UnCovered Interview – The Rolling Stones Lips & Tongue logo, with designs by Ernie Cefalu
Our Interview with Ernie Cefalu - Part 2
When setting out to do the research needed to provide the introductions to the articles I write on album cover art and the talented people who create it, I typically follow a fairly straight-forward process. After selecting the record cover I want to feature, I either dig through my own LP collection or do the research online to find out who's credited for the photograph, illustration and/or overall design of the package. I then contact that individual and ask them to help me uncover the story behind "the making of" that image, which I then craft into the interview articles you've read (and, hopefully, enjoyed) online or in print.
In that research, I sometimes find that credit is given solely to a record label's Art Director, whether the AD actually participated in the production of the work or simply supervised it (usually, it's some combination of both hands-on and directorial work). For those of you who haven't worked in a "creative" field (advertising, graphic design, photography, music, etc.), yes, it's true - egos do sometimes run wild and sometimes credit is not given where it is due ("please say it ain't so, Joe!").
Other times, each participant is credited appropriately - the AD might take credit for the concept, a photographer and/or illustrator will be credited for their respective visual contributions, another designer might receive credit for the logo or typography, etc. This doesn't necessarily mean that each of these individuals will own a share of the image for the rest of their lives. In fact, in most cases, the team members go home knowing that they've created an iconic design that someone else owns and exploits to their own benefit, be it on a record cover, on a t-shirt, a button, a beer cozy, etc., with the featured musical act getting a percentage in the form of a licensing fee. Some artists have been fortunate/smart enough to retain some/all of their rights to the images that they have created, and in our gallery, we offer a number of fine art prints made by these people within those rights.
Sometimes, though, whether it is in support of an effort to retain/regain their intellectual property rights, or merely to set the record straight about the origins of a design (I mean, who has the time/resources to fight "The Man"?), an artist will try and come forward with information on their role in a design project that others have taken credit for, or where the mythology behind an image has overshadowed the facts behind its actual creation. One such case is the subject of today's article - the story behind the making of key elements for the cover for the Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers.
The band's first release on its own label after having worked with Decca/London records since 1963, Sticky Fingers is also notable as it represents the first time that the band and their management were now in total control of their music and its packaging and the resulting package featured extraordinary efforts in both music and art.
The record was also notable as it introduced us to a number of Stones classics, such as 'Brown Sugar' (which went to #1 on the U.S. charts), 'Can't You Hear Me Knocking' and "Wild Horses", and its combination of attitude (both playful and mean-spirited) and classic studio craftsmanship helped make it the first of eight straight chart-topping records for the band and one of the '500 Greatest Albums of All Time' (#63) in Rolling Stone Magazine's 2003 listings.
One of the (if not THE) most-recognized band logos in the rock era, The Rolling Stone's "Tongue and Lips" design was first introduced to fans in 1971 as part of the record package that, according to a decree by VH1 in 2003, was the "#1 Greatest Album Cover" of all time. Sticky Fingers is included in every book/article that chronicle the "best-and-most-influential album covers" as it was also a somewhat controversial design incorporating work by artist Andy Warhol, featuring a Warhol photograph of a man (from the waist down) in tight jeans, with the zipper on the jeans being fully-functional. Unzipping the zipper revealed the subject's underwear, imprinted with a saying - "This Is Not Etc." (try doing THAT with a CD jewel case!). The design offended everyone you think might have been offended at the time, and so the record was also released with an alternative cover in some markets. Also, to coincide with the record's release, an entire package of "Lips & Tongue"-based merchandise hit the stores, with this effort being the first of many applications of a design still closely tied to the band nearly 40 years later.
Today, I will present you with a follow-up to a story I published a couple of years ago, with this one presenting a much different take on the original. The story was part of an extended interview done recently with noted art director/designer/illustrator Ernie Cefalu (see our last story on the making of the cover for Jesus Christ Superstar), and must say that he presents a very compelling case in an effort to, as he feels, set the story straight about who actually originated one of the most-iconic images in Rock History. In the end, I will leave it up to you, the reader, to decide who should be entitled to call themselves the "real" artist (and, in an effort to support either designer's recollection of the events, if anyone has any additional information regarding the details of this story, please step forward!). In any case, neither artist has benefitted in any measurable way from the work done, since neither received a license fee or a cut of any profits made from the use of this image - welcome to the Music Business!!
