'Revolver 50. Birth of an Icon'.

Klaus Voormann is a German graphic artist, most famous as the cover designer of The Beatles' record 'Revolver' (1966). Along with Bob Gibson, Heinz Edelmann and Alan Aldridge he is one of the few graphic artists to have been privileged to create official artwork for The Beatles. Voormann is a rare example of a graphic artist who actually played in a prolific rock group himself, namely Manfred Mann. He remained active in the music industry as an album cover designer, session bass player and producer. In 2016 Voormann created a graphic novel about his Beatles years, named 'Revolver 50. Birth of an Icon' (2016). At age 79, this consequently made him the third-oldest known man to ever debut as a comic artist!


Sketch of the Beatles in Hamburg.

Early life and career
Klaus Voormann was born in 1938 in Berlin as the son of a physician. As a child he studied classical piano, but he also had an interest in art. He counted Max Liebermann and George Grosz among his graphic influences. Voormann studied commercial art at the Meisterschule für Grafik und Buchgewerbe in Berlin and the Meisterschule für Gestaltung in Hamburg. At this latter school he met Astrid Kirchherr, his future girlfriend, and Jürgen Vollmer, who'd remain a close friend for life.

The Beatles
One day in 1960 Voormann had a huge argument with his partner Astrid Kirchherr. Angry, he started wandering around the Reeperbahn district in Hamburg. The neighborhood was notoriously sleazy, known for its red light district, violent drunks and drug dealers. Suddenly he passed by the Kaiserkeller, a nightclub which often organized gigs for rock bands. Since Germany lacked a real rock scene at the time, the Kaiserkeller mostly booked foreign acts. Most were U.S. musicians, but some were English cover bands. Voormann was unfamiliar with rock 'n' roll and thus intrigued by this exciting musical sound. He went inside the Kaiserkeller, where a Liverpudlian band named Rory Storm & The Hurricanes happened to be playing. Their drummer, Richard Starkey, would later become famous as Ringo Starr. The next band to take the stage were also from Liverpool: The Beatles. At the time they were a Fab Six rather than a Fab Four. John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison were already in the band, but they had a different drummer: Pete Best. Singer and guitarist Stu Sutcliffe completed their line-up. Between August 1960 and December 1962 the Beatles performed several gigs in Hamburg. The pay was low, luxury non-existant and they faced a language barrier. But since they were all in their late teens or early twenties, they had a cocky, streetwise attitude about it. After all it was a thrill to be far from home and do what they always wanted. Their musical skills improved considerably, as well as their ability to entertain the crowd. This helped them hold their own in this rough, foreign environment. 

Voormann was thrilled by The Beatles' music. Since the group regularly performed in the city, there were plenty of opportunities to watch and hear them again. He brought his friends Astrid and Jürgen Vollmer along, who were mezmerized as well. They met The Beatles backstage and struck a friendship. To their amazement Lennon and Sutcliffe had been to art school too. Kirchherr wanted to take photographs of the band, thus becoming the first official Beatles photographer. She was particularly smitten with Sutcliffe and the two started a relationship. The Beatles often hung out with Voormann and his friends, since they knew nobody else in Hamburg. In those early days, when global success seemed an illusion, the Liverpudlian boys felt encouraged that some people actually believed in their potential. Unfortunately, by the fall of 1960, the band members were all forced to return home. After breaking their contract with the Koschmider's night club to play at a more lucrative club, the Top Ten Club. Koschmider retaliated by reporting George Harrison to the police, since he was underage. The 17-year old Beatle was deported back to Liverpool. Two months later, Pete Best and Paul McCartney lit a condom on fire to provide light in a darkened hotel room. Koschmider reported them to the police for attempted arson. Lennon's work permit was revoked too, forcing him to go back home as well. Only Sutcliffe stayed in Hamburg until January 1961, because he had a cold. Luckily the band experienced no further problems once Harrison turned 18. They were able to return to Hamburg for new gigs up until December 1962. 

In 1961 The Beatles were discovered by their future manager Brian Epstein. The band signed a contract, but were otherwise still struggling musicians. In June of that year Sutcliffe left the group. Now that Astrid Kirchherr was his steady girlfriend he wanted to settle down. He stayed in Hamburg with her and took up his art studies again, this time at the local art academy. Sadly enough in 1962 Sutcliffe tragically died of a brain haemorrhage. He was only 21 years old. A few months later The Beatles replaced their drummer Pete Best with Richard Starkey. Starkey took a snappier name at this occasion: Ringo Starr. By the end of 1962 the new line-up scored their first number one hit: 'Love Me Do'. Around this time Voormann moved to London to work as a graphic designer. He stayed at Harrison and Starr's apartment in Green Street for a while. By 1963 the Beatles became a sensation in the United Kingdom and a year later the best-selling musical act on the planet. But despite becoming global stars, they always kept in touch with Voormann, Kirchherr and Vollmer. 

