RCM: Tell us about working with Carole King?
K: Oh, she’s lovely, sweet, great. She was very cooperative, she’d put up with nonsense — the nonsense being you’ve got to wait while the sets are being built and makeup’s being done and whatever else. She’s a pro — I mean, come on. [Laughs.] I did City Streets and Colour of Your Dreams.
RCM: What was Randy Newman like?
K: Randy was terrific. Randy — oh god, can we print this? I don’t know — Randy doesn’t see very well. So when he looks at stuff he looks like this [pretends to be peering closely at something]. But he was a total gentleman… He was not very creatively involved [with the art directing process]… Some artists are very, very involved; others let you get on with it.
REO Speedwagon just said, “We need an album cover; something funny and this is the title.” Dan Fogelberg was sometimes very involved and sometimes not. Once he got to know me and knew I was protecting him from the record company — there was some animosity between them – we would just go out and get drunk and put something together, or at least put something conceptually together.
RCM: The Pointer Sisters?
K: Oh, fantastic.
RCM: Did you have some sort of creative difference with ELO?
K: No, no, no, no, no. When I did the Electric Light Orchestra logo — that’s my affinity with my dad, who used to work for Wurlitzer. See, that’s the top of a Wurlitzer jukebox, that’s what that is. [Kosh has one in his Sunset Strip office.]
RCM: Wurlitzer used to make organs, too?
K: Yes! My dad built the Leicester Square, which is that big flagship [theater] in London — he built that organ. They probably paid him nothing. I lost my thread now totally…
…I did the ELO logo, I did the ELO New World record, I did the Out of the Blue, which was the spaceship, which actually came to me while I was playing with my son: We were playing Frisbee and I had these ELO stickers and I stuck it on a Frisbee and it flew into the sky and I go, “Oh my god, there’s the album cover!”
So it wasn’t until recently, that Jeff Lynne and I didn’t get on very well, because we got into this like — he’s from Birmingham — [jokingly pronounces it again, accenting the last syllable] BirmingHAM — and I’m from London. And I made some joke about, “Oh, you’re from Birmingham,” and oops, downhill from that point on. [Kosh laughs, greatly amusing himself.] Unfortunately he thought I was serious and I never got to do his new album. Then again, he’s the Traveling Wilburys, come on — he’s got cred.
RCM: Tell us about Rod Stewart?
K: Where do you want me to start?
RCM: How creatively involved did he get with his album covers?
K: Um, yeah, he sort of left it — knowing Rod’s persona, that sort of the lad from London who thought he was from Scotland — what was the first album? Oh, Atlantic Crossing was the first album I did for Rod. That was a rendering of him stepping from Europe over to America. But from that point on we kind of got a little bit more serious. We did the Renoir pastiche — I got him painted by Renoir — a fake Renoir, of course! He loved A Night on the Town because that cover was very flattering. He was a great Art Nouveau collector; he hated Art Deco.
…Rod was famous for not showing up. For Foot Loose & Fancy Free I came up with this idea that we’re going to build a hotel room. He’s going to be in the bed, out of it, the room is going to be flooded because he left the shower on.
So we had the bathroom with the steam coming out, and the water’s up to here and his shoes floating and Rod loved the idea. But this means building a tank — the tank was bigger than this room. This is like a serious set.
RCM: Who pays for all that?
K: Warner Bros. And we’ve got it all worked out, all the technicians are there, because now we’re dealing with strobes and whatever else — they’ve got to be kept away from the water, so it’s serious stuff. The fire marshals are there. Now, an hour and a half later, he didn’t show up. And I have to phone Warner Bros. and say: “He didn’t show up — sorry.” You can imagine — there’s a lot of money going up the chute. They said, “Okay, that’s okay.” So his manager said: “Oh, don’t worry; he’ll be there tomorrow.”