In the words of the designer, Ernie Cefalu -
They say that "timing is everything", and since the premiere of Jesus Christ Superstar in December of 1970, Jack Greer, my headhunter, must have been working overtime. What he really knew best, though, was how long he had to leave me at one position to avoid having to pay back his commission before moving me on to the next opportunity! He quickly got up to speed on who was hot and who wasn’t in the album cover business and found out that one of the "hot" ones - Craig Braun’s Concept Packaging - had an urgent need for an Art Director with album cover experience. Jack found out that Braun’s Creative Director, Walter Valez, had gotten deathly ill and had to take at least an emergency leave of absence. Though I didn't realize it at the time, this was to be my next big opportunity through Jack. I had never heard of Craig Braun - being from "the straight side" of the Madison Avenue agency tracks - and that Craig was one of the new, fresh faces of the music business - but agreed to an interview anyway.
I remember it was a really cold rainy Friday at the beginning of February 1971, and Jack had set up a 2:00pm meeting for me at the Concept Packaging offices at 53rd and Madison. As I headed uptown, I felt like a kid that was on his way to the first day at a new school, ready to encounter new people and surroundings. All I was told by Jack was that Craig knew who I was, what I had done with Superstar and that they were excited about meeting with me.
As I exited the cab in front of Craig’s office I immediately noticed how cool his office building was - a three-story brick brownstone huddled between and dwarfed by skyscrapers on all sides. It looked so surreal - just like a Fellini Film - and as I walked through an obscure single door and up the one flight of stairs to their offices on the second and third floors, I remember that my senses were firing on all sixteen cylinders and everything smelled like take-out food from the Greek deli on the ground floor. Entering the offices the vibe felt very good, and I was right on time.
Craig’s personal secretary’s name was Diane, and she was defiantly “Slammin'!” When she said “hello, can I help you”, I was - for one of the few times in my life - stuck for an answer. The 2nd floor office space was not very big, but it was very open, with high ceilings. Everyone looked young and vibrant, not old and regimented. I welcomed the long-haired-but-very-professional look - something I'd call "hip Manhattan business casual". I was extremely excited as Diane informed me that Craig was running a bit late and would be seeing me between meetings. Man, I thought, this could really be a great place to work!
I would be remiss if I didn’t say that, because I felt so comfortable, I forgot to be nervous, and as I sat waiting for Craig to arrive I was certain that this was a special moment and that something big was going to happen. Even if my initial knee-jerk reaction was a good one, I needed to remain diligent and not look too eager or ready to jump ship too quickly. Decca Records had been a big, prestigious client and a real feather in my hat - I was a hero at the Leavitt agency - and that would have to weigh heavily on any final decision about a new opportunity that Bonnie and I would make.
The advertising business is notorious for people moving around from one agency to the other and sometimes back to the former agency. Personally, I didn’t really subscribe to that way of working. You don’t want to jump around too much, because it can come back to bite you in the ass! How weird I thought, if something big were to happen right on the heels of Superstar. What were the odds of that happening? I thought to myself "maybe I should have burned a fatty on the way over", but I'm glad I didn't.
I doubt that anyone knows this but, back in the day, record companies were not buying printing directly - they went through brokers. Craig Braun was just that - a very clever broker with good ideas and an in-house art department. He was an artist himself, but not in the traditional definition - his "canvases" were the clients and his "art" was selling them what he was creating - and he was really great at it - one of the best.
What he was selling was a brand new concept and one that he pioneered: “Custom Packaging.” That meant incorporating anything you could do to the standard package to make it special, such as adding extra panels, dye cuts, embossing, tip ons or other unique configurations. Craig’s strategy was brilliantly simple, and one that I would carry over later to my own company - since all big bands had creative control over their covers, Craig would befriend the bands and their management and then sell them on a package that was “custom one" that only he and Ivy Hill, the largest printer in the record business, could manufacture. The bands would then dictate to the labels that Craig was the only one who could do it correctly, and he had the track record and portfolio to prove it.
