INTERVIEW WITH GRAPHIC DESIGNER COLLEEN CANNON PLUS LIVE CONCERT AUDIO FROM BERKELEY 1978
Big up to my friend and MIDNIGHT RAVER BLOG Editor Joe Jurgensen for a great interview with Ms. Colleen Cannon, graphic designer and creator of the historic Berkeley 1978 concert poster. As a poster collector himself, Joe asks very insightful questions which allow Colleen to shed some light on this historic work of art, and the story surrounding it’s creation.
The MIDNIGHT RAVER BLOG wishes to thank Ms. Cannon for taking the time to discuss her poster. Please visit her website at marleyconcertposter.com to find out more about purchasing poster reprints, her limited edition calendar, and other collectibles.
INTERVIEW WITH MS. COLLEEN CANNON, CREATOR OF THE BOB MARLEY BERKELEY 1978 CONCERT POSTER
by JOE JURGENSEN
Tell us a little bit about where you’re from. Where did you grow up?
I was born in Los Angeles in 1954 the year my parents, native New Yorkers, moved to LA. I grew up in New York City following my parents divorce, my mother moved me and my brothers back to the NYC in 1963.
You designed a fantastic poster for Bob’s concert on Friday July 21, 1978 at the University of California, Berkley. How did it come about for you to be the one chosen to create that poster?
Thanks for the compliment. I was at the right place, at the right time, as they say. I had graduated from college and moved to Berkeley when “the opportunity of a lifetime” literally fell into my lap.
The Bob Marley poster project came to me via a colleague I was working with at a local East Bay Newspaper, the California Voice, where I was the photographer. Bobbye Dones also happened to be working for Superb Productions, the student group that produces shows at UC Berkeley.
They were working on the Annual Berkeley Jazz Festival at the time. To make a long story short I was immediately hired by the editor of the Berkeley Jazz Festival Program magazine as the assistant art director. The next project turned out to be the Bob Marley & the Wailers Greek Theater Concert. The show was part of the Kaya Tour. There was no competition to design the concert poster. It wasn’t offered to a known poster artist. I was literally handed the opportunity by the Jazz Festival magazine editor – all I had to do was say yes.
Wow. Do you remember what image you used to draw it or what image you had in your head when you were drawing it?
There was little time to make the poster and on top of that I had never designed a professional concert poster before. Yes, it was my first poster ever and it was for Bob Marley! OMG! I was very nervous and excited but had to work fast. It was important to me to distinguish my Bob Marley poster from the other concert posters – typically photographs of Bob Marley.
I had studied photo-silk-screening at Stanford and wanted to achieve a similar effect with color blocking. I was given a few photos and had my own album covers to study and be inspired by, including Rastaman Vibration, African Herbsman and Kaya. In addition, I also made some high contrast photocopies of several photos to help envision the color separation and blocking of the portrait. It was important to me to use multiple resources to capture Bob Marley’s spirit more so than just his image. I wanted viewers to see the ‘I and I’ within Bob’s portrait.
After working on several conceptual drafts everything coalesced into a single graphic image that then had to be separated into 3 different colors for the printing process. I painted each color on a separate piece of acetate that when layered together created the image.
At that point where you into reggae?
My father introduced me to reggae in 1972 when he took me to see “The Harder They Come” with Jimmy Cliff. That movie of course, became a classic and introduced a lot of people to reggae music. Later, I was introduced to Bob Marley’s music in 1976 by my college professor and his wife. When I first heard Rastaman Vibration, like most I became an instant fan.
Had you seen Bob in concert before?
No, I had never seen Bob Marley perform before that night, July 21, 1978. I did see him again in 1979 when Bob Marley & the Wailers Survival Tour came through the Bay Area. Incidentally, my father also saw Bob Marley & the Wailers perform in Zimbabwe in 1980 for Independence Day, which, as it turned out, would be one of his last concerts.
Did you attend the show?
Of course, that was part of my deal, along with a backstage pass. The night was electric, amazing. Bob Marley was in the prime of his life. The band was cookin’ and the I-Three’s outstanding harmonies had the Greek Theater rockin’.
Did you get to meet Bob at the show or anytime after?
Yes, my friend and I went backstage during intermission and as we approached stage staff to inquire about Bob and the band Bob Marley himself came walking up at that very moment. Star struck, I reached out my hand and introduced myself as the designer of the concert poster. He took my hand, smiled and said he liked it very much “Irie,” Bob said to me. I floated back to my seat.
