Vinyl Art: The Band

The Band
The Band
Capitol, 1969
Photographer: Elliott Landy
Album design: Bob Cato

band

1969? 1869, more like! In ’69, little else in
the rock world looked like the sombre
young men who gazed out from the
front of the second album by The Band.
The Band, known colloquially as “The
Brown Album”, as well as being
psychedelia’s worst nightmare, is the perfect
illustration of how to convey the musical
contents of an album in one image. In this
case, you really can judge the book by its cover
– a passionate, honest but sometimes stark
looking back at America’s past, traditions and
heart.
I wasn’t buying records at the time of its
release; I wasn’t even born, but I can vividly
imagine myself tearing open the packaging to
see and hear what was within for the first time;
such is the emotional power of the cover
image.
The cover was the work of experienced
designer Bob Cato, who was behind the cover
art of hundreds of albums, as well as later
going on to conceiving the advertising
campaign for Revlon’s Charlie perfume. After
working titles America and Harvest had been
rejected, the overall look is very, well, brown.
The previous year’s debut, Music From Big Pink,
featured a colourfully naïve painting by one
Bob Dylan on the front, which undoubtedly
lent some “weight” (sorry) to their endeavours.
This second effort was plain, bleak and serious.
The startlingly effective pictures were taken by
photographer-in-residence, Elliott Landy, who
was at the time hanging out with Dylan and
The Band in Woodstock, having been asked to
photograph them for Big Pink by Dylan’s
manager, Albert Grossman. Landy’s constant
presence during this period allowed for some
intimate and candid portraits of the players at
work and rest. In a recent interview, Landy
says that while photographing The Band he
was inspired by Mathew Brady’s Civil War era
photos because they “were like people from a
different time period.”
The cover image was taken on John Joy Road
in Woodstock on a rainy grey day in ’69, the
weather befitting the downbeat image, which
has an almost American Gothic quality to it.
Elliott Landy is at pains to explain how
naturalistic and organic his photos of the band
were – he didn’t instruct them to “do”
anything; what came across was their serious
honesty. As they already had a world of
experiences behind them, Landy found that
they were different from the other musicians
he had photographed. “Even though they were
young, hung out with the best of ’em, and did
whatever ‘irresponsible’ things they wanted,
there was a deep wisdom and maturity about
them. They knew about life and about people.
You couldn’t fool them.”
Inside the gatefold and on the back cover are
more Landy photographs; live shots of
individual Band members from San Francisco’s
Winterland in April ’69 (whether taken on the
night of Robbie Robertson’s hypnosis episode
is not known), as well as a scattering of
rehearsal beauties from Rick Danko’s house in
Woodstock and some of them recording,
presumably in LA. The overall impression you
get is of lives lived through the playing of
music together in a band of friends – the cover
photo is the only one on which instruments
are not held or played.
The back cover is a continuation of the mood
of the front, with a quote summing up their
intent from the 1917 standard, ‘The Darktown
Strutters’ Ball’: “I’ll be down to get you in a
taxi, honey / Better be ready by half past eight
/ Now, honey don’t be late / I want to be there
/ When THE BAND starts playing…”
Elliott Landy’s new book
of photographs of The
Band is out now.

Gitte Morten © 2015

 

This article was published in Shindig! Magazine, October 2015

 

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