UnCovered Interview for September 19, 2009
Subject – The Doors 13, released in November 1970 on Elektra Records, with designs by Bob Heimall
Consider, then, what it might have been like to produce an
album cover for a band like The Doors – a band that fascinated their legions
fans in a variety of thought-provoking (and often outrageous) ways. Incorporating
the moods and sensations produced by Jim Morrison’s lyrics and poetry (and
sexually-charged on-stage antics) with the band’s superb musicality and then
taking into account the expectations of a world-wide fan base, this particular
Art Director’s output would ultimately be measured on many levels.
The more pop-oriented performances featured on their fourth
album, The Soft Parade (released in
the summer of 1969), had confounded both their fans and the critics upon its
release (with Morrison's bad habits playing havoc with the recording process).
While the record sold well, fans and critics were demanding more, and the band
answered with two more albums in early-mid 1970 - the hard-rocking Morrison Hotel and the group's first
live album titled Absolutely Live. However, in spite of the critical acclaim and
ecstatic support from their fan base during the tour to support these records
(which included an appearance at the Isle of Wight Festival), the band's attentions were badly upset by the
late-Summer court trial in Miami (and ultimate conviction for indecent exposure
and profanity) following Morrison's
mid-concert arrest there previous year.
Imagine the degrees of difficulty that were added to the task when, as a freshman Art Director for one of the most-influential records labels of the era, you’re asked to produce this cover artwork for one of the label’s top acts - the band’s first “Best Of” release - during a period of time in the band’s history when egos, drugs, court cases and other internal and external distractions had begun to tear at the fabric of this group's day-to-day efforts. We interviewed the cool-headed AD in question - Bob Heimall - to tap his memory to get the details of this monumental task for this special edition of UnCovered, so sit back, put your eyes on the screen and hands upon your mouse, and read on...
In the words of the artist, Bob Heimall (interviewed in July, 2009) -
I had worked at Elektra (Records) for 3 years as a designer and had previously worked on the in-house production team for the Waiting For The Sun album and then on the inside gate-fold for their The Soft Parade album - I actually chose the illustrator Peter Schaumann for that effort - so I had some contact with The Doors previously. Even though I had worked with them indirectly before, this was going to be the first time I would be working with the band directly with their packaging as Art Director.
I was the promoted to the position of Art Director at Elektra Records in 1970 by Bill Harvey, the General Manager, after the release of the fourth Doors album, The Soft Parade. After four successful studio albums, it was then decided to release a "Best Of" set that would be titled "13". The Doors then came to visit me at my Elektra Records office to discuss the details of the 13 album cover. The band members were familiar with my work for them over the previous 3 years, including all of the advertising, single sleeves, posters, promotions, etc. that I'd done and I had access to all their Elektra photo files, which I thought would be useful in a "Best Of" package.
They, on the other hand, actually came in with a photograph by Edmund Teske, wanting to use it for the front cover. Personally, I was not "blown away by it for use on the cover, but since it was an exceptional photo of the band, we eventually used it for the back cover. You need to understand that, by this time, The Doors had in effect become "the Jim Morrison Band", with Jim getting all the publicity and notoriety - he was truly one of the new "Rock Idols". However, the rest of the band members wanted as much credit as Jim - and they really should have, because of their respective and combined talents - but the Doors' fans, the press and paparazzi remained focused in on Jim.
If you'll take a look at the covers on Waiting for the Sun and The Soft Parade, you'll see that both images treated the band members as equals. Their debut album cover had the photo of Jim superimposed larger with Ray, John and Robbie. Their second album Strange Days was a concept cover - one of the best ever, in my opinion - done my Bill Harvey, who was then Elektra's AD, using a photograph by Joel Brodsky. At this point, though, I could feel the tension in my office as the band said that they wanted an album cover with all of them equal, even though we all knew inside Jim was the "main attraction", so to speak. I cordially said that I would look through all of The Doors photos I had and try and would put together a back cover image from them.
Typically, when artists would give me a rough studio version
of their album, I would first play it in my office immediately after they left
to get a very rough take on the music and the feelings they were trying to
convey. Then, on the way during my commute home to Pound Ridge in
I would immerse myself in the music for a full week at least - sometimes longer and over the weekends - to make sure I really had a feel for the songs and the artist. This way, I was always certain that when I came up with the visual idea and presented it to the artist- it fit perfectly to the music, the message, and the artist.
