Monday, January 14, 2008

Cooking With Gas - Stories Behind Latin Album Cover Art

This article appeared in a slightly different form in Wax Poetics Magazine, issue 12, Spring 2005

I can still remember the first time going down into the funky Times Square subway station in Manhattan in the mid 70s as a kid and being blown away by Jesse Moskowitz's Record Mart, a crammed joint selling both the latest and classic Latin music. The sinuous sounds coming from that urban oasis echoed down the tiled halls empty of commuters. There was a display in the window of album covers, and being a young artist, I was immediately drawn to the titillating illustrations and photographs, depicting for this virgin novice swirling worlds of the conga and trombone, sexy smiling mulatas and swaggering bandleaders strutting their stuff. The vibrant colors, obvious joy and exuberance of the musicians, as well as more troubling images of urban decay, outlaw criminality and Surrealist fantasy, grabbed me, wouldn’t let go. Because I wanted to know the story behind each cover, I wanted to hear the sounds seductively packaged within. The art set me up, suckered me into paying cash I didn’t have. Down in the subterranean record stacks I was reminded of my father’s wild tales of Cuba, an exotic place I had never been. His treasure trove of abused old records served as crucial visual aids to a lost world that was otherwise hard to imagine. As I grew older I realized that the LP jacket is far from being the mass-produced pulp of ephemeral unreality our quickie throw-away culture wants us to believe. Rather, it serves as a sacred talisman and Rosetta stone that unlocks the mysteries of identity and history, and artist/designers like Izzy Sanabria, Ely Besalel, Charlie and Yogi Rosario, Ron Levine, Chico Alvarez, Dominique, and in Brazil, Rogério Duarte and Hélio Oiticica, are the poet-seers of the vinyl realm, guiding us along the path to self knowledge. It is with this in mind that I share with the reader a little taste of the richness that lies behind the classic covers on the following pages.

Mongo Santamaria’s "Feelin’ Alright" LP was Izzy Sanabria’s first airbrush job. The year was 1970. The gleaming tool was fresh out of the box when disaster struck. Charlie Rosario, Sanabria’s assistant at the time, recalls that the pressure was really on due to a looming deadline when, during a routine cleaning operation at the kitchen sink, one of the precious intricate parts of the airbrush popped off and fell into the wash basin, disappearing seemingly forever down the drain. Izzy “freaked out because there was very little time to complete the art” relates Rosario. This job was not for a regular familiar client like Fania, but for a relatively new customer, Atlantic Records, and Izzy did not want to disappoint. A lot of desperate fishing about in the drain for the errant piece of equipment resulted in absolutely nothing but a finger-full of old food and gloppy hair. Yelling something like “We gotta get this damn thing if it kills us!,” Izzy rushed down stairs at break-neck speed to the basement of the building, Charlie in hot pursuit, where they found the super and excitedly explained their dilemma. After many anxious minutes of waiting, the designer and his assistant saw the super return with a huge wrench, with which he helped open up the building’s extensive plumbing, and by some miracle of the gods of graphic art, there was the wayward airbrush piece, shining dimly in the gook of a dismantled elbow joint, more precious than a diamond nestled in the deepest mine pit! The job was finished on time to the relief of all, and Izzy, always a flamboyant dresser, rushed out the door, portfolio nestled under his arm, draped in his special bullfighter jacket, and proceeded downtown, showing up at the offices of Atlantic no doubt looking like a pimped-out cross between Salvador Dalí and Andy Warhol. The cover hit the printer’s on time, but not before Atlantic’s art director “ruined” the cover with “corny lettering,” according to Sanabria. He still has the original art to this day among his most cherished archival possessions. Though others may differ with Izzy’s opinion of how the layout finally ended up, and the music on the LP seems a bit dated, one thing’s for sure: it was well worth it to go to the ends of the earth to find that pesky little airbrush piece!

Willie Colón’s early Fania album covers (1967-1975) trace a cinematic trajectory of the Latino as criminalized outlaw (with a dash of humor), starting with the tough street kid (El malo), and petty pool shark ("The Hustler"), graduating to thievery and organized crime ("Guisando/Doing A Job," "Cosa Nuestra"), leading to the inevitable incarceration and escape ("La Gran Fuga/The Big Break") and trial ("El juicio"), and ending as a hostage taking terrorist ("Lo mato"). Sanabria, who conceived this identity for Colón, explains how he hit on the unprecedented use of a mug shot for "La Gran Fuga": “I was always bumping heads at Fania, Jerry Masucci wanted complete control most of the time, but occasionally I was able to turn things around and be completely accepted. Typical was 'La Gran Fuga.' Willie’s whole bad-ass image was kind of a goof, though these kids really did hang in the street, some had been to prison, and I seriously wanted to play up on the whole gangster image to subvert it. The concept was ahead of its time, look at all those rappers’ album covers following in Willie’s footsteps! They handed me a photograph, which was the guys in prison outfits, escaping over the fence of a prison in PR. A funny half an idea, but it needed a story. I used that photograph, turned it into a black and white to make it look like a newspaper, and made a replica of the New York Daily News on the back. In the 60’s I had seen these posters of Black Panthers who were wanted by the FBI. Hippies were selling copies of the posters to dramatize oppression, and that was my inspriartion. The irony is, those mug shots are the cheapest damn photographs ever taken for an album cover! I went to the corner where there was one of these arcades. Four for a quarter. I wanted that bad quality! The prison numbers are his previous LP catalogue numbers. The fingerprints were taken from a post office Wanted poster. I pasted them into position, my friend Vinny Alonso and I wrote the copy ‘Wanted for exciting riots with his trombone,’ and the FBI was the ‘Freaks Bureau of Investigation.’ What made that album cover so controversial was that the FBI stopped the thing in its tracks because there was also a poster on the inside of the album, which was pasted around the city, and in Puerto Rico, advertising it, which asked people to turn Colón in to the FBI. Plus I did these tie-in radio ads. So Willie’s grandmother was hysterical, they were telling her ‘Ay, they want your grandson!’ Soon the Feds became aware of it, and what we found out was that it’s illegal to put anything on the market that will in any way give the impression that the FBI is behind this. You can’t do this kind of parody, you see. Whereas the posters these hippies were putting out were exact replicas, and were just helping the FBI’s propaganda. What they had them do was turn the album covers around for display in the stores, so you were looking at the back of the LP, and all subsequent printings could only say ‘Wanted’ without the FBI part. The albums that have the ‘Wanted by the FBI’ with the poster inside are the collectors’ items!”

Producer and jazz musician Joe Cain was at the helm at Tico records for many funky Joe Cuba albums, and two of them stand out cover-wise: "Bustin’ Out" (1972) and "Cocinando la salsa" (1976). The principal parties involved discuss their unique qualities below. Ely Besalel on "Bustin’ Out": “We went around the corner from my studio to 53rd Street where there were some unoccupied brownstones, it was one of the worst times for real estate in New York, even mid-town looked like the ghetto. The band went to the stoop, grabbed trash cans, and started banging away, playing their congas and singing, and I’m in the middle of the street shooting pictures, dodging traffic! I looked around at other covers and said why isn’t this kind of thing [documentary social-realism] being done for a major Latin artist? I mean black and white for the Joe Cuba Sextet in the age of affordable four color printing? Unheard of!” Ely used graffiti lettering, a technique previously employed by Sanabria. Graffiti brought street credibility with youth appeal and also signified a gritty authenticity opposed to the glitz of the Palladium days. “I hated the graffiti on the walls everywhere,” Izzy says of his early Ray Barretto cover "Acid," “but it was a fact of city life; it might have looked like I did it slap-dash, but I labored over it!” With "Bustin’ Out," Besalel created a documentary-style barrio street rumba scene in sepia, burned around the edges like the image had survived rioting or been saved from the garbage. Cuba: “Headbands and bellbottoms were in. That was the first time we posed in our street clothes. Earlier we used to be all flash, Palladium style. We made a racket! My t-shirt said Young Devils, my stick-ball team. I didn’t know it was going to be black and white at first, but it showed our new hard style of music.” Cuba’s "Cocinando la salsa" documents another side of the bandleader, that of host and cook. Ron Levine comments: “Yeah, that’s Joe’s cooking, very tasty. I guess it’s like a salsa album, right? Name like that, pretty obvious it’s capitalizing on the term salsa. "Sofrito" [a stone funk fusion album by Mongo Santamaria, designed by Levine] is a nice cooking album too! Mongo made the skillet of food you see on the cover himself, we shot it at Jerry’s place.” Cuba on "Cocinando la salsa": “I love to cook, experimental dishes especially. This picture shows me cookin’ all the good Puerto Rican stuff at La Asia No.1 Restaurant, a Cuban-Chinese joint on the West Side where we used to hang out.” Food is culture, and congueros like Cuba, Barretto, and Santamaria cook with their hands, be it drum or frying pan.

