With the Allman Brothers Band celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and in the midst of its annual multi-show run at NYC’s Beacon Theater, I thought it’d be interesting to take a look behind the scenes of the making of one of their more recent record covers — the one for 1994’s Where It All Begins, created by designer/painter Ioannis. Like the band, it represents another well-done turn on a classic original effort.
Before the band had established its logo (the first version of the stacked text appearing on their 1979 Enlightened Rogues LP), the band’s record covers featured a wide variety of designs — both photo and illustration-based, including Jim Marshall’s iconic photograph used on the cover of their Live At Fillmore East double album and James Flournoy Holmes’ illustration for Eat A Peach.
However, band insiders (musicians and crew) had their first exposure to a mushroom-based ABB logo in 1970 when tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle was hired by brothers Gregg and Duane to create a tattoo design that would then be distributed to the entire ABB family at a cannabis-fueled party during a stopover in Columbus, Ohio. This design obviously left a lasting impression on guitarist Dickey Betts, who later suggested that it be included in the design you’ll read about shortly.
In 1994, the always-morphing line-up of the Allman Brothers Band consisted of the four living members of the original band: Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe — earlier known as Jai Johanny Johanson — who had reunited for their 20th Anniversary tour in 1989. Additional players included guitarist Warren Haynes (the new “hardest working man in show business”), bassist Allen Woody and drummer/percussionist Marc Quinones. Driven by strong play on album-oriented rock stations, the record ultimately went gold, but it turned out to be the last one that Betts would play on; Haynes replaced him permanently in 2001.
As much as their fans love their recordings, it is the band’s live performances that have given them the opportunity to play to sold-out crowds for 40 years. So like any manager worth his salt, it was important for Bert Hollman to find someone with the talent to produce just the right designs for the band’s tour merch. This timely need opened the door for Ioannis into the band’s inner world, and based on the fact that the relationship is still strong 15 years later, the band and its fans have been greatly impressed by the now-iconic mushroom-based design.
In the early spring of 1994, the small design firm that my brother and I had started was only a couple of years old, so designing the next cover for the Allman Brothers Band was the last thing on my mind at the time.
A friend of ours in the merchandising business had been contacted by the band’s manager and was asked to provide a design for tour shirts for their upcoming tour, so he called us for help. I sketched a couple of ideas and then packed up the car for the drive up to Massachusetts (from our office in Connecticut) to present them. At the last minute, I decided to take one of my paintings along to show him how my fine art looked.
Bert turned out to be a very down-to-earth type of guy and one with a great eye and appreciation for artwork. When I showed him my painting, he looked at it long and hard and said, “Forget the T-shirts for now — what do you think you could do with this?” He then showed me a pencil drawing of a bunch of naked girls dancing around a mushroom. “Dickey sent me this” he said, “and we have an album coming out and are in need of a record cover really bad. We are also really behind schedul