Ernie Cefalu: Can’t You Here Me Knocking

If you looked up Creative Director for Album Art, there would be a picture Ernie Cefalu. He is the latest induction into the Hall of Immortals. A living legend of art direction and creativity. Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Iron Butterfly, David Bowie…Do these names ring a bell? I was excited when Ernie agreed to the interview and when I read it…I was blown away!!

How did you get your first paying art job?
You know Rodney, no one has ever asked me that question before now, but I remember it as if it were yesterday. The first art job that I can remember getting paid for was painting gas station windows at Christmas time, when I was in Jr. high School. This was to quickly become regular annual employment and seasonal revenue stream for me, even as the struggling artist, all through college.

One of my best, most fondness memories around that was a very cold and overcast winter morning in Oakland when I was painting Santa Claus, elves and holly berries on a gas stations windows and my girlfriend Bonnie was waiting in our 52’ Chevy convertible (who’s top we couldn’t get to go up since summer) wrapped in a blanket freezing because our cars heater was broken.

She was always such a great sport and total supporter of all my crazy antics. This year we will be celebrating our 44th wedding anniversary in October; she is my lover, my very best friend, and I love more than life itself. I can say without any equivocation that without Bonnie’s strength, faith and love, I know that I could not have come close to achieving what I did, and I strongly feel, that my body of work completely and most assure ably speaks to that.

Tell us about the formation of Pacific Eye & Ear.
One thing that I have found to be true is that no matter how great someone is at what they do, it’s never about just them. I have done lots of what is considered to be great work in my career, but it was always only as good as the people around me who contributed to the collaborative effort.

Together we pushed the bar higher and higher – never satisfied with what we had just done but focused more on how we could make the next one even better. It is how I, along with a hand full of others through our art, like the music that we were conveying… created images for the world that will live on forever… its an awesome feeling to experience making such a mark in the history of mankind.

So in 1972 with The Jesus Christ Superstar, The Rolling Stones Tongue, Cheech & Chong’s “Big Bambu” The Jefferson Airplane’s “Long John Silver” and Alice Cooper’s “Schools Out” albums to my credit, I started my own company, Pacific Eye & Ear at the end of 1971 . We quickly gained traction in the album design business and as an extra bonus, building quite the reputation. The downside, I was also working 18 to 20 hours a day 6 to 7 days a week just to be able to stay in front of it all. I needed help… and I needed it quick!

Pacific Eye & Ear for me was like the child I never had. It was an intensely tangible creation that quickly took on a life of it’s own. As original owners, my partners Lou Morris, Tony Grabois and I had a solid friendship, plan and strategy from day one. But three months in, we had to fire Lou, some people just need to always work for someone else. Our original plan was to always promote the company over us as individuals and now that really made more sense than ever.

I will be honest; I loved Pacific Eye & Ear so much that it quickly became all consuming, an almost worst than having another lover type of commitment. I thank God every day that I had a wife who understood my passion and stood by my side every step of the way.

“We had a vision, committed to pursuing our dream, agreeing to always promote brand over individual, so for the next 15 years Pacific Eye & Ear lived at the forefront of a newly created industry called…Custom Album Packaging.”

Pacific Eye & Ear was a small close-working, super creative force combining art, business and production expertise, (Marketing hadent been invented yet) that played a critical role in what I’m calling the “Golden Age Of Custom Album Packaging TM.” Everyone enjoyed it. We all remember the large format albums with liner notes that were big enough to read and in my case the Pop Art appeal of panties stretched over the record; a real zipper imbedded into the cover; a huge cigarette paper coming out of a 12 inch square pack of rolling papers; or an over sized wallet with a pull out Billion Dollar Bill.

As graphic artists, illustrators and photographers we provided the critically important “emotional connection” that these covers helped evoke to the masses. My contribution became another vital link between the musicians, their music, and the messages they were delivering to their fans. We strived for originality and creativity, like the music we were packaging, and delivered it too the world via this newly found art form. Excited and challenging, we were creating the rules and blazing a trail. It was a great experience, fresh and fulfilling, which regrettably only lasted fifteen years.

“The 60’s were a time of change, excitement and innocence, of diversity, freedom and experimentation, for finding one’s self and doing your own thing. It was the age of youth, the decade of love… and I was certain, it was about to be our time.”