While most Latin covers never strayed too far, another more radical body of work was forming in the apartment studio of a unique thinker and fine artist, Brooklyn’s Charlie Rosario. Charlie was consistently the most outrageous designer of the 70s in Latin music. Indeed, his daring puts him on par with the best of any LP genre, at any time. There is a story behind every Rosario cover, and Charlie remembers it all: “It was ‘Hey man, let’s break the monotony!’ because Izzy was doin’ just about everything. He was basically an illustrator with great ideas, I followed all his covers from when I was a kid and I was amazed by his creativity, but I said ‘What am I waiting for?’ I can sculpt, I can photograph, I can paint. So I just broke away and did my thing. I was the first to do sculpture graphics! Orchestra Harlow’s "Live In Quad" was weird, totally spontaneous, I just engraved this copper by hand, we had to photograph that in black light, long exposure, so it would really shine. Had to make it a gatefold, my stuff never fit their requirements. The metal kept puffing up so I had to beat it back down with my fist. Felt funny to be hittin’ Larry in the nose like that! For Charlie Palmieri’s "Electro duro," the two hands are made of Colt 45 beer cans. And I drank like ten of them and said lemme start hammering away, two hundred nails, man! I only stopped when I banged my fingernail! The silver in the back is a printing plate, and the gold part is one of them cracker cans. The cover really blew people’s heads apart man, they weren’t ready for that. I showed the sculpture to Charlie Palmieri at a dance, and he said ‘This is my next cover!’ because it was all electric organ tunes! I came up with the title, ‘duro’ means hard like metal but also like ‘strong.’ Now the "Kako" cover [on TR Records], Kako Bastor’s an outta sight percussionist that made mystical music. I made a sculpture of a tribal guy playing a drum, he’s missing an arm. The concept is music is as primitive as the first heartbeat or when the sun showed up for the first time. As time goes by [everything man made] breaks apart, made of materials from the earth, like the pyramids in Giza, so that’s why he looks like he’s made of sand, sittin’ on top of a pyramid with the sun on his shoulder. I made this imitation beach at 3 a.m. in my apartment with sand from the boiler room. Poured it on the living room floor! I had back projections of Puerto Rico, the sky and waves right on the wall behind. But it was too limited in the photo angle, too dinky lookin’! So I was gettin’ tired and silly and my brother said why don’t we pour alcohol over the figure, set it on fire like he’s playin’ so hot. Well that was the worst thing we could do! The damn paper caught on fire, the whole beach went up in smoke, we started panicking, sand all over the rug, alarm went off, my sister yellin.’ So then I went to a real beach, Coney Island. I had bought this giant lizard, a gila monster, from the pet store, and some potted cactus plants, to make the picture more prehistoric. I built this giant pyramid, dug out a trench and photographed it looking up so this 7 inch clay sculpture looked huge, monumental. Thing was, the lizard ran away down the beach so the shoot ended with me chasin’ him all down along the boadwalk! Back in the studio, I took this aerial photo of Puerto Rico that I had, with sun streaks through the clouds, turned it upside down, did a double exposure, and it looked like the drum was exploding with light! I used to go from one extreme to another, brakin’ all the rules, making history, it kept me from being bored. The Tipica ‘73 cover ['La Candela'] is the only Latin tapestry on a record jacket! I wove that thing from wool in fire colors, but it caused a fight at Inca Records, they didn’t want spend for a gatefold on it, and it didn’t fit in the regular confinement of the square. That project took forever, I was freaking out, time was runnin’ out, so I got my family and friends on it, we’d have a party, get them all high so they’d really get into the work, and it was like ‘Everybody’s gonna sew here till our eyeballs fall out, man!’”

The Covers

Discography (left to right, top to bottom)

Page 1

Desi Arnaz
RCA Victor P 198, c. 1940s

Beny Moré
Canciones de las Antillas
RCA Victor MLK 3085, c. 1950s

Afro-Cuban Jazz; The Music of Chico O’ Farrill,
Supervised by Norman Granz
Cleff MG C-689, 1950
Design: David Stone Martin

Cal Tjader Quintet
Cal Tjader Quintet
Fantasy 3232, 1956
Design and illustration:
Betty Brader

Joe Loco and his Quintet
Viva Mambo
Tico LP 1013, 1954
Art and design: Sandoval,
Lee Myles Assoc.

Orquesta Aragon
Cha Cha Cha
RCA Victor MLK 3070, c. 1950s

Pacheco y Su Charanga
Pacheco y su charanga
con Elliot Romero
Alegre LPA 801, c. 1961
Art and design: Izzy Sanabria

Fajardo, Chapotin, Orefiche, Conjunto Casino
Cuban Dance Festival; 4 Bands !!
Toreador T-539, c. 1965
Art & Design: Ely Besalel

Sabu Martinez
Sabu’s Jazz Espagnol
Alegre, 1961
Design and illustration:
Izzy Sanabria

The Alegre All-Stars
The Alegre All-Stars In
“Lost and found” Vol. 3
Alegre SLPA 8430, 1966
Design, concept, art:
Izzy Sanabria

Arsenio Rodriguez y su conjunto
Sabroso y caliente
Antilla MLP-586, c. 1950s

Cachao y Su Ritmo Caliente
Cuban Jam Sessions in Miniature: “Descargas”
Panart 2092, 1957

Joe Cuba
Joe Cuba
Embajador E6003, c. 1960s

Various Artists
Charlie Palmieri: Lo Ultimo
con La Playa Sextet, Emilio Reyes
Embajador E 6001, c. 1960s

Cal Tjader
Mambo with Tjader!
Fantasy 3326
Illustration and design: Wanek

Forbidden Cuba in the 80’s:
Grupo Afrocuba Smooth Jazz Moods
RMM RMD82235, 1998
Design and photo imaging: Pablo Yglesias
Photo: Jorge Garcia Torres
Art director: Carlo Angelo Moralishvili

Mongo Santamaria
Mongo Santamaria’s Afro-Cuban Drums
SMC LP 592, 1952

Various, incl. Ignacio Piñero y los Roncos
Festival In Havana
Riverside RLP 4005, 1955
Design: Gene Gogerty

World Pacific Presents The Music of Cuba:
Various Artists
El jazz cubano
World Pacific/Capitol/Blue Note CDP 0777 7 80599 2 9, 1993
Design: Patrick Roques
Painting: Pablo Yglesias

Luis Gasca
Fantasy F-9504, 1976
Art direction: Phil Carroll
Art: Jamie Putnam

Page 2

Ray Rodriguez and his Orchestra
Alegre LPA-869, 1969
Design, photography, illustration: Ely Besalel

Orchestra Harlow
Heavy Smokin’
Fania 331, 1966
Photo: Lee Kraft
Art director: Izzy Sanabria

Joe Bataan
Subway Joe
Fania SLP 345, 1968
Art director: Izzy Sanabria
Photo: Marty Topp

Willie Bobo
Uno dos tres/1•2•3
Verve V/V6-8648, 1966
Design: Acy R. Lehman
Photo: Charles Stewart

Johnny Zamot
Tell It Like It Is
Decca DL 74945

T’n’T Boys
Sex Symbols/Simbolos Sexuales
Cotique CS-1038
Art director: Izzy Sanabria
Photo: Bradley Olman

Tito Puente and his Orchestra
El Rey Tito Puente/The King
Tito Puente
Tico SLP-1172, 1968
Art and concept: Charlie Rosario

Eddie Bastian and his Orchestra
Hippies Boogaloo
Hopes 885

Ray Barretto
Fania SLP 346, 1967
Design: Izzy Sanabria
Photography: Marty Topp

The Latin Souls
Tiger Boo-Ga-Loo
Kapp KS 3553

Mongo Santamaria
Feelin' Alright
Atlantic 1567, 1970
Illustration: Izzy Sanabria
Design: Haig Adishian

Monguito “El Único” y
su conjunto
De todo un poco
Fania LP 386
Art and design: Izzy Sanabria

