Original Album Artist: Michael Mendel
Today I had the pleasure of talking with Michael Mendel, the artist who did the original wood burning for Podipto's first record. I was trying to track him down to see if he happened to have the original piece of art, knowing it was a long shot. Amazingly, from clicking "search" to reaching him by phone only took about two hours.
Michael is quite an interesting fellow. Born in Berlin, he fled Germany as a child with his family and ended up in United States where he spent years designing album covers for Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Gladys Knight, Captain Beefheart, Etta James, Stan Getz, Roy Orbison, Tony Bennett, Donovan, Howlin’ Wolf ... and Podipto.
I tracked Michael down at his home in New York, and we had a delightful conversation about his time working with record labels many years ago. He didn't remember Podipto by name, and couldn't recall the artwork from its description, but after sending him a picture of the cover he had this to say:
"A picture is worth a thousand words they say...... and IT'S TRUE!
"It all came back to me in a flash! I initially designed the front and back covers on a sheet of tracing paper. It took a bit of revising here and there but once the design was approved (by the powers that be, whoever they were) I purchased two flat pieces of either plywood or pine board and a kid's wood-burning kit. The kit consisted of nothing more than a very thick pen with an electric cord attached, which would be plugged into any household socket. Once the cord was plugged into the socket, the point of the 'pen' heated up, burning the wood. The texture and depth of the images were determined by how long you held the pen point to the wood on any particular spot.
"AND THAT WAS THAT! More or less, one drew or wrote with a hot pen! Let me just add that I did quite a bit of practicing before committing myself to creating the final two pieces of 'original art.' There was no erasing one's mistakes!"
However, when he came to the interior arwork—specifically, the wood burn version of the band's promo photos—he had different strong reaction!
"VERY IMPORTANT. I do not recall creating the panel with the five folks! I wouldn't be surprised if that was faked in by someone else, not burned in as the front and back, but drawn or painted later on, trying to match the flavor of the original cover art. The faces could never have been done so delicately with fire!! Neither could the fingers belts, etc. FOR SHAME!
"I've been in this game too long to accept that panel Look at the two original covers and see how bold they are presented and then look at the pale, unexciting poses of the band members. The fake elbow on the head. GIMME A BREAK! Art student stuff!"
So there you have it. The label screwed with the band on the recording, and it seems they screwed with the cover artist as well.
Read more about Michael Mendel and his artwork, including his current work in watercolors.