Revolver
By 1965-1966 The Beatles were exhausted by their global fame and the mass hysteria they evoked wherever they went. They evolved as people, but also as artists. The Fab Four had discovered Bob Dylan, Indian culture and philosophy and the mind-bending effects of marijuana and LSD. It all stimulated them to push their music into a different, more experimental direction. The album 'Rubber Soul' (1965) already showed hints of this, but their next record, 'Revolver' (1966), pushed the boat a lot further. The music used innovative tape loops, echo effects and traditional Indian music. The lyrics were more introspective and not just love songs all the time. In general 'Revolver' marked the start of the band's psychedelic period. Since the music sounded different, the Beatles wanted the album cover to reflect this too. Lennon contacted Voormann, who regularly made illustrations for various magazines. Their old friend almost rejected their request, because it was quite a challenge. The illustration had to promote the band everybody was familiar with, but suggest an innovative sound too. In the end Voormann settled on four stylized caricatures of the band members. He used their wavy hair as a way to string several photographic cut-outs together. Most of the photographs came from the collection of Robert Freeman. Freeman had shot the covers for four other iconic Beatle albums, namely 'With The Beatles' (1963), 'Beatles For Sale' (1964), 'Help!' (1965) and 'Rubber Soul' (1965). Voormann took some of Freeman's band photographs and copied them in pencil. Others he cut out and stitched to his illustration, making it a partial collage. He also snuck in a self portrait. A photo of Voormann's face can be seen on the center right, under John's mouth, peeping out from underneath George's hair. The cover of 'Revolver' was additionally notable for not featuring the band's name, only the album title. It also marked the first and only time a pure illustration was used for an official Beatles record. 

When the Beatles first saw Voormann's design, they all liked it. Manager Brian Epstein reportedly cried tears of joy upon seeing it. He told Voormann that it was exactly what they were looking for, because he feared that the music might be too far beyond for the average Beatle fan. He claimed the album cover would keep the connection with the fans. On 2 March 1967 'Revolver' won a Grammy for 'Best Album Cover'. The record also inspired another graphic project. To coincide with the album release, the London magazine Nova asked Alan Aldridge to make illustrations inspired by the song lyrics. They were collected in an official book: 'The Beatles' Illustrated Lyrics'.

Post-Beatles contributions
Over the decades Voormann kept in touch with the Beatles. He assisted with their promotional films for 'Paperback Writer' and 'Rain' (both from 1966), which could nowadays be described as music videos. He performed as a bass player with John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band and can be heard on the single 'Instant Karma' (1970). Voormann also played bass during George Harrison's benefit concert Concert of Bangladesh (1971). The artist designed the sleeves of Ringo's album 'Ringo' (1973), George Harrison's single 'When We Was Fab' (1988) and Paul McCartney's album 'Run Devil Run' (1999). In 1995 the three surviving Beatles members, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, came together to make a hugely mediatized TV documentary about their group, combined with a three-CD set collecting interesting archive recordings and two newly recorded singles: 'The Beatles Anthology' (1995-1996). Voormann illustrated the CD covers with Alfons Kiefer. They show iconic Beatle covers as ripped out posters stuck to a wall, painted in a photo-realistic way. Their designs were also used for the video covers of the project. 

Voormann remains so associated with The Beatles that constant interest in the group also kept him and his work on the radar. He was interviewed numerous times and appeared in several documentaries regarding the group, including 'George Harrison. Living in the Material World' (2011) by Martin Scorsese. Iain Softley's film 'Backbeat' (1994) about the Beatles' years in Hamburg portrayed him, played by Kai Wiesinger.  In 1999 Voormann, Astrid Kirchherr and Ulf Krüger published 'Hamburg Days' (Genesis Publications, Guildford, 1999). The book centers on their and The Beatles' early years in Hamburg. It shows various photos by Kirchherr and atmospheric illustrations and paintings by Voormann. The foreword was written by George Harrison, the afterword by Paul McCartney. 