Eddie Palmieri
Tico SLP-1194, 1970
Art and design: Ely Besalel
La Lupe
La Lupe es la reina/La Lupe - The Queen
Tico LP 1192, 1969
Design: Ely Besalel
Photo: Warren Flagler

The LeBron Brothers
I Believe
Cotique CS-1022
Design: John Murello
Photo: Charles Stewart

Cal Tjader
Soul Sauce
Verve V-8614, 1964
Design: Acy Lehman
Photo: Murray Laden

Tom Zé
Tom Zé
Rozenblit LP 50.010, 1968
Design and Photo: Officina Programacao Visual-SP
Art: Satoru

Gilberto Gil
Gilberto Gil
Philips R 765.087 L, 1969
Art and design: Rogério Duarte and Antonio Dias
Photo: David Drew Zingg

Jorge Ben
Jorge Ben
Philips F. 765.100L, 1969
Photo: Johnny Salles
Design: Lincoln
Illustration: Albery

Tom Zé
Todos os olhos
Continental SLP 10121
Concept: Décio Pignatari
Photo: Reinaldo de Moraes
Design: M. Pedro Ferreira
and F. Eduardo de Andrade

Page 3

Silvestre, El Rey del Canto Afro Cubano y Su Orquesta
Oriza: Afro-Cuban Rhythms
Seeco CELP 4260, 1958
Design and art: L. Pearl

Mongo Santamaria
Up from The Roots
Atlantic SD 1621, 1972
Concept: Izzy Sanabria
Art direction and design: Richard Mantell

Emilio Barreto
Santisimo en ritual
Luz Productions LUZ 0002, 2001
Design and digital imaging: Pablo Ellicott Yglesias

Los Pleneros de la 21/Conjunto Melodia Tropical
Puerto Rico, Ruerto Rico:
Mi tierra natal
Shanachie 65001, 1989
Art: Manny Vega

Jaime de Jesus y su cuarteto ‘Alma Alegre’
El Plenero
Ninfa NLP 03 1083
Art and Photo: R. Oliva
Model: Deda Hunt
Design: Hispanoamerica Advertising Agency

Daniel Ponce
New York Now
Celluloid/OAO CELL 5005, 1983
Design: Felipe Orrego
Type setting: Elliott Dunderdale
Layout production: Thi-Linh Le

Harlem River Drive
Harlem River Drive Featuring Eddie Palmieri and
Jimmy Norman
Roulette SR 3004, 1971
Design: Ruby Mazur’s Art Dept.
Art: based on a photo by Leonard Freed

The Jimmy Castor Bunch
It’s Just Begun
RCA LSP 4640, 1972
Design: Frank Mulvey
Artist: Corrigan
Art Director: Acy Lehman

Harvey Averne Barrio Band
The Harvey Averne Barrio Band
Heavy Duty SLP 101, 1971
Concept: Harvey Averne
Front cover art: Ludovico de Luigi/Galleria d’Arte Moderna Ravagnan, Veneto, Italia
Back cover photo: Bob Gruen
Design: Izzy Sanabria

Joe Cuba Sextet
Bustin’ Out
Tico CLP 1300, 1972
Design and photography:
Ely Besalel

Cortijo and his Time Machine/Cortijo y
su máquina de tiempo
Coco CLP 108, 1974
Photo, art, design, and concept : Ely Besalel

El Chicano
Kapp KS 3640, 1971
Art direction: John C. LeProvost
Design: Virginia Clark
Photography: Eddie Caballero

Mongo Santamaria
Vaya XVS-38, 1975
Art and design: Ron Levine

Warner Brothers BS 2584, 1972
Illustration: Jesús Helguera and
Galas de Mexico, S.A.
Design: John and Barbara Casado
Art direction: Chris Whorf

Pyramid of the Moon
Columbia KC 32451, 1973
Design and photography: Bruce Steinberg

Love Is...
Fania XSLP 00478, 1974
Concept: Bill Garretson
Illustration: Izzy Sanabria
Design: Izzy Sanabria

Thousand Finger Man
Solid Sate SS 18066, 1969
Art direction: Frank Gauna
Photography: Chuck Stewart

Coco CLP 106, 1975
Art direction: Izzy Sanabria
Design: Chico Alvarez
Illustration: Walter Velez

Santana’s Greatest Hits
Columbia PC 33050, 1974
Photograph: Joel Baldwin
Design: John Berg

Page 4

Willie Colón
La gran fuga/The Big Break
Fania SLP 394, 1971
Concept and design:
Izzy Sanabria

Willie Colón
El Juicio
Fania (S)LP 00424, 1972
Design: Izzy Sanabria
Illustration: Aggie Whelane

Ray Barretto
Fania SLP 00456, 1973
Design and shirt: Walter Velez/WE-2 Graphis, Inc.
Photography: Roberto Schneider

Hector Rivera con Tony Molina
Lo máximo
Tico CLP 1324, 1974
Art, design, photography:
WE-2 Design, Izzy Sanabria, Yogi Rosario
Illustration: Walter Velez

Azuquita y su Orquesta Melao
Pura salsa
Vaya VS-34, 1975
Art direction and design:
Izzy Sanabria

Ralphy Santi y su conjunto
Ralphy Santi y su conjunto
TR 132X, 1977
Design: “The Big Red”
Design Studio

Eddie Palmieri
The Sun of Latin Music
Coco CLP 109XX, 1974
Painting and graphic design: Charlie Rosario
Photo: Gary Mason

Francisco “Kako” Bastor
TR, 1970s
Art, photography, design: Charlie Rosario

Charlie Palmieri
Coco CLP-111, 1974
Art and design (“sculpture graphics”): Charlie Rosario
Photography: Gary Mason,
Yogi Rosario

Orchestra Harlow/Larry Harlow
Fania QXSLP# 00472, 1974
Art and design (“metalgraphics”): Charlie Rosario
Photography: Gary Mason

Conjunto Melao
Conjunto Melao
TR 1976
Concept, art, photo and design: Charlie Rosario

Tipica ‘73
La candela
Inca XSLP 1043, 1975
Art design and concept:
Charlie Rosario

Hector Lavoe
Fania JM 0052, 1978
Photography: Yoshi Ohara
Layout and design: Michael Ginsburg/Gazebo Group
Art director: Alberta Dering

Ray Barretto
Fania SLP 552, 1979
Art: Jorge Vargas
Concept and art direction and design: Izzy Sanabria,
Latino Communications, Inc.

Joe Cuba
Cocinando la Salsa (Cookin’ The Sauce)
Tico JMTS-1405, Series 0698, 1976
Photography: Lee Marshall
Design: Ron Levine

Ismael Rivera y sus cachimbos
Esto fue lo que trajo el barco
Tico CLP 1305, 1972
Design and illistration: Ely Besalel

Sonora Ponceña
Sonora Ponceña
Inca SLP 1033, 1972
Art design: WE-2 Design
Art direction: Izzy Sanabria
Illustration: Walter Velez

Sonora Ponceña
Inca JMIS-1072, 1979
Concept, illustration and design: Ron Levine

Eddie Palmieri
Lucumi, Macumba, Voodoo
Epic 35523, 1978
Photo: Jim Houghton
Design: Paula Scher

Fania All Stars
Live in Japan, 1976
Fania No. 116, 1976
Art, concept, and title lettering: Ron Levine

The designers:

Photo of Jorge Vargas courtesy of Jorge Vargas

"Here is my photo...25 or 30 years ago...(my hair is almost white now). This was my studio in Long Island (IT IS ALWAYS ON MY MIND...). By the way, you can see in the backgroud some album covers I did on the wall and...of course, no computers. Those where the days my friend. Great memories, with Izzy and the latin world. The music, the culture; it's our roots...and, 30 years later, people are taking about it again." - Jorge Vargas

Photo of Steve Quintana III courtesy Steve Quintana III

"The Joe Bataan "Salsoul" cover was interesting - I put a lot of jokes in thre, a lot of details of New York in that painting, the board I did it on was really big, and when I was finished I took it to show the guys at Mericana and one of them said - where is Joe? Put Joe's face on there somewhere, we want to see him on there! Man, I was not happy about that - it was finished and I wanted to get paid and move on to the next thing, you know? So, at the last minute, I had to air brush in there a portrait of him. I still don't think it goes, but they loved it over there. Anyway they say it's a classic album, maybe but I liked the first version better - the original painting was destroyed in a fire." - Steve Quintana III