Concept Packaging's art department had one main function and goal, which was to create packages that were outside the "industry standard" so that Craig would be able to sell a higher ticket item, eliminate most all the competition and make bigger profits. For example, in the 70’s, a standard cover (front and back only) cost anywhere from three to five cents each to make. A “Gatefold” cover cost from 12 to 25 cents each, whereas the packages that Concept Packaging were creating cost around 25 cents and up.
At the end of the day, I'm certain that the entire “Golden Age Of Custom Album Packaging” - 1970 to 1985 - was created and driven by print brokers like Craig Braun primarily to make themselves bigger commissions. To Craig’s credit, he really was to “Custom Album Packaging” what Andy Warhol was to Pop Art. I don’t think many people know that Andy Warhol’s cover for the Velvet Underground album - the one with the peel back banana re-sealable sticker - was the first-ever “custom” album cover. Craig, coming from his father's sticker business in Chicago, was in the right spot at the right time and did that first “Custom Cover.” Later on, there were really unique packages that featured a cover that folded out into a school desk and included an LP inside a pair of paper panties (Alice Cooper's School's Out); a big cigarette paper that pulled out of a pack (Cheech & Chong's Big Bambu); or a zipper embedded in the cover (Sticky Fingers).
Back to the story....While I waited for the meeting, I started familiarizing myself with Concept Packaging's work from a pile of covers laid out on the coffee table. Besides the Velvet Underground album cover, other credits included Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & English Men, Freda Payne’s Band Of Gold, The Rascals Search and Nearness and Led Zeppelin III. Once again, it seemed as though Jack was batting 1,000 - this could be a great place to work!
Craig Braun looked like a rock star and he carried himself as such. He controlled the focus of the room as his entrance was quick and un-announced. I came to find out later he liked “making an entrance.” Braun was good looking, tall, slim, had rock star hair, great amber tinted glasses and was dressed in a denim pants suit. He was cool! He also knew enough French and did enough European “both ass cheek” kissing to impress even his harshest critics. It’s funny how sometimes first impressions can be so wrong.
Craig invited me into his office along with Lou Morris, his head of production, Mark Finklestein, an account executive, and his Vice President of sales, Tony Grabois. Craig’s office was very open, all white and uniquely furnished. Centered on the wall behind his desk was a huge Fuggs poster with reversed-out type forming the lines of a woman’s crotch and legs. The sun filled the office with natural light from a big picture window looking out across 53rd street at the Lever Brothers building.
As the others reviewed my portfolio, Craig started asking me about my experiences creating Jesus Christ Superstar, and one by one the others weighed in on the conversation. It was a great exchange. When I showed them my original “cross” concept and the box for the Superstar package, Craig sat up straight and I saw the light in his head go on. I didn't think much of it as it was, after all, the Superstar package that got me this meeting in the first place. Craig’s response didn’t surprise me as much as it did when I shared the “Dolls Alive” promotional pieces, octagon album cover construction and record label.
While my interview continued, my interaction with Tony, Mark and Lou escalated, but I couldn’t help but notice Craig holding the “Dolls Alive” album between the palms of his hands while he gazed at it as if deep in thought. After staring at it for at least a full minute, he came back into the presentation and said “ we’ve been working on developing a logo for the Rolling Stones, and haven’t hit on it yet, and with Walter gone, quite honestly, we've been in a bit of a bind… until now!” He looked at me and asked “can you go upstairs to the art department and take the lips that you did on this label, add a tongue outside and over the bottom lip like this, and finish it in less than an hour?" I said that I could (see below) and then he said “good, then I will keep my meeting with the Stones manager Marshall Chess at the Factory around 5:00pm today.”
Marshall’s father had started Chess Records, which was an early record label with musicians like Muddy Waters, Gene Ammons, Shoe Shine Johnny, Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker. Marshall and Craig grew up as friends in Chicago, and Marshall was now in charge of managing the Stones with one purpose - "to get Keith back into writing again, by whatever means it takes." Believe me when I tell you that, after partying with Marshall more than a few times, they had the right man for the job!
As I left his office and headed upstairs to the art department, I could hear Craig say to the others in an excited voice, “I like this guy. He thinks dimensionally, and that’s exactly what we need.” Well that’s the kind of fuel that puts my creative engine in high gear! Once upstairs, it took me about 40 minutes to do a felt marker sketch complete with lips and a tongue, and I even added some teeth because it just didn’t look right without them.