We believed there was a better way to do things. We didn’t have to lie or be jive, constantly juggling people and stories to our advantage. We could focus on being the best, at what we did best: unmatchable creative and execution. Providing solutions that were “custom” molded around each artist’s individual needs creating visual messaging and establishing their image and brands.

This simple positioning concept, along with a level of professionalism, personal interaction and quality of production, dramatically and immediately separated us from 95% of our major competitors. In that way we stayed focused on building a great reputation while bonding with our clients. But the best reward of all was … their friendship and loyalty.

Do you ever sit back a take in the fact that you have designed some of the most legendary album covers of all time?
That is a great question Rodney and the answer is, that until two years ago… not really. I am the type person who works every waking hour of everyday, always staying focused on what’s in front of me, so I very rarely have I stopped working long enough to give much thought at all to what I have done. Every project that I have ever worked on has been a collaborative effort with other artists and clients, that’s where the real fun comes in, and in my opinion it’s what moves good… on up to Great!

“I have always been a firm believer in being able to know you’re leading by stopping what it is that your doing just long enough to look around and see that others are emulating you.”
 When I am asked what made my work so special, I always have the same reply; It was a unique combination of concept, illustration and lettering design-power that quickly made me and my teams a force to be reckoned with. And after my company’s third Grammy Nomination in two years, we were on the map forever – Pacific Eye & Ear was easily recognized creatively as one of the top three album design companies in the entire country.

I’m not a numerologist but here’s an interesting personal stat, in 2010 after 15 years since my last album cover, I completed my 209 cover for Burton Cummings entitled “Above The Ground” then cover number 210 was a box set for Alice Cooper called “Old School” which was my 10Th cover for Alice. Then in 2011, I completed my 211Th cover “Welcome 2 My Nightmare” and my 11th for Alice.

What is the deal with the Rolling Stones logo?
You know, I must have been asked that question a thousand times, if I’ve been asked once, in fact I have been asked so many times, I actually wrote a “Back Story” about it and here’s a link:

I know of at least six separate designers beside myself that have staked their claim on the design. So in order to help set the record straight I wrote about the entire design experience, from start to finish and was even interviewed on video about it, here is that link:

But after all is said and done, I never mind answering it again mainly in a one person crusade and effort to keep the correct players in the conversation, keep the wrong ones out, and all things in the right perspective and their priority in order of involvement. Check it out for yourself and then you be the judge.

What company do you currently work for?
Seven years ago I shut down my last agency, got rid of one of the worst partners that I had ever had, (and believe you me I had some really bad ones in my forty year career) his thieving wife and for the first time ever I set out on my own but this time with the best partner I ever had, my beautiful wife… Bonnie.

Our current company is called “Hornbook Inc. and it is the first “Virtual Agency” on the internet for well over six years now. I have spent over twenty five years in “Corporate America” as a “Point Of Connection Expert” (its my way of titling and then describing, what it is exactly…  that I do best) working with “Fortune 50” companies like Nestle, Kraft, Avery Dennison, Coca Cola, InBev, Cott Beverage, Sizzler, Wolfgang Puck, Rockwell International and Honeywell to name just a few.

Two years ago, for the very first time I created my personal “Mission Statement, its simple, says it all and it reads as follows: “I Help Good People… Build Great Brands.” Two years ago my career changed once again and I found myself back in the album cover business, I  truly had come full circle. My best friend since 1972 Burton Cummings in 2010 asked me to do another album for him, it would be the sixth album that I had done for him (starting with The Guess Who’s “Artificial Paradise” in 1973) and the first album cover that I had done in 15 years.

Rodney, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that I was a bit uneasy at first, because so many things had changed since I last did a cover, people, terms and especially packaging formats. But truth be told, once I was back behind the wheel, and in control it was like riding a bike… you never forget how to do it!

Do you have any wild band stories that have never been told?
I certainly do, but how much time and space do I get for this question Rodney? I have a great many stories; most of which I can’t speak about! I think it fair to say that I have more stories than I’ve done covers for and I would love to tell you about the two stories (that I can talk about) that stand out in my mind. Since it’s a Black Sabbath cover that has been inducted into “The MBA Hall Of Immortals” (and me along with it), I think it only appropriate to tell a great Black Sabbath “Back Story” first and the second would be a Cheech & Chong “Back Story” after that.