Photo of Charlie and Yogui Rosario building sets at Carnegie Hall for the Tico-Alegre All Stars show, May 24, 1974; courtesy Charlie Rosario; photo by Dominique; cover designed by Angelo Velazquez, interior by Yogui Rosario

Photo of Rogério Duarte: By Milla Petrilho/Courtesy Rogério Duarte and Ana de Oliveira

“To me, Tropicalismo represented the synthesis between spirituality and Marxism, the people’s naive creativity and political militancy. The designer is committed to anonymity, like the artisans who are recognized by their work and not by their names. I have changed the visual arts in Brazil and I am acknowledged for it now to a certain extent, but not popularly because my work is more erudite. Our album covers represent Brazil itself: all it’s conflicts and joys, all it’s milk and cocoa, all it’s naked girls and starving children in the streets, all it’s richness and misery! Latin America: the 3RD world wailing in front of the gates of the first world!”
—Rogério Duarte

Photo of Ron Levine: Courtesy Ron Levine

“I look back at the 70s, it was the heyday for salsa, it was really fun, wild, and the friendships that I made were great. There was always a party. Jerry Masucci at Fania was a wonderful friend and mentor to me, we treated each other with respect. Tito Puente was a gentleman, Celia Cruz was a sweetheart. A year before he died, Masucci called me up to do another fantasy painting for a Ponceña cover, and he said ‘I miss you man, I love you,’ and he didn’t just talk out through the mouth to me, he was usually a very closed off kind of guy. I was sad when Jerry passed.”—Ron Levine

Photo of Izzy Sanabria and Walter Velez: Courtesy Izzy Sanabria Archives

“Before I started to design Latin album covers, they were usually put together by the printers. They'd get a photo and then put down the type/titles with their eyes closed. The album covers did not have much importance to anyone, it was just some small market. I gave up my job at an advertising agency to devote myself to improving the image of Latinos by combining Music and Art. Just as great works of art reflect social, religious and political views at different periods of world history, these covers should also reflect the same things in relation to our music and culture throughout 50 years. Am I flattered and thrilled about ‘Cocinando’? Damn right I am. Am I proud? Damn right I am. And to those Latinos picking up this book, I hope you will share my pride. If you're a non-Latino, I hope and expect that this book will help shed some light on this small part of our visual and commercial Pop culture.” —Izzy Sanabria

“[Our] aesthetic forces you to deal with being simultaneously enlightened and offended. [It] display[s]a keen sensitivity to universal fears, fantasies, frustrations, and stupidities. In essence, Raunch and Taste. Taste that can only be achieved through craftsmanship, dedication to the truth (though somewhat stretched), and polish.”
—Walter Velez

Photo of Yogi Rosario: Courtesy Charlie Rosario

" I loved working on the album covers - it did not pay well, but Latin music is in my blood and I would never trade those years for anything. I love making collages, and I used to have a whole stack of magazine pictures and photos and books just for doing collages. The carving I did for the 'Pacheco Greatest Hits' was a funny story - they ended up putting a sticker over the flute because Joe Cain was afraid it would look like Pachecko was sucking a you know what. I didn't see it that way at all, but in the last minute they slapped that ugly black sticker on there covering it up. I was mad about that, but at the same time I didn't want people getting the wrong idea." - Yogui Rosario

Photo of Angelo Velazquez courtesy of Angelo Velazquez

"Pablo, we may have created these album covers, but that was a long time ago, and you're the one that's making sure that people know who we are and what we've accomplished. At one point last night Charlie told me 'Angelo, I just feel so damn proud, because I thought all the work we did was forgotten. I never thought anyone would care enough to do this, or that we would ever get any recognition.' God bless you, brother. - Angelo Velazquez in a personal communication

Photo of Charlie Rosario: Courtesy Charlie Rosario

“I was continually trying to challenge myself with these covers, to go beyond. I didn’t care really about the ‘market’ or the buyer or whatever. I loved the music, knew a lot of the musicians. I wanted to take this stuff as far out as it could get!” —Charlie Rosario

Photo of Chico Alvarez: Chico Alvarez

“You can say that I gave up the business because the art of the album cover was "lost" when the CD was invented. There is just no way that I can appreciate art that is supposed to be bigger than life, when it is in such a small format. Album cover art was crucial to the selling of the record, and the artists who mastered it were the “chosen few.” Today, anyone with a computer can design a cover. Like Frank Gauna and Walter Velez, there were a lot of guys (and ladies too I imagine) who worked on the album covers simply because it was their gig, but who would have preferred designing in another field, unlike Izzy and myself, who dedicated ourselves almost exclusively to that particular genre, a specialized field you might say, to the (almost) exclusion of everything else. I've never taken a lesson in either fine or commercial art in my life. The only courses I took where night classes at School of Visual Arts in airbrush techniques and a very good course in the layout and preparation of art for offset printing. In those days that was the equivalent of taking a course in computer graphics. Yes I did have an art teacher in High School, as well as an art teacher in grade school in Cuba, but I can't remember anything about them. I think that I either developed my skills through instinct or they came to me through geneolgy - my mother was an artist.” —Chico Alvarez

Photo of Ely Besalel: Courtesy Ely Besalel

“I know production very well, so I could control the design and printing processes even though I couldn’t translate my ideas instantaneously the way you can now with computers. Sometimes an idea never made it off the sketch pad! It was like pulling teeth with these people to get your name in the credits. Morris Levy of Roulette Records screamed and threw me out of his office once because I told him his idea for a cover was in poor taste.”
—Ely Besalel

Photo of Hélio Oiticica: Courtesy Editora Abril and Ana de Oliveira

“Before anything else it is necessary to clarify my interest for dance, for rhythm, in my particular case it came from a vital necessity for a disintellectualisation [...]. It was therefore, an experience of greater vitality, indispensable, particularly in the demolition of preconceived ideas and stereotypification, etc....[my] environmental much more than macaws and banana trees: it is the consciousness of a non-conditioning to the established structures, therefore, highly revolutionary as a whole. Any conformism, being it intellectual, social or existential, is out of its main idea." - Helio Oiticica (conceptual artist and designer of the cover for Gal Costa's "Legal" album, 1970)

Photo of Izzy Sanabria at Latin NY Magazine: By Charles J. Gonzalez, Courtesy Izzy Sanabria Archives

"Just as the great works of art reflect social, religious and political views at different periods of world history, these covers ...also reflect the same things in relation to our music and culture throughout 50 years." - Izzy Sanabria

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Some mercantile recommendations

Check out one of my favorite record stores: Dynamite Records. You can find them online at They have great vinyl and a whole lot of cool CDs and the staff is very helpfull and knowledgeable. Ronnie the owner is a DJ and is always putting on great events. They also will process orders fast. The Muhammad Ali cover came courtesy Dynamite, and many other covers in my book have come from them.

Another is Dusty Groove. You can find them at These guys were innovators in the online shopping category way back when and they are still the best for all your grove oriented needs. Great reviews on the site, and the occasional used vinyl treasure. Plus they have hard to find imports too! They are doing a great job selling my book and several CDs/LPs I have worked on over the last few years, muchas gracias. One of the top dudes there, Rick, is an excellent guy - shout out to you my man!

For Latin music online, I also go to - very knowledgeable staff, excellent articles, and informative reviews. The owner Bruce is very nice and deserves a lot of respect. You can usually find whatever you neeed for your Latin jones, from CDs to DVDs, even the odd cutout or sealed vinyl from time to time.


One of the best record labels around - they do vinyl!! - is Vampisoul over in Madrid. The folks there have put out some GREAT funk, soul, Latin, jazz, afrobeat, and garage rock over the years. Make sure to visit their site at!!!!! [full disclosure - we work together on various projects from time to time:)]

I am also partial to The Rough Guide series of CDs - really great overviews of music from around the world. Check them out at - they also have several other labels like Introducing, Riverboat, and Think Global. A lot of fun. They are affiliated with the music guide books of the same name, and are in the same general umbrella as the travel guides. It was a dream come true to be able to work with them on a bunch of CDs. Plus, the people there are super nice and very hip!