As I made my way back down stairs to Craig’s office, I noticed Diane and some others talking and smiling, and she looked over at me and flashed a "thumbs up" in my direction. Although his door was partially open, I knocked and Craig said "come on in". He was alone now and on the phone, but he signaled me to show him what I had done. As I reveled the sketch, he stopped talking and just stared at my drawing. After studying it for a short time, he returned to the phone call and said “yeah, O.K., I will see you there in twenty minutes” and hung up. What happened next was a defining moment in my future and would change Bonnie’s and my life forever.
Craig stood up and quickly reached out for the sketch, saying “that’s exactly what I was seeing and I really think - no, I am certain - that I can sell it to Marshall.” Then he asked if I wouldn’t mind hanging out a while and that we would be able to talk about the future when he returned. I said I would and called Bonnie to tell her not to worry if I were late coming home. As I was on the phone with Bonnie, Craig called both Tony and Lou back into his office to wait with me so that they could help answer any questions that I might have about Concept Packaging and discuss the benefits of working there. Craig also instructed them to wait a while and then order dinner for us all.
I remember standing at the big window in Craig’s office, talking on the phone with Bonnie, and discreetly telling her what had just happened while looking down on the street in front of his building. It was starting to get dark and the city was lighting up and coming to life. As I watched Craig grab a cab and drive away, I thought “maybe this was this the big thing that I had been feeling?” It certainly seemed as though it was, and I was buzzed as what I had just done started to sink in!
The wait for Craig's return seemed to go pretty fast, but it was about to take a "turn into forever". As soon as everyone left for the night, Lou pulled out a “sweet” bag of pot and twisted up a bomber. He said that it was some special New Jersey pot. Lou was a real character and, I came to find out later, a major stoner after 5:00pm and that no one partied harder, except for Marshall Chess. He was one of those people that you feel you’ve known forever the first time you meet them. I think that it would be fair to say that I liked Lou right from the start. Tony, not so much, since he was management - too straight and sort of snooty. He always tried too hard to be cool.
Lou had big, black horn rimmed glasses, and was balding on top with crazy long hair on the sides and a dollop of hair, like an island, on the top of his forehead. He said that he had been with Craig four years and bought all the production. As we sat around, and passed around, I had a million questions to ask - mainly about what had just happened in my meeting with Craig - but we ended up talking Concept Packaging, Superstar, and music till Craig got back from his meeting.
At around 7:00pm Mark and Diane came back to the office from dinner with a client to see what the outcome of Craig’s meeting had been. They quickly joined in on the smoke and conversation. Seems as though this project had almost ground to a stand-still and Craig had a lot riding on its outcome, so needless to say everyone was on pins and needles, just like me. Young, smart professionals, doing very cool ground-breaking work in the “Big Apple.” Man… I really wanted to work there.
I felt very comfortable and very high - Lou had some good bud! Not too long after the food arrived, so did Craig, and as he came into his office, I smiled, but he looked very serious and avoided any eye contact. I swear to God that, at that second, my heart stopped and my life started flashing before my eyes. But as soon as he got a whiff of what we were up to, he busted up laughing and joined right in. What a GREAT company!
Tony passed him the joint. He took a hit and then came right up to me, put one hand on my shoulder, gave me the joint with the other and said “well, my good man, you have earned a job with us. And, by the way, you just designed the new logo for the Rolling Stones!” The room busted out in cheers and congratulations were given, all around. Me… I had to think about all he had said because, at that moment, I was just trying to figure out how to move me and Bonnie to New Jersey!
As we all shared a meal together, Craig told us about his meeting. Turns out that he went to meet Marshall at Andy Warhol’s Factory and, when Marshall saw the sketch and immediately said that he loved it, from there it was an easy sell. Craig said that Marshall had taken my sketch with him because he was leaving soon to hook up with the band on an island where they were recording some tracks for their new album, and he wanted them to see it.
I was so proud, not because I got a job at the “kind place” or even for designing the Stones' new logo. For me, it was all about the team of young professionals that were strangers to me only hours before that I could now call "friends". I felt good about considering them in that light because I could see that they all liked each other and respected each other professionally. But most importantly they loved what they were doing, who they were doing it with and where they were doing it. I also felt they truly accepted me as one of them.
