BROTHER JOHNNY - COVER STORY
Brother Johnny Cover Story
It was in the early stages of recording, as we were just seriously getting into the the album “Brother Johnny” (with the first guest artists) that I had this realization. We were making a really special album here, and it would need a VERY special cover and artwork to represent it.
I had been thinking about how (in the very beginning of our careers) everybody used to say Johnny and I looked just like twins—which I thought was utterly ridiculous. There was definitely a family resemblance, which was perhaps more pronounced when we were younger—but certainly not anything like twins! And then, inspiration struck!
The cover concept was ENTIRELY MY IDEA from the very beginning. I remembered seeing these little buttons from childhood that would say something like “I LIKE IKE” with a picture of Eisenhower. Then when you shifted the angle you’d see “I LIKE COKE” with a frosty glass of Coca Cola. As a kid—I thought these were the coolest things in the world, almost magical.
When I got the idea, I knew—this was exactly what the album cover absolutely had to be. I was sure the process would be expensive, and the only way I would be able to convince anyone to incur the exorbitant cost would be to show them the actual cover (to see how effective it would be) not just explain the idea.
So I went to our good friend Scott Ritchie. Scotty works for Ringo; he was always around taking pictures, and is very computer savvy. I explained my idea and asked if he knew how it could be done. He said “sure” and explained the theory and application of the lenticular process, which I was totally unfamiliar with, but quickly and easily understood. My first inclination was to create an electronic approximation of the physical idea to see if it would work.
I selected the two images of Johnny and myself that I liked and thought would work best. I then instructed Scotty to resize them to match as closely as possible, make them transparent, and superimpose them one over the other. Scotty realized the trick would be to position them so that the eyes would exactly match.
I then had him create a cycle where the images would alternate every five seconds. The next step was to adjust them to fade in and out so that as one was fading out the other would be fading in. This created the illusion of one metamorphosing into the other. It looked so amazingly cool that I knew it would work in physical reality. I later came up with the idea of using this cycle as the basis of the visualizer for “Johnny B. Goode”, another innovative and creatively artistic visual idea on my part.
Scotty then went to people he already knew to print and produce the first prototype of the physical cover. Everybody who saw it was blown away.
The record company (much to my surprise) agreed to use the cover for the vinyl (for which they could charge more to offset the additional cost), but not for the CD cover. So I then had to come up with an alternate CD Cover.
I had Scotty take the same two images we used for the lenticular cover and told him to place mine in the lower left quadrant and Johnny’s in the upper right, on a plain black background. Then—in my own hand—I wrote the words (Edgar Winter) and (Brother Johnny). I then had him put my own handwritten name in the upper left space (much like an autograph) so it would appear right over my image, and the title in the lower right space just under Johnny’s image. I thought this would balance nicely, and that the images would really stand out and pop against black background with the letteringing all in white. And that was it. Simple, clean, tasteful, and elegant.
The back cover was also my idea. I went through thousands of pics selecting every single image incorporated in the entirety of the artwork, and all those used in the four visualizers (which I also designed and had Scotty implement in the same minute detail). The back cover concept was —us as kids playing the ukuleles on top, us in middle age in the middle, and finally, us in older age at the bottom. This chronology seemed to make sense and tell a story to me.
It was at this point that Brian Porizek entered the picture as the art director, and we started working on various elements of the project together. He was probably there all along; I just hadn’t been aware of his presence since I’d been working exclusively with Scotty.
Brian did the entire inside layouts for both the CD and vinyl packages. I had only a random scattering of the childhood pics interspersed throughout the text. Brian added all the major pics, which I had selected and used for various other purposes. The one of Johnny playing slide guitar (for example) was the single cover for “Lone Star Blues” etc.
incidentally, I also designed all the single covers and created the concepts and content that I meticulously mapped out for the visualizers that I worked on with Scotty. Brian wasn’t involved with the visualizers themselves, but we did the covers together (following my exact explicit instructions) just as Scotty did with the visualizers.
Working with Scotty and Brian was so different. Both are extremely talented, capable, and very knowledgeable. Scotty is a dear friend, and we were like kids at play. Scotty was doing it entirely out of Love and friendship. I beat him up mercilessly getting everything exactly the way I wanted it. I remember many nights of exhausting work texting and joking back and forth until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. That’s why I want to make sure Scotty gets the full credit he SO MUCH deserves.