As I said before, I personally did not think that the photo they brought in was right for a cover shot - it lacked "punch" - and what both I and the record company wanted for this cover was Jim Morrison out front. Remembering that the album cover budget was set by Elektra - although, based on The Doors' record sales, they could have had almost anything they wanted - I set about working on this new cover project.
It took about a week to come up with my cover idea, going
through hundreds of photos looking for a "better" front cover or, if
not, at least some other good shots for the back. I had found two separate
photos taken by Bill Harvey of the band in
When The Doors first came to me to put this cover together, they'd hoped that I would use the Edmund Teske black & white photo for the cover, and other photos of the band for the back cover. When they saw what I created for the cover, though, they were all blown away! Right then, all were in agreement that it should be used as their first "Best Of" album cover. The Doors absolutely loved the cover, and I was told later by Jac Holtzman - the owner of Elektra Records - that Jim later came into his office and told Jac to "take care of me" as I was very talented!
One interesting Doors-related side note – a few months before working on the 13 cover project, when the band came to NYC to play some concerts at Bill Graham’s Fillmore East, I had a backstage photographer’s press pass and photographed all their concerts in NYC . I was in the front of the crowd below the stage taking photos of the Doors with my fellow photographer buddy, Linda Eastman (of the Eastman Kodak family). She chided me that she was going to marry one of these stars one day! I was like “Yeah, sure you will, Linda!” Of course, it turned out that she married Paul McCartney a few years later, and the joke was on me! I did get something more from that experience, though – I used two of my photos of Jim Morrison from this concert on the inside gatefold of The Doors Absolutely Live cover.
About our interviewee, the talented Mr. Bob Heimall -
He spent the next five years working at ad agencies in the winter and surfing in the summer until an employment agency placed him at Elektra Records. His portfolio as a graphic designer impressed the company and he worked up the ladder. “After that, I didn’t go surfing any more,” he said. “I threw everything I had into a career, because I loved it.”
Indeed, it was an enviable gig. He’d listen to a tape made at the end of recording sessions — before mixing, mastering and pressing — to interpret the music and make a graphic image for the album art.
In one of his most important decisions, Heimall chose a stark, black and white photograph of Patti Smith with a jacket over her shoulder for her album titled “Horses.” The photo was taken by Robert Mapplethorpe, who was living with Smith at the time. Heimall added the simplest text he could find to keep the photo’s mood intact. The text went on the top third of the album, a standard visibility rule since records were sold in step-down bins at the store. Rolling Stone magazine later chose it as one of the Top 100 album covers of all time.
After five years at Elektra,
Heimall moved on to successful stints at Arista, Polygram and Lifesong Records
and then his own studio in
Years later, the advent of computers “changed everything,” said Heimall, who was used to laying out album art on a board. “I had to learn a whole new technology,” he said. Record company secretaries could take photos and enter album text on software, essentially sweeping work away from Heimall’s trained eye. What’s more, the diminutive size of compact discs didn’t match the grand canvas that LPs once provided, and since then, the record business is “not doing well” as mp3 downloads and online song purchases take hold and miniature album art images are used only to index what’s on your iPod, he said.
Still, Heimall is
optimistic that listeners will download album art to accompany their tunes.
“You still need a visible image,” he said. During his career, Bob has been featured on
“60 Minutes”, “Dateline”, and taught at Pratt Institute and the
In addition, Bob’s work for Carly Simon's No Secrets LP is on permanent collection at The California Museum of Science and Industry “Electronic Media Exhibit”, and his ongoing work as a commercial photographer captures his passion for “impressionistic” painting and photography. Since 1980, he’s been President of Bob Heimall Graphics in Sussex, NJ, a company that designs and develops packaging for CD’s, videos, DVD’s, book covers, advertising, logos, brochures, sales promotion, etc.
To see more of Bob's work and to learn more about what he's up to these days, please visit his web site at
I want to extend a special "thank you" to Dan Forth of ClassicRockForever.com - as well as his daughter, Amanda - for their help in arranging this interview and sharing it with his site's readers/visitors - Thanks, Dan and Amanda!
All images featured in this UnCovered story are Copyright 1970 - 2009, Bob Heimall Photography - All rights reserved. Except as noted, all other text Copyright 2009 - Mike Goldstein & RockPoP Gallery (www.rockpopgallery.com) - All rights reserved.