Plus, if you are ever in Amherst, MA - make sure to fall by one of the hippest and best-priced vinyl & CD stores in the area: Mystery Train Records. Josh, Cynthia, and Bredan will be there to help you with all your obsessions, from used DVDs & videos to books, records & CDs. A VERY cool place! Located at 12 N Pleasant St., Amherst, MA 01002 - phone: (413) 253-4776

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Cover Story - an unofficial review

Cover Story - 2007 Wax Poetics Publishing

The new book “Cover Story” from the excellent Wax Poetics magazine out of Bklyn is a lot of fun – there is something liberating about doing a cover book that throws such a wide-ranging net over the esoteric world of album cover art connoisseurship - boundaries are made to be broken and re-configured. When I opened this book and started flipping through I got very excited – I saw some covers I knew and loved, but there were many, many more that were completely unknown to me – I could only wonder about their stories. To that end, there are some cool essays at the front, though much is left up to the imagination, which is as it should be. Some amazed me; some appalled me, some made me laugh, some were moving - the good, the bad, the ugly, the full spectrum. It's like having your own wild record collection available at the flip of a page.

The look, feel, and design of the book is pleasingly simple, and reminded me of my own book (check out the label logos on red – mine were on yellow, but very similar). They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so if waxpo was inspired by some aspects of "Cocinando" then I am happy that the book shares a few similarities with my own; however, they were not really imitating my book, I'm not so egotistical to think that. Debating any similarities really is a moot point hardly worth talking about anyway so I do not even want to bring it up; what I will say is who cares about where "Cover Story" got it great looks from; the folks at waxpo came up with it, worked hard on it, and in the end it is a thing of beauty. I also owe them a debt for indulging me with publishing my article about stories of Latin album cover art in issue 12; they very generously put in 80 covers and also featured some photos of the designers, something which my publisher was not interesed in. FYI, my book’s general layout is not original, for it owes a debt itself to a previous album cover book that Princeton Architectural Press had put out, “45 RPM,” and Chronicle’s subsequent New Wave cover book, “This Ain’t No Disco,” has the same feel and basic layout as mine and "45 RPM" put together! Way I see it, it's like this: with a great idea, it does not really matter where it comes from, there is no origin really; just that the idea serves as a jumping off point, a kernel of possibility; great ideas help creative minds to achieve their goals.

The idea behind “Cover Story” is just perfect. The main guidelines for the 12 collectors who contributed art from their incredible collections was for them to pick covers that spoke to them in some way – visually, or in terms of the music inside, or the juxtaposition of one cover next to the other across the page. I sent a copy of “Cover Story” to Puerto Rico to my friend Charlie Rosario, an artist and musician who made many interesting artworks for Latin covers over the years (he called some of them “sculpture graphics”). He is featured in the book with his wacky psychedelic art for the extremely rare La Fantastica’s “All Ears/Ear To Ear” album on Ghetto records - props to Andre Torres. Charlie was blown away that someone other than me would want to put his cover in a book, and I think it made his day! Charlie is quite a story-teller himself, and of course he has one for that cover; I myself have a story to tell about how I came across the record – but sometimes leaving the mystery is better – that way the viewer can bring to the art whatever they have in their head (or between the ears). That’s what’s so cool about this book – it is the messenger, but the story really is the cover; it is retold by each viewer as they flip through the book. Every album has multitudinous stories to tell – and waxpoetics was there to put it all in an album of memories and revelations. Buy it!

Just for fun, I was inspired to take a look at my own record collection with an eye toward doing a similar “cover story” exercise in selecting LP jackets that are weird, goofy, beautiful, fun, sexy, horrible; covers that speak to me and to each other, covers that tell stories. I may have a reputation among friends as being obsessed with Latin covers, but here I am stretching out into other genres that I also love: jazz, funk, reggae, hip-hop, rock, blues, folk, world, etc. I will be scanning more covers and adding them each week, so please check back periodically. Course I also have a rep of being a motor mouth, so I will be commenting on each cover. Your comments are welcome as well.

Sun Ra: "Jazz By Sun Ra, Vol. 1" (Transition; Cover by Wilson/Reid) Let's start this universe of cover art with the Sun. My papi's roommate and friend Tom Wilson started the Transition label out of his dorm room at Harvard - not quite the Def Jam of the 50s, but still pretty dope! They had so many loud parties in the dorm they got kicked out and my pops had to rent a room in a boarding house just to get some quiet. The record is cracked from the spindle out but it plays fine without any skips - extra thick vinyl with a grooved edge. I must say, the mysterious cover is nice - gold and black - is that a spider web?

Russell Woollen - "Quartet For Flute & Strings" (Transition) At one point Papi had all of these Transition records at his pad, including a very early Donald Byrd; dad was there for some of the sessions; the Sun Ra & Woolen are all that remain. Tom Wilson might have designed the cover - it's signed "Wilson." Tom went on from cutting edge jazz to produce acts like Dylan, Zappa, and The Velvet Underground.

Various - "Noman Granz Presents: Jazz At the Philharmonic, Vol 12" (Mercury 10") A fave of my parents; they used to go to a lot of these jazz gigs in Boston, New York, Providence, Havana. this little ten inch uses a peppy modern art museum style: a mixed-media urban look, like Pop-Surrealism or something. Great old-school hand-lettering. Those were the days of paste up. Record showcases jam sessions with the likes of Roy Eldridge, Ray Brown, Bird, Buddy Rich, and Pres.

Slim Gaillard - "Slim Gaillard Cavorts" (Clef Records 10"; cover by Hubley) My dad & I used to laugh at this clowning trixter's tunes, especially the Cuban themed ones, when I was a kid; I caught Slim's live show in London in the early 80s and was floored by his raw guitar, piano antics, funny lyrics, and vodka screw-driver intake. Bless you Norman Granz for giving this cosmic clown the benefit of a doubt. The cover is kind of Picasso-esque. Voot-o-rooney!

John Berks "Dizzy" Gillespie - "Dizz Over Paris - Vocals by Joe Carroll" (Roost 10"; cover by Burt Goldblatt) One of the dopest jazz covers ever by the great Burt Goldblatt, who whipped up a stunning combo of graphics (map) and illustration (Dizz) giving you the feeling of transport - long before Photoshop and Illustrator. Sonically snappy, and featuring the fabulous hipster vocals of Joe Carroll!

Redd Foxx - "Mr. Hot Pants" (MF Records; cover by Foxx) Well I just had to. I mean it's another great example of mixed media album cover design...really! Not to say Redd is claiming the right to wear Mr. Dynamite's Hot Pants as Soul Brother #1. Not hardly. I just love Redd's f.u. attitude and jaundiced eye. Plus Foxx makes me think of funky black humor of the 60s & 70s and the theme song to his show - you know the one by Quincey Jones. I just love Redd as a cultural relic; not that he is a favorite comic of mine really - I leave that honor to the one and only Richard Pryor, R.I.P.

Juanucho Lopez - "Aha! Let's Pachanga with Juanucho Lopez" (Estacy Records; cover art by Abel Navarro) A great example of mixed media usage, this time from Nuyorican advertising designer Abel Navarro - a really fun cover, the text excitedly trumpets "Let's Pachanga!" - so it was no doubt part of the 'pachanga' craze that was sweeping New York in the ealy 60s (also see other records by Johnny Pacheco, Charlie Palmieri, and Tito Puente). Lopez, a timbales player, was originanally from Spain, and like Xavier Cugat he was way into the Cuban sound, though he also did merengues it would appear.

Various - "Norman Granz Presents: Jam Session, Vol. 1" (Mercury) David Stone Martin's "x-ray style" lines are still exciting all these many years later. Big influence on many designers (see next cover!).

Various - "Alegre Allstars, Vol. 1" (Alegre) Abel Navarro may not have been aware of Martin's jazz covers, but the general 'line drawing' style was definitely well known in the illustration world. Though he is Latino, and went to high school in the Bronx with people who would later figure importantly in the Latin music scene, Navarro was not himself into Latin music until he started designing on spec for Al Santiago's label. Abel was married to Al's sister, that's how he knew Al; he was called in to design for the label - though he was in the much more lucrative field of advertising at the time. He worked from photos and visited the studio. An instant classic - spare and effective.

Special AKA - "In The Studio" (Crysalis/Two Tone, 1984; photographs by Davies/Starr; design by Jerry Dammers and David Storey) Another studio cover. Copping the Blue Note look a little before it caught on in trendy London; riffing on the ska music of yesteryear - which had it's second and third resurgences in the U.S.A. years later; a form of music that is still popular all these years later. A smooth cover, great LP, excellent band. Ska/punk/soul/jazz/world beat/new wave - part of the sountrack to my 80s. See the real thing below.