By the time I said "good night" and left the office, it was after 10:00pm, so I decided to treat myself to a cab ride back home to Brooklyn. After all, it had been a very full day and felt that I had earned it. Most of all, I couldn’t wait to tell Bonnie. The cab ride home was through Manhattan and, that night, it was like being 3” tall at the base of a thousand 50-story birthday cakes, all lit up. The energy was even better than Lou’s “New Jersey” bud!
The next day and I had agreed to meet Craig and Tony back in the office to discuss my future with Concept Packaging. The morning subway ride into Manhattan seemed totally different than those in the past, for that day I felt amazing. Craig and Tony were there when I arrived and we went right to where we had left off the night before. As they passed me the joint, they said that they had already been discussing my future employment and wanted to know how soon I could start. They suggested Monday, but I couldn’t just walk out of my job at Norman’s like that - I had to give two week's notice because, after all, it was the right thing to do - but I did agree to work there after work in the evenings and on weekends for the next two weeks.
They agreed, and my very first assignment was to do a finished ink rendering of the lips and tongue I had sketched. As it turned out, Craig had given the logo I did to Marshall and the Stones for free. In return, he got the EXCLUSIVE merchandising rights of the logo for one year, showing that it pays to be a best friend to the manager. I was fine with it because I got the job and everybody won!
Soon after, Marshall Chess showed up - it turned out that he wanted to meet me in person and to give his own input on the new logo. He had a really powerful personality and some even more powerful pot! He also had an album cover comp that Craig had done utilizing two Polaroid’s that Andy Warhol had given to Mick Jagger of the front and back of a guy wearing Levis ("Lou Reed's 'Special Friend'", I was told) and told him that they should be made into an album cover.
It was a really cool construction and when Marshall asked me what I thought of it, I told them the first thing that came into my head. “If it were me, I would put a real zipper in it” as opposed to the graphic one they were currently showing. They both laughed and passed a dube of some incredible bud that was even better than Lou’s...
On my train ride home, my elation over what had happened over the past 48 hours - and the job offer I had just accepted - was tempered and bitter-sweet, not because I got $200.00 and a new job for my design, but because I now had to tell Norman Levitt that I was moving on. How would I ever be able to tell him what he'd done for me without wavering about my decision?
The next two weeks were like a blur to me. By the middle of February, I had created the finished line art for the stamp-style lettering and the tongue logo for The Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers album cover and had made a big head start on all initial looks for the merchandising pieces. Over the next few months, I did a couple of other small jobs, but 98% of my focus was on Rolling Stone merchandising: shirts, sweat shirts, scarves, hats, foil dye cut posters, belt buckles, embroidered patches, key chains, roach clips and lots of other stuff that Craig sold in-store, through ads, via direct mail and on the tour.
In the 1971 issue of Rolling Stone magazine (shown above, right), you'll see one of my illustrated ads for Craig’s newly formed company called “Rockcreations.” I had designed cloisonné pins with the tongue logo called "Licks" that were to be sold in record stores and head shops. I fashioned the counter cards that dispensed the pins after the album cover. The pins sat in a cardboard sleeve that pulled up and had the underwear graphic that was used on the album. I also designed 10 special "Solid Gold Licks" pins 1/3 of the size of the ones that consumers were able to buy - for Marshal Chess, each of the band members and of course, three for Craig. Personally, though, I was getting tired of the repetitiveness and was really ready for the next challenge.
For the record, I really didn't know that there was going to be a Lips and Tongue logo on the final album sleeve - the only time I saw any album art before it hit the stores was in Craig's office that Saturday when Marshall showed me the comp and I had suggested that they use a real zipper. As for why they had a second version done for the final album art, it is a mystery to me. The logo that I did the finish on and that was used on all the merchandising was done by me well before the end of February of 1971. That one was finished black line art and I used matched PMS185 Red and White call outs on it. The logo that John Pasche did that was used on the Sticky Fingers album sleeve and back cover - when you look at the two logos side by side, you will clearly see that they are really different.