2003 Klaus Voormann print with a comic strip about the creation of the Revolver cover.

Music career outside the Beatles
Between 1966 and 1969 Voormann became a bassist and flute player for the rock group Manfred Mann. His contributions can be heard on all their singles during this period. He became a much sought-after session musician for artists like Jerry Lee Lewis, Harry Nilsson, Alan White, Eric Clapton, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Randy Newman and Lou Reed. In 1971 he moved to Los Angeles, but by 1979 he moved back to Germany, where he worked as a producer for the internationally succesful German pop band Trio, most famous for their hit single 'Da Da Da' (1981). He additionally helped out musicians like Marius Müller-Westernhagen and Heinz Rudolf Kunze. Voormann remained much in demand as an album cover designer, creating covers for The Bee Gees' first two albums, 'Bee Gees' 1st' (1967) and 'Idea' (1968), Turbonegro's 'Scandinavian Leather' (2003), 'Timeless, Timeless' (2007) by Wet Wet Wet, 'Who is jo King?' (2012) by Fools Garden and 'Music Life' (2014) by Glay. 

In 2009 Voormann released a solo album, named 'A Sideman's Journey' (2009), which featured guest appearances by Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Dr. John, Cat Stevens, Don Preston (Frank Zappa) and Van Dyke Parks, among other people. As a nostalgic tribute he played a cover of the very first song he ever performed on stage with the Beatles, namely 'I'm In Love Again' by Fats Domino. 

Film career
Voormann had a cameo as Von Schnitzl the conductor in the live-action film 'Popeye' (1980) by Robert Altman starring Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall, based on E.C. Segar's E.C. Segar's comic strip. 


'Revolver 50. Birth of an Icon'.

Revolver 50. Birth of an Icon
In 2016, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of 'Revolver', Voormann drew an autobiographical graphic novel named 'Revolver 50. Birth of an Icon' (Genesis Publications, 2016). The work reflects on both how he met The Beatles, as well as making the album cover he is still famous for. He worked 18 months on the graphic novel, trying to match the cut-and-paste look of 'Revolver'. To maintain a human touch, he left all his tiny mistakes and imperfections in. It explains why one can still spot his fingerprints and things he rubbed out in certain panels. The foreword was written by Paul McCartney. 

Voormann's comic debut happened late: he was already 79 years old when he published it. This makes him the third-oldest known man to ever debut as a comic artist, older than the Dutchman Martin Ruijters, who brought out 'Toestanden in Suriname' (2011) at age 75. Voormann is surpassed in age by another Dutchman, Cor Blok, who was 82 when he debuted with 'The Iron Parachute' (2015) and the Chinese artist Rao Pingru, whose 'Our Story' (2013) came out when he was 90-91 years old. The oldest known person in general is Frenchwoman Geneviève Gautier, who published 'Les Aventures du Pingouin Alfred' (2017) at age 95. Voormann explained in an interview that comics never quite interested him before, until he got introduced to the work of Thomas von Kummant and Jon J. Muth - who drew a graphic novel based on the 1931 film classic 'M - Eine Stadt Sucht Einen Mörder'. 

Mad Magazine
In 2017 Voormann made a drawing for issue #548 of Mad Magazine, where he made an artistic interpretation of their mascot Alfred E. Neuman (a character originally designed by Norman Mingo). Alfred appears within the shades of the record cover of 'Revolver'.

Recognition
Voormann's cover for The Beatles 'Revolver' won a Grammy for 'Best Album Cover' (1966). For his participation with George Harrison's 'Concert for Bangladesh' (1971) he was co-awarded a Grammy for 'Album of the Year'. In 2018 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award during the Echo Music Prizes. 

Recent years
Klaus Voormann is married to German singer Christine May. 

Books and documentaries about Klaus Voormann
For those people interested in Klaus Voormann's art a collection has been made available in the highly recommended book 'Drawings & More - 1960-2010' (Seeshaupt, 2010) and 'It All Started in Hamburg/ Es Begann in Hamburg' (2018). In 2003 Voormann published his autobiography 'Warum spielst du Imagine nicht auf dem weißen Klavier, John? Erinnerungen an die Beatles und viele andere Freunde' ('Why Don't You Play "Imagine" on the White Piano, John?: Memories of the Beatles and Many Other Friends'). Voormann was also subject of a documentary, namely 'All You Need Is Klaus' (2009) by Jörg Bundschuh.

voormann.com

Series and books by Klaus Voormann in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

X

If you want to help us continue and improve our ever- expanding database, we would appreciate your donation through Paypal.