The Jazz Messengers - "The Jazz Messengers" (Columbia; photo by Don Hunstein) A classic record, and a cover that has served as the blueprint for many designers over the years, most recently inspiring the cover of Greyboy's "Soul Mosaic" on Ubiquity (the Sharon Jones joint on there is ILL!)

Bud Powell - "Jazz at Massey Hall...The Amazing Bud Powell" (Debut 10" 1953; photo by Bob Lang) Historic Canadian live summit recording of power trio: Powell, Mingus & Roach. Amazing Bud, the high priest of bop piano; the tragic Bud Powell, on Mingus' Debut label. Just look at the rapture on his sweaty dripping face - the cover puts you there where he is. I owe all my knowledge of bop to my pops. (R.I.P. Max Roach).

Leadbelly - "Rock Island Line" (Folkways 10" 1953; photo by Jim Chapelle) My parents were part of the bohemian bop/folk set that straddled the 50s/60s, and there were a lot of great old blues documents around the house, this one being highly influential on my little ears. Leadbelly's dignity and experience shines out from his 12 string and big-hearted bellow in this documentary portrait that feels like I dug it up from a time capsule.

Fela A. Kuti "Sorrow Tears and Blood" Another great portrait album cover, this time by my favorite African cover artist, the super-talented Lemi Ghariokwu, who is a Nigerian painter and graphic artist. He has created some 27 classic Fela covers and recently has done some for the new generation of afrobeat-inspired musicians. someone should do a book on this man!

Buari - "Buari" (RCA, 1975) A nice afro-funky disco album - and a happy portrait with cool cowrie shells. Sidiku Buari is a vocalist and hand drummer from Ghana, and he has Bernard Purdie joining him on drums - a plus in my book!

Alhaji Bai Konte - "Kora Melodies from the Republic of the Gambia, West Africa" (Rounder) Another great African portrait. The album that launched me on the quest to discover more about the griots of West Africa and the beauty that is the kora. From 1973. Dug out of my dad's dusty record shelf.

Dr. John - "Babylon" (Atco, 1968; photo by Norton; Stanislaw Zagorski) The psychedelic swamp priest zapps you! A very sick album if you can find it. Babylon - a lesson to us all!

Irma Thomas - "In Between Tears" (Fungus/BASF, 1973) Also from The Big Easy, Queen Irma Thomas. Freaky circle shaped crying moon art on the cover, beautiful R & B music inside, rumored to be with Duane, the Allman Soul Brother #1 on guitar, & produced (with piano) by the first dawg of soul, Mr. Swamp Dog, Jerry Williams, Jr.!

Jim Pepper - "Jim Pepper's Pow-Wow" (Embryo, 1972; photo by Joel Brodsky, design by Haig Adishian) More circles, this time the drum circle and the cry of the tenor saxophone; deep spiritual jazz meets ritual drums and Native American history. "Wichi Tai To" is an essential mantra for clensing the earth of all the Bad Spirits brought by the White Man, and is a song of basic thankfulness that we all should remember in this age of shop-till-you-drop consumerism and cluster bombing for oil.

Milly Jackson - "Caught Up" (Spring/Polydor, 1974; album concept by Millie Jackson; cover by David Wiseteltier) Another circle shape like the Jim pepper, and it kinda makes me think back to the Sun Ra album above. Well known record from back in the day of relationship rappin' funk & soul by the dirty talkin' diva Ms. Jackson, but still and all, a worthy cover. Caught my eye first time I seen it!

Cold Blood - "Thriller" (Reprise, 1973; cover design and 'execution': George Hunter and Herb Greene) Pulp fiction and macho violation meet blue eyed funk and acid rock with a Latino twist in 1973 - and graphically speaking, the back of this LP is even more of a killer in a way, perfectly imitating all those cheesy 50s detective magazines. A real funky version of "Kissing My Love" to boot.

Muhammad Ali & Friends - "The Adventures of Ali And His Gang v.s. Mr. Tooth Decay - A Children's Story " (St. John's Fruit & Vegetable Co.) Side 'A' of this rediculous but touching album (courtesy of Dynamite Records, I just fell out laughing when I clapped my lamps on this - but I do love it - and it makes me want to eat my fruits and vegetables!

Muhammad Ali & Friends - "Ali And His Gang v.s. Mr. Tooth Decay" (St. John's Fruit & Vegetable Co.) Side 'B' of this corny platter - the 'gang' consists of Ol' Blue Eyes hisself, plus Ossie Davis & Richie Havens, with Howard Cosell doing the play by play, no less! One surmises this is even better than the 'Rumble In The Jungle.' The inner sleeve advertizes that the next Ali LP will be dedicated to fighting drugs: "The Fight of the Century: Hey kids our next story is "Ali and His Gang" Vs. "Fat Cat the Dope King" and his Sidekick Peter Pusher" (yikes).

Cassius Clay - "The Greatest" (Columbia Records; cover by Bob Cato) Yes he is the greatest - and this album is really something - perhaps one of the original rappers? Anyway, an important cultural artifact from a historic figure of pride and power - one of the most well known and loved icons of the 20th Century. For Black History Month.

Various artists - "Swing Latino" (Fania Venezuela, 1979; cover art by Daniel Jaimes) Has that art brut/prison art/home-made comics look to it - totally brilliant salsa joint put together in Venezuela - you can tell. Wack LP jacket to be sure - that's why I love it.

Funkadelic - "Tales of Kidd Funkadelic" (Westbound, 1976) Hard to pick which P-Funk jam to throw up here, but I love this one - had to be a cover by the original cosmic afronautical comic strip artist, Pedro Bell, Sir Lleb of Funkadelia (though the first couple of photographic covers are ill too). You can spend hours gazing at this crazy gatefold, the drool drippin from out your lip, making you smirk and guffaw, or squint and scratch your head, reading the "fabulous literary rap-manship" of Ileb (Bell backwards), a job where minutes that can seem hours, you dig?

The Barkays - "America, Do You See What I See" (Stax/Volt; cover art by Jack Martin; art direction: the Graffiteria/David Krieger) Gatefold soul. Yes, the Barkays did have their Funkadelic phase, and this obscure, as yet un-rereleased LP from '74 is really brilliant, full of social comment & acid drenched funk-rock. Scary clown cover award!

The Barkays - "America, Do You See What I See" So you can see the cover more close up, Amerikkka!

Osibisa - "Heads" (Decca, 1972, design by David Howells/Carol Smither; painting Abdul Matti Klarwein) No album cover collection is complete without at least one Abdul Matti Klarwein - this is one of his freakiest. Plus the LP has an African version of "Che Che Cole" from around the same time as Willie & Hectors - and it's good, too.

Rufus Thomas - "Funky Chicken" (Stax, photo: Joel Brodsky; design: The Grapheteria/David Krieger) Chicken albums are a favorite delicacy of mine; this just happens to be the one with the best cover - don't care if it's well known. On here is one of the stankiest way-back-yonder fonk tunes, Rufus' version of "60 Minute Man" - making love all the way back to Africa.

Randy Weston - "African Cookbook" (Atlantic, 1972) Speaking of Africa, Randy Weston used to have a night club in North Africa - where people like stevie wonder and Don Cherry rubbed elbows with tribal muscians of Jujuka and the Gnawa trance healers. Weston is a gentle giant of the ivories, and this is his illest cover. I smell you cookin', circa 1964, Mama Africa! The uncredited painter was really doinf something brilliant with this art - too bad they didn't list any info on this!

Orchestra Makassy - "Agwaya" (Virgin, 1982) More African art. Picked this up in London (during the whole explosion of so-called 'world beat') in the early 80s when it came out and loved everything about it - the folksy shebeen painting on the cover, the dubby remix of "Mambo Bado," and the unbeatable mix of Congolese/Kenyan/Cuban vibes throughout.

Mor Thiam - "Dini Safarrar (Drums of Fire)" (Rite Record Productions, 1973; cover by Phillis Commons) It really freaked me out to read in Wax Poetics the blurb about this record - it seemed incredible to me that someone else knew this album aside from a small circle of people whose lives had been personally touched by this Senegalese master drummer's music. I mean this record is OBSCURE, dude. I got this a number of years ago during my quest for African funk; it was lent to me by a good friend who's parents were friends of the musicians on it (indeed it is dedicated to them by conga player Billy Ingram on the cover). I fell in love with the music on this when I first heard the first cut "Ayo Ayo Nene" at a party, sight unseen, knowing nothing about it. Imagine my excitement to discover the players - Mor Thiam, who I had been in a production of street theater with down at the WTC in the early 90s; Oliver Lake who's music I discovered through Kip Hanrahan's ecclectic records of the 80s like "Conjure"; Oliver Sain, incredible jazz/funk/blues sax player and producer, and my free jazz hero, Lester Bowie. And to top it off, the clincher: a great homemade looking cover!