Maybe they felt that mine was to stiff and not as animated
as John's version. I do know that neither Mick or the European management team were
big fans of Craig's and felt he was being forced on them because he was
Marshall's friend, so maybe Mick wanted to put his own touch on it. Creative
people have a tendency to be control freaks and by doing his own version, it made it truly his. All I knew was
that I had done the first logo and that there was a lot of brainstorming about
all the merchandise we could stick the logo on.
It wasn’t long after that original episode that Craig decided to open a West Coast office, since "the sound" was then coming from San Francisco and Los Angeles and it would be a lot cheaper to run a business out there. I was offered the Creative Director position and a great raise. I was the perfect candidate for the job because I was the only one in the company that didn’t have a New York accent. At that time, New Yorkers were not very well liked by West Coast people, so I'd fit right in, and by the middle of October, Bonnie and I found ourselves living back in California.
From the beginning, we were truly on our own and had no jobs in-house, so I started designing stuff and Tony would pitch it to the bands. We were awarded the next Cheech & Chong LP - Big Bambu, and Alice Cooper's School’s Out album, but these were to become the last two albums that I'd do for Craig and Concept Packaging. I started sketches on both in New York, and finished the tight comps in Los Angeles, where the first were presented to Lou Adler and Cheech & Chong (see below), and the second to Alice Cooper and Shep Gordon. However, three months in, Craig's actions had me fed up and ready to go out the door.
In great Craig Braun form, his promises of money, position and - most importantly - the autonomy of the West Coast office were quickly broken. As soon as I had the go-ahead on a job, Craig took it back to New York because he said they needed to keep the production guys busy back there. In the end, Craig had lied about every point and promise.
Should I stay or should I go? - that was my dilemma. It has taken me a very long time to be able to say that, while I respect the opportunities Craig provided me, in turn he got all the credit for some major covers that I had conceived and designed. When I chose to walk away, I knew that was going to happen, because that's what happens when you work for almost anyone - especially an egomaniac like Craig!
Any creative person who has worked for a company that took all the credit for work that they've done understands what I’m saying. I understand the principle, but don’t agree with it. I feel that credit should be given to the creator, where credit is due, no matter what. Believe me when I say it was extremely hard to turn around and walk away from what I had built with Craig Braun - it was truly one of the hardest decisions I have ever made.
But I knew what I was capable of. With the self-confidence derived from the work I had done to that point, I was certain that no one could stop me. I found my direction and the clarity that my best work still lay ahead of me. It was time for me to move on, but this time it was going to be for me, and I have never regretted my decision.
After I left,
Craig needed an LA Art Director with a West Coast following and a track record,
so he partnered with Tom Wilkes, who had just ended a partnership with Barry
Feinstein and Camouflage Productions. Craig couldn't hire him, so he made him a
partner. I think that Craig's long term plan was to eventually shut down the
New York office so that he could be out in LA almost full time. Sounds a bit
like a bad soap opera doesn't it?
Tom Wilkes took my comps and did the finishes on them, so seeing someone else get credit for something that they didn't do - well, it was an extremely difficult pill to swallow! I wrote it off as to what I needed to do to get away from Craig. I met Tom years later, and when he heard my side of what had happened, he realized that he had been lied to as well, since Craig had told Tom that he had come up with the ideas and had the art department in New York do the comps.
The irony of it all was that while I absolutely hated Tom Wilkes for years because he had put his name on my work, he was, in reality, a great guy and incredible designer. We laughed about it, had some drinks and shared lots of "Craig stories" and I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that the one I really love the best - the one about the afternoon that Craig pissed Tom off so much that Tom knocked Craig out cold! That was the beginning of the end for Wilkes/Braun - they only lasted another six months or, as Tom put it, "half way through the Tommy album". Tom and I went on to become great friends.
- sadly, Mr. Wilkes passed away during the writing of this story)
All in all, 1971 had been a stellar year and now there was just one thing left to do - that is, do some really great mescaline that Marshall Chess had given me at the open house party for Craig Braun West. We started out that night on a great trip, free of spirit and body with a lot of things to talk about and to be decided. It was sometime that night, somewhere along the way, that Pacific Eye & Ear was born…but that’s another story (Editor's note - stay tuned for Part 3 of this interview, which will be UnCovered soon).
In a different way than Tom Wilkes, I also knocked Craig out by taking every group that I had done a cover for with Craig with me - except one - to my new company. Craig, and what he took away from me, truly became the fuel that drove my creative energy for the next 14 years.