I Have Always Been A Huge Black Sabbath Fan, But Never Could Have Expected The Mind Blowing Experience I Was About To Have!

The “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” album would be the third time that Drew and I had worked together, and it was destined to not be our last. Neither of us realized the magnitude of what laid ahead for us.

There was a comfort level and professional respect that we found with each other that can only be described as, “finding that missing piece that would accent and strengthen a weakness without taking over your soul.” I honestly felt that now, together with Drew, once again we could do anything… and for me that feeling was everything!

Less than 60 days later I found myself stoned in Beverley Hills at the request of Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath. I remember the 3-minute ride from their front gate, leading up to this huge 3-story “Gone With The Wind” style mansion. I parked and walked up to this 10’ front door with a huge turn-bell in its middle surrounded by leaded glass. I gave the bell a good turn and while I waited for a responce I tried to imagine how crazy it was going to be meeting Ozzy?

Within a few seconds the door was answered by this 6’-5” dude that looked just like Riff-Raff from “The Rocky Horror Show”. Before I could open my mouth he said, in the deepest baritone voice, “you are expected, so please follow me.” The inside of this house was beautifully furnished very upscale and conservative, with piped-in classical music throughout. Not at all what I imagined, where’s the bats and headless chickens? But that was about to change – quickly. We finally came to two of the biggest doors ever made and as Riff-Raff opened them, the sound that blew out between the doors was so strong it almost knocked me over.

When we entered the room I was amazed. It was just like being in the front row at the Forum. The band was in a full dress rehearsal. The sound, smoke, truss and lights, all at full blast… it felt unbelievable! I have always known that Black Sabbath is arguably the most influential heavy metal band of all time and I was about to validate that assumption. For the next 45 minutes I had my very own “Full Blown” Black Sabbath concert. It was loud, colorful and most amazing.

The band had rented the mansion because of its soundproof full size  ballroom, which they had converted into a concert venue. They were preparing a tour to support the new album “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”. They were just putting the finishing touches on their tour show and wanted us to do the cover of the album. When I asked how they found us, it turned out that both Ozzie and Geezer were huge Alice Cooper fans and loved the covers that we had done for him. I spent the day hanging, talking and listening to the new tracks, while they explained what they were conveying with the songs. The really cool part for me was getting a chance to meet and party with all the bands that I loved. Life is great, and so is Rock N’ Roll… Long Live Rock N’ Roll!

I based the Sabbath concept on two, turn of the century illustrations that I received at my confirmation in the 5th grade. The first was a “good” man and the second an “evil” man, each at the split second of their death. Drew did two iconic 30”x40” illustrations in colored pencil and acrylic, that blew everyone’s sox off, including mine!

Here’s a bit of insider info: Some fans might know that the man in bed, on the front and back covers, is Drew, and he is all three demons as well. Now here’s something that just a handful of people know: the woman on the front cover left is Ingrid Haenke, who illustrated the “Toys In the attic” cover for Aerosmith. The woman on the right is my wife Bonnie. Also, one additional note: I had designed an incredible logo that, to my dismay, was replaced with crap, at the last minute by the band.

My Cheech & Chong’s “All American Drug Dealing Game” Was To Be The Next Album After “Big Bambu… But It Really Went Up In Smoke!

With the release of their second smash album “Big Bambu” Cheech and Chong we’re the hottest new faces in entertainment and were destined to become true American Marijuana Comedy Icons.

Shortly after designing the “Big Bambu,” album package, left the firm that I was working for and started my own company Pacific Eye & Ear in 1972, the comedy duo once again turned to and me for their next album cover, design and title. I had come up with a great idea that was loosely based on The Dealer McDope board game from the late 60’s. They loved it and we started planning then shooting three very elaborate photo sessions.

The new albums concept consisted of three very complicated photo shoots complete with cast and crew. A front cover that was a massive police raid on a house that harbored an International Drug Exchange that was depicted on the albums inside spread. This photo consisted of around 50 people all dressed in full costumes from their different countries, all taking part in an International drug dealing game.

