking of (Kurt) Schwitters. There’s lots of artists I was thinking of, but not in particular one person. Some people say, “Oh, you must have gone to that exhibition of Bearsdley, but I didn’t even go there. I love Beardsley. He’s fantastic. But he was not the inspiration for me with that style.
GM: Let’s talk about the actual technical process. You lived in an apartment in Parliament Hill, Hampstead, where you worked on it. It’s not just a drawing but a collage of various elements.
KV: Well, I had this in mind all the way from the very start, and I even told the boys, “Look, I want to do it in black and white.” They said, “Yeah, great, black and white.” I said, “Look, everything is in color. All the covers have faces on them, mostly smiling faces of the band. Now people are going crazy with the psychedelic look, whatever you call it, ‘flower power,’ but let’s do it different this time, we’ll do it black and white.” Then I said, “You don’t need to have the name Beatles on that because people will know that it’s The Beatles.” And they said, “Yes, you’re right, no Beatles on that.” At that time we didn’t know what the album was going to be called, so I just set off working on it.
GM: And you were working with pen and ink for the drawings, and for the collage employing scissors, scalpel and glue.
KV: Well, first I tried everything. I tried with charcoal, or I did it with a pen and a little bit of brushes. Because I did a few record covers for companies and for myself where I used that sort of style, I felt very comfortable using pen and ink and doing that type of drawing. So I tried it and said, “Oh yeah, that works fine,” so I used that technique.
GM: For the collage, you utilized photographs from Robert Freeman and you also went to The Beatles themselves for personal photos.
KV: Right. Robert Whitaker took the photo on the back cover, and he took some great photos, too, but the main photographer for the boys was always Bob Freeman. He was a lovely guy. I really like him a lot. He’s beautiful, man.
GM: So you went to Bob and you picked out photos he had?
KV: Yes, I had those photos, which EMI got me, and then I got some from NEMS Enterprises, Brian Epstein’s company. Then I called the boys and said, “Look, get together all the photos you can think of, it doesn’t matter what quality. I’m going to choose whatever I think is right, and if you don’t like it, you’ve got the last say. You can say, ‘No, I don’t like it,’ but just leave it to me. Grab all the photos. If you’re on skis or if you are in the country or if you’re laughing, or whatever, just send me all the pictures and I’ll pick the ones which might fit into the collage.” The next day I got an envelope and there are all these photos in there from the boys, and so I took those.
GM: You put yourself on the cover as well.
KV: (laughs) Yeah, that was more or less after that. It’s right at the corner doing George’s hair. I thought, “Oh, why not? Let me put myself on there?” I just put my little name on there and then I said, “Ok, stick a photo on there,” so I did.
GM: And The Beatles caught that immediately?
KV: Yeah, John, immediately, of course. He said, “You cheeky bugger, you put yourself on there!” (laughs)
GM: How long did the actual work take?
KV: I think it must have been just about two weeks.
GM: Once it was done, what was the next step? Where did you bring it to show the band?
KV: I think The Beatles just came back from a little tour in Germany, that “Blitz” tour, and I was finished and made an appointment to come not to the studio but to the EMI House, to the office of George Martin. I went up there and put it up on the cabinet, which was about the height that people can really see it. The Beatles were there, of course, along with Brian Epstein, George Martin and others.
GM: What was the immediate reaction?
KV: The immediate reaction was silence, and that was terrible for me, just terrible. I guess nobody wanted to say anything at first. I felt terrible, then Paul went up to the piece of artwork and said, “Hey, he put me on there,” and he pointed at the photo in the top left corner, and there was Paul sitting on the toilet. Then George Martin came up and said, “Oh ,Klaus, you can’t have that.” Paul said, “Oh sure, that’s great, why not? Keep it on there.” And George Martin came up to me again and said, “Can’t you exchange that for another picture?” So I took that photo off. But after that all happened, then people really got into talking about little details and looked at it and said, “Yeah, that’s me with a helmet on,” or they said, “Oh, what’s this? That’s John!” By that point I was relieved because it was clear then that they liked the cover. They thought it was really good and that was wonderful.
GM: This might be difficult to answer, but being the artist, what are the strongest characteristics of the cover for which you’re most proud?
KV: There’s one photo that’s taken from a fan magazine or something where one of the boys is wearing a striped suit, and it’s not straight, it’s crooked. And there’s another photo taken with a fisheye lens, which was in Stern magazine. I like the combination of those things, which are little strange and surrealistic; that combination of that surrealistic touch with the fun, the jokey bits where people laugh. It was that combination, which made me very happy that I actually did it. And of course, the face of John really makes me happy, with his nose and those almond-shaped eyes.
GM: Who was the hardest one out of The Beatles to draw?
KV: The hardest one to draw would have been George. George is a beautiful boy, but he does not have any specific mark or characteristic where you say “That’s a George face.” He doesn’t have that. So I had a hard time. I tried to draw him lots of times and I couldn’t do it justice, so in the end, I took those photos from a magazine and put them on there, and I was very happy with that solution. I didn’t draw it, I just stuck them on that photo; the mouth and the eyes of George are photos from a magazine.
GM: Not only is Revolver such an incredible cover, but I think the smartest thing you did was go against the burst of color “flower power” zeitgeist of the period with your art, which would have been the obvious way to go. But you chose to go in the opposite direction, and I think that makes it timeless.
KV: Yeah, but the good thing about it is that whatever I said, I had complete freedom. I asked them, “Is it OK if I do it black and white?” and they agreed. I guess they knew that I can do something like that because they saw my work before. John saw it, Paul saw it and George saw it — not sure about Ringo. So all the others knew what I was capable of and said, “Oh, he’s going to do something good,” so that made me feel so good and that made it so easy for me to do the cover in the end.
GM: What was the feeling like when you first got a copy of the album in your hands?
KV: Wonderful…but there was another thing, which I haven’t talked to anybody about yet. I got a proof from the printer and they actually printed in a sort of sepia color. I was like, “What are you doing?” I called them and said, “This is ridiculous. This is no good. This is terrible.” If that’s how it was going to look I felt, I’m going to die. And they said, “OK.” I drove down to the printer to talk and tell them exactly what I wanted, and then, of course, there it was in black and white, and everything was fine. Holding the album in my hands for the first time was a good feeling. Of course, I knew what it was going to look like as it’s my cover, but I was happy to have the record and put the record on immediately and listen to the tracks. That the cover was good and right, I was confident about; I knew what it looked like. I was more interested in putting the record on the turntable and listening to the tracks. That was more important when I got the record. I’m very proud of the Revolver cover, and I’m very proud that the boys, the most famous band in the world, came and asked me to do a cover for them. Of course, if they wouldn’t have done that, I couldn’t have done it. I could only do it if they asked me, and of course, I tried my best. It’s logical. I love it myself. I think it’s a very good job I did._____________________________________________________________Rip this joint, gonna save your soul, round and round and round we go......