Did you ever get into Rastafari?
I have a great deal of respect for Rastafari and its message for the oppressed and liberation of the people. Bob Marley was the emissary of Rastafari and reggae music. Songs like “Get Up, Stand Up,” “Exodus” and “Redemption Song” are spiritual anthems. I love the music, the message, the culture, the ital food, and had my beautiful dreadlocks for decades.
How many posters were printed up?
It was a short press run typical of the time, not more than 500 were printed. I actually still possess a few of the original printers’ proofs. These are the first posters off the press while the press operator made adjustments to the print settings. I have made some of them available to collectors.
These proofs are truly unique, “one of a kind” prints due to the variations and imperfections in the offset printing process. That’s how posters were printed back in the 70’s. The printers proofs were given to me by the printer and have never been seen or displayed in public. Due to their rarity they are highly valuable collectors items.
Who would typically go around and hang up the posters?
The Superb Production staff put the posters up around town prior to the show.
After the show, do you remember trying to go around and collect any of the displayed posters around town?
I wish I had gone around to collect them I had no idea of their historical significance. Fortunately, in addition to the printers’ proofs I was also given several posters from the original press run. Collectors have bought them over the years. Your poster was snatched up that night by Roger Steffens and he has since had just about everybody who was involved in Bob’s life to sign it. It is the centerpiece of his collection and is proudly displayed (up stairs) right as you walk in his front door.
Do you get any special feeling knowing that not only Bob, but all of the others have seen, enjoyed and signed your work?
Actually Reggae Archivist, Roger Steffens got the poster a few nights before when he attended Bob’s Santa Crus concert. Roger went backstage that night and got the signatures of Bob Marley and all the Band members.
It was years later in 1987 that I found out that my Bob Marley poster had been the writing surface for Bob’s autograph etc., ultimately becoming the centerpiece of Steffen’s Bob Marley collection. It was featured in the Bob Marley Edition of the BEAT magazine that year. I also happened to be pregnant with my son Kaya at the same time.
I have very special feelings – just think I was very young, it was my first poster and Bob Marley had actually penned his name on the image I had created. Due to Bob Marley’s legendary status in the music world I have a unique place in reggae history as the only person to actually illustrate a portrait of Bob Marley for one of his concert posters.
To also know that it was not only autographed and blessed by Bob Marley himself, but also his mother Cedella, his wife Rita, his children and a slew of some of the greatest reggae stars ever is incredible. That poster is indeed priceless.
Was this a line of work you continued after the Bob show?
Yes, I continued working as a graphic artist, on and off over the years. Bob Marley, of course, was the highlight of my career. The closest I came to another famous reggae artist was creating a concert poster for Pablo Moses in the ‘80’s
What line of work are you into these days?
While I have worked as a graphic designer and recently web developer, I am also an educator and enjoy pursuing my fine art – Illuminated Abstracts. My web/graphic design work can be viewed at firewatergraphics.com. My fine art is available at uvlightstudios.com.
Where do you live?
I live right outside Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii. Inspired by the active volcano – Kilauea, I moved here in 1997 with my son. Bob Marley and reggae is very popular here in Hawaii, especially among the Native Hawaiians. They have a version of reggae known as Jahawaiian. It’s mellow with a Polynesian twist.
What prompted you to do a limited edition printing of the poster?
I created a limited edition of the poster in 2004 for several reasons. First of all, cheap, fraudulent copies of the poster are being produced and sold on ebay. I wanted to produce the only authentic reproduction of my iconic poster. Secondly, I wasn’t really happy with the printing of the original poster. I was naïve about the printing process and not present at the press run. You can see the difference between the printed poster and the original artwork that was more saturated in color.
This also gave me the opportunity to recreate the poster according to my original vision. The reproduction was digitally reproduced under my direct authority using the original artwork I had kept safe over the many years. Unlike other Bob Marley concert posters mass-produced by poster companies, this reproduction was re-designed and digitally recreated by me, the original artist directly from the original artwork. The torn paper background indicates that it is a “reincarnation” of the original – reborn directly from the original artwork.
In addition, I wanted to make an affordable version. This reproduction is completely affordable for Bob Marley fans ($15), as opposed to the hundreds collectors have paid for an original poster.