Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Jack Davis and Sailcat

One of the great losses of modern popular culture is the lack of opportunity for an artist, designer typographer or musician to make their mark and express their creative vision on the 12"x 12" canvas that is a record cover. No amount of creative packaging within CD covers can replace the record sleeve as an ideal forum to create a visual impact, as for mp3's, no matter how convenient they are, the accompanying visuals are a non starter.

As a nipper, I used to seek out Mad magazine paperbacks, featuring many of artists that influenced and informed my early scribblings, Duck Edwing, Don Martin 'Mad's Maddest Artist' and Sergio Aragones were particular favourites of mine. The cartoon work of Jack Davis also caught my eye, with his accomplished pseudo realistic brushwork, usually illustrating wacky parodies of popular t.v and movie culture. He was an intregal part of the Mad team, indeed his work had featured right from the first issue and continued to feature in another 241 issues.

Jack's draughtmanship was also put to good use in other fields of illustration like movie posters, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World being a particularly appropriate example. Jack's instantly recognisable style also adorns dozens of album cover sleeves as well.

Jack's appealing style was particularly suited to the medium of the album sleeve, as he could convey an impression of the music/sounds that lay within, using his wild, surreal imagination to paint an eye catching scene. Let's face it, his artwork not only enhanced the record, but was sometimes the best thing about the product. London Record's legendary Phase 4 label, particularly favoured his style, often using his services on some of their more esoteric pressings.

What is the finest Jack Davis album cover? I hear you ask.. in the faux sincere style of a reality show presenter, I can truly say that it's been hard to narrow down a particular favourite as they're all winners, but if I had to pick a champion, it has to be Ray Martin's 'The Sound Of Sight' album. The sheer chaos and frenzy of the cover art is a delight to behold and captures the very essence of the varied styles of music that are recorded within. The artwork explodes off the page, as do the sounds from the stereo, making this a very successful realisation of what must have been initially, a tricky brief.

I leave it to endlessgroove.com to sum up exactly why this is the pinnacle of Jack's cover art career. This next bit is sourced from www.endlessgroove.com/issue4/lp4s2.htm

"The Sound of Sight may very well be the summit of the London Phase 4 concept. Like Battle Stereo, the album sounds as if one is listening to a movie soundtrack without the picture. In fact, with the subtitle Music For an Experiment in Imagination, that's exactly what Phase 4 had in mind. One of the best uses of sound effects I've heard on any album of this type."

Another Davis cover that I hold dear to my heart, is the debut album from Sailcat. They were formed by Johnny Wyker and Court Pickett in 1972, both of whom previously were in The Rubber Band. They brought in many established players from the Southern Rock music scene and legendary Muscle Shoals guitarist Pete Carr produced the album. 'Motorcycle Mama' was released on the Electra label and they had a radio hit with the title track which reached number twelve on the Billboard chart.

This was the soundtrack to a period when every self respecting dude was cruising the freeways of America on a chopper straight out of Easy Rider. As you can deduce, there was enough room for his ole lady and the kids riding pillion, all of whom are sticking it to the man, flicking the system a metaphorical bird, by clearly breaching health and safety guidance/rules, as they're not wearing any helmets on the album's front cover.

This slab of Southern country rock is a pleasant enough listen, but the star of the show and the main reason for owning this, is the fantastic artwork by Jack Davis. It's a concept album of sorts, based on a self destructing drifter, who dreams of settling down and starting a family, he then meets a woman who turns out to be more than a match for him.

An entertaining account of how the album got made, written by Richie Unterberger, can be found here. Johnny Wyker briefly resurrected the Sailcat name in 2002, with an album called 'Wild Water-Ski Weekend' on the Mighty Field of Vision label and is currently involved in this project.









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