Third World - "Third World" (Island, 1976) I love this artist's work - he did all the early TW covers and some others for Island in the mid-70s. Island folk art style - but the group was a very sophisticated Uptown mix - some looked down on them as less than roots, saying dem not heartfelt bredren of the streets, but I say 'bumba clot' to that! They were as legit as the next group, hotter than the rest, who cares about some of their pop syling all the while. I really enjoyed their sophistication and fresh approach - remember their live 'dub orchestra' circa 1985, with the clear plastic cello? On the back cover it says "Enter into this gate with thanksgiving" and I do give thanks for the classic years of reggae and TW's innovations.

The New Aces/Frank Rodarte & the Del Kings - "I Wanna Be a Low Rider b/w "Lowrider Fever" Right on! This little 7" single is a bit of Lowrider history from down San Antonio way. ¡Orale ese! This is some baaad 45, carnal!

The Incredible String Band - "Relics" A really nice piece of 'folk art' style cover; kind of tribal, like Voodooo cut metal from Haiti, or the carvings of the Inuit, or ancient Celtic metalwork.

Crazy José - "Cha Cha Cha" (UA) OK, let the cheescake begin! By the way, when I first saw this at a junk shop, I thought it was some long lost spin off of the New Wave Latino/Soul/Pop outfit Kid Creole & The Coconuts, but no, it's from the mid-50s! Totally out there, man. So square it's hip!

Mohammed El-Bakkar & His Oriental Ensemble - "Port Said - Music of the Middle East" (Audio Fidelity, 1958) What would you call 'cheese cake' from the Middle East? Bahklava? Anyway, bellydance has come around again in popularity - here's an original from the bad old days.

Akido - "Akido" A fdifferent kind of cheescake - Psychedelic African Girl you turn me on!

The Jungle Brothers - "Straight Out The Jungle" (Warlock/Idlers Records, 1988; cover & photography by Ken Kaufman)Man when I came across this record, their first, it was in the most unlikely of places - the Colorado Rockies. It had just come out and an artist friend, Irv Tepper, who I had just met, had all these cassettes with him of the new generation of Native Tongue Posse and other rappers like EPMD and NWA. What a revelation - we used to tool around the dirt roads of Snowmass and Aspen blasting these tunes, scaring away the deer, rabbits, buffalo and the rich dilettante people who had come to study art at the nearby Anderson Ranch. I really enjoyed the home made quality of this record particularly, the rapping, scratching, and figuring out all the samples was a very exciting and fruitful enterprise. As someone who always loved the music called Latin, or anything from the Caribbean, and also New Orleans funk, it was a real excitinmg time to rediscover Mandrill and find Cymande for the first time through the JBs and De La. Dope and humorous airbrush cover art.

Tavin Pumarejo - "Paco En Intimidad" (Koitre) What can I say, a man who loves his horse - the feeling is mutual, it seems. I found this in Old San Juan in a dusty junk shop with a million stories to tell - that used to be a very popular record store back in the day (which incedentally I am old also was pivotal in helping Puerto Rican reggaeton get its start). This is one of those "what the Hell?! covers.

Teddy Fire - "The Fluxing Headset Man" (Sealed Hotel Records, cover art by Teddy Fire) I love you, my brother! Teddy Fire was a kid singer who did all these 4 track lo-fi recordings - real home-made stuff, not for the weak of heart. I, as his brother, helped out on beats and keybs, and Philly Phil 'Nordit' and Bond Bergland are on the guitars & bass. Chimp music, some called it at the time.

Bob Marley - "Punky Reggae Party" (Tuff Gong 12" single; Jamaican pressing; 1977) I loved this 45 RPM Disco record from the first time I put the needle to the groove - the cover alone flipped me. I remembered hearing the live version on WBCN in the 70s in Boston, but this sound was something alltogether different: the "Scratch' Perry sound, mon! I got this little slice of Jamdown from the 'Rasta Van' that used to park on Thayer Street in Providence throughout the 80s. The colorfully painted bead and LP festooned van always had a strong island smell (mix of patchouli, coconut, and of course ganja), and the rasta vibes reverberated all the way down the street to Ras Jacob's home base, a store appropriately named The Lion's Eye.

Bunny Wailer - "The Struggle" (Solomonic Records, Jamaican pressing, 1978; artwork: N.Garrick and C. Jackson) Another piece of carib treasure from the Rasta Van, though on the more serious tip, visually. the Jamaican pressings were always warped and came with built-in crackles and pops. they were never sealed, and the bass sound was off the charts, mon. Neville Garrick is some kind of genius - all of his covers are really something. Had to have at least one.

Various Artists - "La Salsa de Borinquen, Volumen 3" (Borinquen Records, 1974; Cover by Drago) 'Drago' Fernández was a Cuban designer and artist working in Miami in the 70s & 80s who did a lot of cool cvers for Latin albums - and he wasn't part of the Fania mainstream. As such, his work is a little more obscure. This dynamic comic book style is just one of many that he employed in his arsenal.

Grandmaster Flash - "The Official Adventures of Granmaster Flash Sampler" (Strut 45 RPM 12" Disco) I loved the 'Official Adventures' project Quentin did with Flash; this was just one of the related products, a cool 12" with a blistering "Freestyle Mix" on side one and a deconstruction of "Apache" on the other - a recreation actually of what he used to do back in the day I think - live no tricks or overdubs y'all. I liked the graphic style of the cover - Strutt product always looked so nice as well as being top notch musically speaking - I was bummed when it went belly up! The licensing/permissions on this baby were a real headache for Quentin, I remember him saying. Cover art is uncredited.

Pat & Lolly Vegas - "At The Haunted House" (Mercury) Moster rock by two Chicano soul brothers who would later claim their Indian roots and form Redbone (joining acts like XIT and slide guitar wizard Jesse Ed Davis to make 'rez rock' in the 70s). Dig the crazy smokin' beast and the go-go dancer gyrating on it's tongue! Ah, L.A. discoteque culture in the mid-60s!

Frank Chickens - "We Are Frank Chickens" (Kaz Records, 1984; airbrush by Jamie Bettell; sleve by David Thomas; photographer: Yann Sylvane) Crazy Japanese New Wave/Rap! A British production, so it's no suprise that David Toop (of all those cool books like 'Exotica' and 'Rap Attack') plays on it as well as Steve Beresford, Roberto Pla and Lol Coxhill, not to mention Tony Coe. Interesting. Love the retro monster movie poster cover art, man - quite funny. And a very special thanks to Mr. Micro Davies of London and George Hirose on NYC for turning me on the modern Japanese music!

Orquesta Sakamoto - "Orquesta Sakamoto del Japón en el Chateau Madrid" (Alegre) Before Japanese salsa sensations Orquesta De La Luz, there was Orquesta Sakamoto - beat 'em to it by about 20 years! I saw this in a rare Venezuelan Fania catalog at the Discos Viera store in San Juan a few years back; I knew I had to find it - and lo and behold, I did this year - from a Colombiano at the 4th annual Lain record collector's convention in NYC.

The Clash - "Pearl Harbour '79 - The Clash" (CBS Japan, 1979) The Clash discovered in Japan! This was an LP and single with a special paper sleeve that provocatively stated "Pearl Harbour '79" which covered the original cover. I forget my clash history, but I seem to remember that was the name of their '79 tour - many years ago! The album is not from '79 of course - their debut came out in the U.K. in 1977. This edition did come out in '79 however. Nice dynamic design, kinda better than the original in a way! I always loved Japanes imports.

ESG - "Dance" (99 Records, 1982; sleeve by Gina Franklin) - I love slinging the A-Side at clubs - really an up number from the Scroggins gals. "Moody" is also a good cut - see the reissues on Soul Jazz Records, all you younguns. A great E.P. of NYC punk funk by a couple of African Americans and a Latino from da Bronx that was taken up by the down town scene as a cause celeb for a year or two. Love the ultra modern "techno" art on the cover - brings back the arcade games my buddy Dom used to play like Space Invaders, Pac Man, etc. Thanks Carle Groome!

