March 27, 2017

Rock ‘n Roll Art Legend

We recently lost one of the most influential artists of our generation, Alan Aldridge. He was best known for designing album covers for Elton John and the Who, art books like the Beatles’ Illustrated Lyrics, along with the logos for House of Blues, Hard Rock Cafes and the Beatles’ Apple Records. It was the last two that brought us together. Alan’s agent at the time, Tom Zotos, contacted me to tell me the Hard Rock was looking for a special philanthropic element to help celebrate its 40th Anniversary through Alan’s art and they had chosen Jimi Hendrix. You see, Jimi had met Alan through Paul McCartney at his birthday party in London and Jimi inquired about Alan creating an album cover. Alan said he was so booked but Jimi persisted and Alan agreed to at least do an art guitar. Through three separate meetings with Alan, Jimi conceptualized the design utilizing images based on his songs but Hendrix sadly passed away and the concept was mothballed for 40 years.

When I saw the design, I was floored and brought it to Fender where they produced the art on a late 60’s Stratocaster replica guitar under the direction of Alan. I could write a whole separate piece on the amazing amount of work our builders put into creating this once-in-a-lifetime historical artifact, but one of my favorite stories is when I showed the completed guitar to Alan. He wanted to meet at a cafe at the Grove in Los Angeles near where he lived. He was so enthused when I pulled it out of the case – imagine waiting 40 years to see his collaboration with Jimi Hendrix come to fruition! A woman sitting next us asked if we would allow her and her teenage daughter to see the guitar. We let her daughter hold it (she was what I would consider in full “Goth” mode), her hands were trembling and said it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. She also admitted she was a huge Hendrix fan. When they left, Alan smiled at me and said, “Well, it must be fantastic because that was a truly unbiased and spontaneous reaction!”

The wonderful Annie Balliro at the Hard Rock wanted this to benefit the Jimi Hendrix Park Initiative in Seattle, and Janie Hendrix graciously offered to split the proceeds with the Fender Music Foundation (which I was on the board of at the time). Janie and I presented the guitar to the CEO of the Hard Rock at the annual Hard Rock Calling event in Hyde Park in the UK. The guitar toured Hard Rock locations and the design went on to raise over $1.5 million for the two non-profits through T-shirts and lapel pins (Pin USA donated proceeds from the latter).

A few years later, Alan surprised me at the annual music industry NAMM Show with an autographed litho from “Beatles Lyrics Illustrated.” It was an emotional moment because I was not only overwhelmed by the gift, but could also see he was beginning to have some health issues – that was the last time I saw him. It was one of my life’s honors to work with such a wonderful and immensely talented man.

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