So tomorrow we all set up — you start at six in the morning, getting ready for ten. Because we have to siphon the water out, then we had to put it back again, and all that sort of stuff. In those days we used to float a black ink on the water because when you hit it with a lamp it wouldn’t shoot up reflections. You know — On the Waterfront, Shanghai Express — you get all sorts of ripples and things. Okay? It doesn’t just happen like that, you have to generate it. So we get it all set — and the bugger doesn’t show up again. Second time he doesn’t show up. Jeepers creepers. Now I’m getting embarrassed — because Warner Bros. are paying me so I phone the manager who goes, “Oh no, he’ll be there, he’ll be there. Don’t worry.” And he didn’t show up.
So then I have to phone Mo Ostin — let’s bypass Ed Thrasher and the Warner Bros. staff and go straight to the top. I said, “Mo, Mr. Mo” — whatever they called him at the time — and said, “He hasn’t shown up; this is costing you a fortune. What do I do?” And he said, “Well, give it one more day.” Okay, I gave it one more day.
He did show up. And Rod looks at it and says, “Nah, just take a picture of my head.” [Laughs uproariously.]
RCM: Rod Stewart has such a rowdy, raucous reputation and bad boy persona yet he wrote and performed on that album one of the most beautiful classic rock ballads ever, You’re In My Heart.
K: Absolutely. Yeah, I’m not quibbling with the artistry. No, no, no. To tell you the truth despite these little rocky things we got along fine. But if something happens I’ve got to pay all these people. [Laughs.]
RCM: How about Spinal Tap?
K: Oh, yeah. This is the time when we were trying to save paper, cardboard, materials and whatever else. In those days CDs came in long boxes — remember those? Because it was like now, totally — everyone was trying to get rid of long boxes because we were all getting sensitive about the environment. So we came up with the idea of having an extra long box, which is twice the length. [Chuckles.] The idea was it was going to be made out of recycled paper, therefore we were saving the environment. So we concocted this thing up. I had to talk with all three members of Spinal Tap — they all got really upset with me. Because they thought my English accent was artificial — because they have brilliant English accents, fantastic. I couldn’t believe how well — fooled me when I first saw them. So now I’m speaking to them like I’m speaking to you now, and they’re all pissed off — they think I’m taking the piss out of them. [Laughs.]
RCM: Did you ever think James Taylor would play at a presidential inauguration?
K: Yeah, why not? He was lovely, a sweetheart. We did JT, we did Flag — I don’t know if you know the significance of the album cover? That’s a nautical sign for “man overboard,” which is where he was at the time… Then we did Dad Loves His Work, which we recorded [inspired by the notion that] dad loves his lunch, just because he brought his bag of sandwiches. That was James’ idea. I wanted to make sparks so we had to sort of get diamond circular saws and see how many sparks we could make. If you’re going to make sparks you better make sure they don’t burn the artist. They got to be cold sparks. Aaron Rapoport was the photographer who pulled it all together. Brilliant.
RCM: Bob Seger?
K: I had very little to do with Bob Seger. I did just one cover — it was by remote. I guess he liked it.
RCM: You’ve also done some of Ringo’s solo albums. Is he very eccentric?
K: Yes! But so he should be: He’s a fucking Beatle! Know what I mean? You can put that in there. [Laughs.]
RCM: Did you see the musical Backbeat at the [Downtown L.A.] Ahmanson Theatre about the early days of the Beatles?
K: No. I’ve seen a few others.
RCM: I was assigned to interview the actor who played Stu Sutcliffe.
K: Oh really? How interesting.
RCM: The depiction of 20 year old John Lennon — during the Hamburg days, before fame and success — he comes across as completely unlikable, really nasty and rude.
K: That was before my time… The one thing I can tell you is John Lennon did not suffer fools gladly… He had a sort of acerbic wit, which I appreciated. He’s from Liverpool, and I’m from London, so there’s rivalry immediately.
John noticed that I could do what I wanted to do and I could do it well and I could do it for him. And he dug that.
…So if he thought you were a dolt and an idiot he would probably not give you the time of day. I got along with him — thank god, because I wouldn’t be here now.
If it wasn’t for John Lennon you wouldn’t be sticking that microphone up my nose.
Dig a pony!