The Amazing Kreskin - "The Basic Principal's of Kreskin's ESP" (SSS International) From ESG to ESP! Don't stare at this one too long. We used to sit around the dorm and laugh at this one back in the day - then I realized it was totally dope for mixing into a freeform turntablism set on the radio years later.

Lionel Hampton - "Hamp In Paris" (Em Arcy 7") Hamp looks a bit like the amazing Kreskin, doncha think? Nah, you been staring at record covers too long, dude.

Capoeira, an incredible discipline. Geraldo Vandre - a great singer!

Robyn joked that if he autographed this it would make it worthless - so I asked him to sign he back. one of my favorites done by him.

Lame French disco courtesy of my wife from her days in Paris - but awesome album art!

Palmieri, Pacheco, Fajardo - La Charangas (Alegre) Abel Navarro's first cover and an early example of the use of cartoon drawings by Latinos on album art (the first was probably by the Cuban/Spaniard Xavier Cugat who was a fine caricaturist). love the acid green and drawing style. Abel was always great at the hand-lettering thing, too. Many thanks to Don Cristobal Diaz aAyala for sending me this cover!

Maravillas de Mali - African Salsa - charanga to be exact (note the flutes & violins). Nice line drawing. Not sure when this is from - my guess is the early 70s. See my article on the subject earlier in the blog. I got it in Brooklyn, sealed, for a few bucks.

Augie Colón - "Chant of the Jungle" (Liberty) Hot on the heels of his "Sophisticated Savage" LP (those were the days of rampant predjudice and 'Exotica'), Mr. Colon shows us the power of the drum, the call of the chant.

Cyril Jackson - "Afro-Stereo" (Counterpoint, 1958) A very cool title for a really swinging album. Ed Mentken's concentric cover makes you want to play your drum - or your Hi-Fi - or both!

Joe Quijano - "Joe Quijano and his Fantastic Conjunto Cachana" (Cesta) Joe is a great guy (I licensed a track from him for my compilation The Rough Guide to NYC Salsa Dura), and I love this mod cover (thanks to Academy Records in Brooklyn).

'Pello' El Afrokan - "Mozambique" (Egrem) A seminal ritmo from a percussive Afro-Cuban powerhouse. Big influence on Eddie Palmieri. The original LP - love the early EGREM releases for their art too.

Various - "Flamenco Pop" (Belter, 1967) I love this kind of music - Afro - Cuban meets Barcelona gypsy meets Austin Powers - groovy baby, ¡Olé! Reminds me of my time when we were living in the south of Spain my lady & me, in Andalucia to be exact. Me & my girl were painting, teaching, and digging the sights, tastes, and smells of 700 years of Islam & Judaisism that forever left their mark on this region of my forefathers' homeland.

Exuma - "Do Wah Nanny" (Kama Sutra, 1971; cover painting by Exuma) Some very dark freaky voodoo folk from St. Vincent. Kind of like the underbelly of the flower generation - at times Exuma's sandpaper vocals are almost too painful to listen to. the choirs sound kind of cultish, communal like the early swampadelica of Dr. John. Pee Wee Ellis blows sax on the title song. Calypso wierdness - we used to put this guy's records on late at night to scare ourselves.

Gaspar Lawal - "Ajomase" (Cap, 1980; cover weaving by Adesose Wallace) One of my favorite albums by a Yoruba man. Funk, dub, afrobeat, traditional, unclassified goodness - you name it - all here on this illmatic 80s release from back-a-wall London. The crafty crochet cover and hand done lettering on the back really grabbed me with its unassuming folkiness when I saw it in a shop in Camden Town 20 years ago. The back claims the guy has played with everyone from Barbara Streisand to Funkadelic, Ginger Baker to Stephen Stills, and I believe it - Hell, it shows (hah - just kidding). HE influenced THEM, more like it! The title translates as "We All Have To Do It Together." There is no other song out there in afrobeat land like "Kita Kita" - and when I turned Quentin Scott onto this record, he had heard that one song but not the whole LP - he flipped, I burned it for him, and "Kita Kia' ended up on his super-duper Strut compilation, "Nigeria 70."

Various Artists - "Sonic Chimp" (Sealed Hotel; cover by Wes Wallace) One of those newer guerilla sampler records that colonizes old record jackets, feeding on them like a parasite feeds on its host. Lo-fi gems, all home made amature music - my brother Teddy Fire is on one cut. Thanks to Wes Wallace of Providence, R. I. for putting this sick stuff out in the mid-90s. Bless you, brother! Check out his old zine, Wingnut, if it's still around on eBay. Sealed Hotel - get it? the nut house!

Various Artists - "Sonic Chimp" (Sealed Hotel; cover by Wes Wallace) Another one! Freaky.

Various Artists - "Sonic Chimp" (Sealed Hotel; cover by Wes Wallace) so many of these hand-made covers that Wes did back in the day are so fun and cool - I think they deserve to be seen, they are one-of-a-kind.

Kent Gomez & His Orchestra - "My Ghetto" (Mio Records) My Ghetto is: Spanish Harlem, EL BARRIO, circa 1968! These guys are very 'chevere' - totally cool wearing their striped shirts and chinos, they are sooo ghetto fab in the old-school sense. WFMU Record fair is a MUST for finding this kind of stuff - snagged this bit of treasure for a few bucks - I almost wet myself when I saw it flippin through the stacks of Perry Como and polka.

Pucho & His Latin Soul brothers - "Tough!" (Prestiege) I love the varied ramshackle ghetto backdrop and Pucho's furrowed brow denoting the title with a slight tongue in cheek feel. My neighborhood growing up looked a lot like that before 'gentrification.' Thanks to Mystery Train Records for alerting me to this pristine copy.

Culture - "Bald head Bridge" (Blue Moon, 1983; design A. Lewis) Another Joe Gibbs production, the back cover proclaims. A really rootical outing from this tremendous trio, love to see them hanging out on a wall in Kingston Town in their psychedelic dashikis, and the graphic elements on the left are quite nice. Originally recorded in 1976, it still sounds as spiritual and 'dubsonic' now as it did over 30 years ago. There is no voice like Joseph Hill (R.I.P.) backed by his bredren, Albert Walker and Kenneth Dayes; hearing them live in London's Dingwall's club around '86 was a mystic experience, lemme tell ya mon. Band that gave the name to the Clash with their debut, "When The Two Sevens Clash." The standout track has got to be the sublime anthem, "Behold I Come," a Rasta Hymn to chant down Babylon.

The Congos - "Heart of the Congos" (Go Feet Records) A lot has been said & written about this mighty Lee Perry production; suffice it to say that for me, it is my favorite. I also dig the cover; brothers with their hand drums is always a heavy theme with me. This is a reissue that may or may not have been legit - and probably came out in the 80s. It says copyright 1978, but that is not when The Beat reissued this. But thank god they did - I found it at a time when you could not find the Jamaican version in Providence where I lived at the time, and the whole sound of t really turned my head around. The luxurious CD reissue package from Blood & Fire was a couple of decades away - big up to them for taking it to the next level.

The Talbot Brothers - "The Talbot Brothers of bermuda - Calypsos" (ABC, 1957; cover by Alan Fontaine/Bob Crozier). All of the ABC Paramont covers from the 50s and early 60s are killer, and top quality (just check out all the ones they did on Candido!). I love this record - crisp, jaunty calypsos that sing of atomic nightmares and freaky sex changes - stuff on every one's mind in the happy 50s, but rarely adressed in popular song. The font treatment for 'Calypsos' is very cool. Not too many calypsos feature accordeon or home made string bass either, so the sound on these is really great.

Ravi Shankar (Regal/EMI India; photo David Farrell) I reckon this is from some time in the 60s; Shankar had already impacted the UK & US when this came out. My pops & I used to fall back of a Sunday morn and listen to this man's ragas - sublime! But the intensity of the cover is what gets me - he is a guitar hero from another dimension - and his expression is kinda "what you lookin' at, honky?"

Floyd Westerman - "Custer Died For Your Sins" (Perception, 1969) Inspired by Vine Deloria Jr.'s seminal work of the same name, this is a great country and western albumwith Indian chants and themes (some would call it 'rez rock' for the music listened to on the reservations out West) by a Native American musician, actor and activst Floyd Westerman (you may remember his part in the Doors movie). Some great funky drumming on the disk too - just waiting for the sample hounds to pick up on this one. From an old girlfiend of my dad's - thank you Abby for turning me on to 70s Native American contemporary music.