The back cover is a real slapstick payoff with Cheech & Chong very animated, going out the back door with suitcases filled with drugs and money. All three photo shoots we’re filled with movie and music stars like Jack Nicholson, Fay Dunaway, Hoyt Axton, and Dean Stockwell, to name just a few. However everything came to a screeching stop when we ran into inreckensibable differences with Lou Adler their manager, in direction and content that prevented the album’s release.

Take us through a typical day?
Well I get up every morning at 6:30, no matter what time I go to bed and I’m already at work. I work out of my house these days and have the first on-line “Virtual Agency” since 2004. Seven years ago when I left my last partnership the first thing that I did was to create an “Equity Frame Work” on Ernie Cefalu… the brand. During that exercise I created a personal “Mission Statement” that best explains Hornbook as being an agency that was carefully constructed (entirely with the client in mind).

Next I put on some killer music after checking my Emails I have some breakfast while fielding in coming voice messages. The work that I do is all done “Old School” I still do sketches all done on eight and a half by eleven white paper and only sketch with a ball point pen that I liberate from FedEx Office! Once the sketches are complete I scan them and Email them to the client.

I have found that today clients really love and embrace the intermediate “sketch” stage mainly because it really saves them a ton of money and no wasted time building versions on a computer that won’t ever be used. The analogy that always comes to mind that best illustrates this point is in the record business bands and artists rehearsal in a rehearsal studio and record in a recording studio…. you never rehearsal is a recording studio!

Do you have any advice for artist’s who wish to do artwork for bands?
Yes I do Rodney, I would say you really gotta love it with all your heart, with your entire being. Always give it your best… but all the while, keep “real estate” as a  “Wicked Mistress” if you will because in the end, that’s what will keep you warm and toasty on those cold winter nights! Purchasing property is the smartest thing that creative types can do in preparing for old age!

Do you have any dream projects?
Yes Rodney, I would really love to be able to do another album cover project for The Rolling Stones. This would be a real dream assignment mainly because, no designer has ever done two covers for them, and that would be another career first for me. The other band that I would love to do a cover for is Green Day, there great!

You sell original art at but will you get into selling prints as well?
Yes I will Rodney, and here is an on-line link to a near complete “spread sheet” of almost all my entire collection, well over 250 original, signed (by the graphic artists) pieces, here’s the link:

I say it’s a work-in-progress because I am still adding images, about sixty additional pieces of original Rock & Roll art, specs and prices to the already listed pieces. Prints will be available on any and all pieces in the collection.

Will there be a poster or print made of the amazing Drew Struzan Sabbath cover?
Yes they are already available and I offer both the front and back covers just go to my web site and request them. I will be also be making all 70 of the Drew Struzan originals in my collection available in print form. The most avid collector has never seen many of these signed Struzan originals outside of the corporations that they we’re created for. I am currently in the process of populating a spread- sheet that will list and show not only the seventy-signed originals, but all 250 pieces in my collection, all of which are available for prints.

Who are you favorite artists?
My favorite recording artist of all time is Burton Cummings the former lead singer of The Guess Who and, I am honored to say… is my best friend. I am extremely lucky to have my best friend of 40 years be my favorite recording artist as well… now that’s really cool! Other artists would be the late, but super great Kenny Rankin, then Shaday and Jimmy Cliff.

My favorite illustration artist’s are unquestionably Drew Struzan with Bill Garland as a very close second.

Who are your favorite bands of all time and what bands are you listening to right now?
As for my “all time favorites” it would be The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Alice Cooper, The Guess Who, Plasmatics, Black Flag, The Sex Pistols, The Scorpions and Green Day. The bands that I listen to now are; Slipknot, Seven Dust, Korn and Dry Kill Logic.

What artist would you like to see featured on MBA?
That’s a real no brainer, Alice Cooper, the late great Ronnie Dio, Klaus Meine and Rudolf of The Scorpions

You are the third entry into the MBA Hall of Immortals. Who  should number four be?
How about me again for the 11 cover’s that I did for Alice Cooper or any of the  8 bands in your “Founding Artists Of Metal” top 30 list?

About Vertebrae33

Through hard work and dedication, Vertebrae33 has established himself as one of the most prolific and exciting illustrators on the scene today.  He has received much acclaim as of late for his innovative designs, attention to detail, and wholly unique, raw style.