About the artist - Ernie Cefalu -
Ernie Cefalu is the owner and Senior Creative Director of HornBook Ink. the original cyber-agency with an arsenal of 25 world-class creative professionals.
Recently, Ernie was Senior Creative Director and Co-Owner of Y & M Associates in Los Angeles, an agency known for its breakthrough business solutions fueled by keen strategic focus and unparalleled creative design. He sat at the helm of this cutting edge boutique and his eye, and hand, touched and guided every client’s assignment. He remains a leader in this industry.
Ernie started his career on Madison Avenue in the late 1960’s. He was hired at Norman Levitt Advertising and his award-winning work for Decca Records (including designs for the Jesus Christ Superstar album) quickly established his creative genius and created demand for his talents.
Ernie’s drive and passion for excellence led him to a new chapter in 1970 when he joined forces with Craig Braun, Inc. in New York. Knowing the importance of first impressions, he wanted to make a mark on his first assignments. The results have become rock icons - the tongue logo for The Rolling Stones and the rule-breaking Sticky Fingers album. Three months later, Ernie opened a satellite office for the agency in California where he would be the head Art Director. The hits kept coming for Ernie..Led Zeppelin III, Alice Cooper’s School’s Out, Cheech & Chong’s Big Bambu, and Captain Beyond, among others..
In 1972, Ernie was at the top of his game and knew it was time to leave and start his own agency. He opened the legendary “Pacific Eye and Ear” agency where, over the next 13 years, he created another 183 album covers for rock legends such as The Doors, Aerosmith, The Bee Gees, The Guess Who, Black Sabbath, Jefferson Airplane, Grand Funk Railroad, and Iron Butterfly. Pacific Eye and Ear was now on the map forever - easily recognized as one of the top three album design companies in the country.
In the late 80’s, as work in the music business was slowing, Ernie knew it was time to reinvent himself. He would "go mainstream" where traditional advertising was expected, but he would offer clients a very different kind of service and product. If they were half as bored as he was with status quo in advertising, packaging design, consumer promotions, and merchandising materials in stores, he knew he would have an exciting, thriving business. He felt he was really in touch with people - he understood how they thought, how they felt and how they acted. Ernie felt different businesses require different solutions…but they all need an attitude, a heart and a soul. Ernie could provide that connection.
In 1989, Ernie added an unlikely account to his client roster - Nestlé USA. Over the next decade, his work helped over 20 brands in Nestlé’s five divisions post double-digit sales growth. As word of mouth grew, he added Sara Lee, Wolfgang Puck, Sizzler, La Brea Bakery, Jerbeau Chocolates, Adams and Brooks and many more food companies to his client base. At InBev USA, he worked on all the national promotions for Beck’s, Bass, Stella Artois, Labatt and Koknee Beer Brands. He soon cut across industries and added clients including K-Mart, Disney, Universal, Game Works, Valvoline, Nature Made, The National Hot Rod Association, Mopar, Baskin Robbins Ice Cream and Matell/NASCAR, among others.
Today, he is retained by four Fortune 100 companies as their in-house Creative Director, with Cott Beverage (the #1 non-name brand beverage company in the World), HSBC Financial, Chang Beer (Southeast Asia’s #1 Beer), Coca Cola and Energy Club being the most recent additions to Ernie’s client roster, and with the 2009 release of Burton Cummings' new album, this brings the total number of albums designed to date to 209. He has received three Grammy™ nominations for his work, 10 Music Hall Of Fame awards, four awards of excellence from the Los Angeles Art Directors Club, and has been presented with 25 gold and platinum albums by some of the bands whose album covers he had designed.
He is a dynamic speaker who captivates and electrifies audiences as he travels the country. If you ask him to reflect on his illustrious career his response is always the same…”Career? What do you mean, I’m just warming up. Wait till you see what’s next”.
To see more of Ernie's work - and to purchase an original work from his collection, please visit his web site at
All images featured in this UnCovered story are Copyright 1970 - 2009, Ernie Cefalu - All rights reserved. Except as noted, all other text Copyright 2009 - Mike Goldstein & RockPoP Gallery (www.rockpopgallery.com) - All rights reserved.