Brian was totally professional—all business, (daytime only) in the beginning. But as time went on, he became more and more involved. This project seems to have a way of drawing people into it. He has helped in so many ways—being one of the guys who really knows what’s going on, and is able to get things done. He has been invaluable in the whole Grammy nomination process.
As the art director Brian is ultimately responsible for all the packaging in its entirety. It’s up to him to oversee, maintain, and maximize the quality of all the elements involved—whether originated, or already provided. That included researching and finding a way to mass produce the lenticular cover effectively and affordably, no easy task. Brian did an excellent job making it a beautiful package.
And now we come to the point of why the artwork is so deeply personal and meaningful to me—simply because of the totally unexpected part I came to play in it. I’ve never thought of myself as having any talent in the visual arts whatsoever. I am technically legally blind, which is less than 20% of normal vision. I never dreamed I could come up with album cover concepts, or design visualizers.
It’s just that this album meant SO MUCH to me that it forced me outside the box of my preconceived limitations into areas I never would have imagined I could go. The first cover was pure inspiration, like any other creative impulse—a melody that comes into your head, the idea for a song (like “Lone Star Blues), Johnny having become a star yet feeling so alone, and being from Texas (the Lone Star state)—it all just fits.
Johnny and I shared that bond of brotherhood, of albinism, and our deep Love and connection with music. We were so much the same and yet so different, in our musical tastes as well as in so many other ways. In my mind that cover is the perfect expression and representation of who we were as brothers. For me it has deep spiritual and symbolic significance.
Then when the record company started to focus on specific songs (as though they were single releases) I felt there absolutely had to be a visual component to that. I had seen some visualizers, but they were usually just a still photograph with some kind of subtle flickering or slight motion in the background—nothing with any emotional impact.
So I asked Scotty how elaborate a visualizer could be? He said, it can be anything you want to make it. Quite naturally, I immediately thought of our first experiment with the cycling faces. I next asked—can we change the speed, cycle through different colors, or even add other images that float around superimposed and adjust their transparency. Sure, all of that—Scotty says, and we were off (to the outer limits)!
I think this might even have been more fun than the music—just because it was something I had never done before, or ever even imagined I could do. Not as meaningful or important as the music, but just plain FUN! Monique and I must have gone through a thousand pics that brought back such a flood of old memories. Johnny when he was so young, so energetic, So Cool! This was the Johnny I remembered and looked up to as my All-Time Musical Hero!
I laid out an entire roadmap for every image (insertion point, exact duration, and path of motion) which became the blueprint for all the visualizers to follow. I could imagine it in my mind, but I really had no idea what it would actually look like until it was all finally assembled.
I’ll never forget seeing it play through that very first time. It was unlike any experience I’ve ever had. The closest thing I can compare it to is seeing one of your songs used in a movie. all I can say is, it was INTENSE! Hearing that music we’d worked on the past three years (its origins going back to childhood) and seeing those images of Johnny and myself through so many stages in our lives blew me away!
Of course no one else is going to feel this in such a personal way with the same emotional intensity that I do, being Johnny’s brother and it being the music we played together. But if you happen to be lucky enough to have ever seen a Johnny Winter concert when he was the new, young, smoking hot, Texas guitar slinger—you’ll catch the vibe.
And here’s the irony in all this. I think (perhaps subconsciously) I’ve gone through life feeling that my musical ability was in some way a compensation for my lack of vision. It’s as though I were (to some degree) living in the dark, just because I never bothered to fully open my eyes. I can see general shapes and forms, but little detail. I have special glasses called visual aids. They are monocular (one eye only) with extreme magnification over a very small area, much like a jewelers loupe. So I have to go over things inch by inch to see what they really are. Amazingly, this works. It allows me to read small print, though I have to do it only a few letters at a time. It’s like the forrest and the trees. I can see the trees, and then figure out the forrest in my imagination.
Doing the album “Brother Johnny” has been a revelation, in both sound and sight! It has made me so thankful for the vision I have. It has filled my mind with awareness and my heart with gratitude I never recognized or felt before. I want to thank our dear friend Scotty, and Brian as well, for bearing with me in this collaborative effort. I can be very demanding—and I appreciate your kindness, respect, and understanding. You gave me an experience I will look back on with such joy, the gift of a second sight I will treasure for the rest of my life.
Peace and Love,
Edgar & Monique