Andy Warhol and Velvet Underground

Manager and Producer of the Velvet Underground
Groundbreaking Album Cover Artist
Pittsburgh born and educated pop artist Andy Warhol managed and produced the seminal rock band the Velvet Underground. His other contribution to the world of music was his creation of cover art for 53 albums spanning rock, jazz, classical, and pop music. His work includes covers for the Rolling Stones, John Lennon, Diana Ross, Paul Anka, Lou Reed, John Cale, Aretha Franklin,Deborah Harry, Count Basie, Theolonious Monk and more.  Three of his album covers are considered milestones in the music industry " “The Velvet Underground & Nico,” album with a yellow banana that could be peeled, . the Rolling Stones  “Sticky Fingers” album an actual working zipper, and the Stones brightly colored album "Love You Live".

Velvet Underground

The avant-garde rock group the Velvet Underground
formed in 1965 with members Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Maureen Tucker. They made their first appearance at Summit High School in New Jersey on December 11, 1965. Filmmakers Barbara Rubin and Gerard Malanga told Warhol about the band and went to see them at Café Bizarre in the Village. Even though they were fired by Café Bizzare their luck and rock history changed that night. Impressed by the band Warhol offered to be their manager. Driven to make art music the Velvet Underground accepted Warhol’s offer giving them an overnight recognition in the avant-garde art world. He putting them to work recording soundtracks for Warhol movies, and being filmed in jams at the Factory. Warhol then incorporated the Velvet Underground into his mixed-media/performance art shows called the Exploding Plastic Inevitable (EPI). The Velvet Underground performed in the revolution EPI multimedia shows that include multi-screen fi lm projections, light shows and dancers. They gained press attention and notoriety in 1966 performing at EPI shows in New York, Chicago, Rutgers University, and the University of Michigan.

Warhol produced the Velvet Underground first album in the spring of 1966 providing the financing. He added the singer Nico to the band to provide a significant visual and atmospheric presence. He also gave the band artistic freedom to record what they wanted unfettered by usual record label commercial constraints. Warhol also encouraged Lou Reed's song writing. The album was recorded in one or two days. Verve records signed the band and remixed the recording. Andy’s iconic album cover with its peel-able yellow banana brought media attention. Verve released the album "The Velvet Underground & Nico" in March of 1967.

The first Velvet Underground album peaked at 171 on the Billboard charts with only 30.000 in sales. As album oriented free form radio stations were in their infancy, the music may have been ahead of its time. But it is considered an important recording sited by as David Bowie, Brian Eno, and others as a major influence. The Rolling Stone named the 13th Greatest Album of All Time and the "most prophetic rock album ever made". All Music Guide critic Mark Deming wrote “Few rock albums are as important as The Velvet Underground & Nico, and fewer still have lost so little of their power to surprise and intrigue more than 40 years after first hitting the racks.”

The Velvet Underground moved out of the Factory in the summer of 1967and broke their management deal with Warhol to sign with the Steve Sesnick.  Warhol had provided the band with financing and notoriety but busy with his art and film projects he was unable to provide the attention and services of a full time experienced artist manager. Lou Reed was upset that Warhol had passed on offers for the band to tour in Europe and to appear in Michaelangelo Antonioni's film Blow-Up . Seeing the Velvet Underground as one of Warhol’s art projects many in the music public viewed the band as a novelty act.  The band broke off with Warhol and Nico left. Velvet Underground recorded two additional albums for Verve and one for Warner Brothers before they broke up in 1970. 

The Velvet Underground was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. Without Andy Warhol’s support the Velvet Underground may have never recorded or achieved any recognition.

Warhol's Album Art

Warhol's extensive body of work as an album cover artist was little known until the publication of Paul Maréchal's book “Andy Warhol: The Record Covers, 1949-1987” in 2009.  Maréchal began his research with a list of 23 album covers compiled by the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Working for 12 years Maréchal contacted record dealers around the world and found another 28 covers designed by Warhol. Two additional covers were found after Maréchal's book was published bringing the total album covers to 53. With the full set of covers identified Maréchal documented Warhol's work in the music industry.

Warhol began to create album cover art when he arrived in New York City in 1949. The long playing record (the LP) was the latest new format for distributing music. Seeking free lance work Andy contact the major record label offering his services to illustrate album covers. Columbia Records gave him his first assignment for the album “A Program of Mexican Music.”  

RCA hired Warhold to design covers for several of its artists including 5 albums for Kenny Burrell, along with covers for Theolonious Monk, Artie Shaw . Andy designed his last album cover "MTV - High Priority" in 1987, the year that he died.

Pittsburgh Beginnings

Andy Warhol was born Andrew Warhola on August 6, 1928 in Pittsburgh. He grew up and lived at 3252 Dawson Street in Pittsburgh's South Oakland neighbor. As a child he took free art class at the Carnegie Museum of Art from 1937 to 1941. After graduation from Schenley High School in 1945 he studied fine arts at Carnegie Mellon University aiming to become a commercial illustrator. During the summer of 1947 he worked as an artist n the Horne’s department store display department. 

Commercial Artist

Receiving his B.A. in 1949 he moved to New York City to become a commercial artist working under the name Andy Warhol.  Receiving his B.A. in 1949 he moved to New York City to become a commercial artist.  His first illustrations to be published were in the September 1949 issue of Glamour magazine.  During the 1950s and early 1960s Warhol worked primarily as an illustrator for a variety of publications and advertisers along with designing album covers and department store windows, Winning many awards for his work he became recognized as one of the top illustrators of the 1950s.

Pop Art Superstar

Warhol began to focus on art and painting in the late 1950s. His did his first Pop Art paintings in 1961 and became an art world superstar with his Campell’s Soup Cans in 1962. His celebrity portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Elizabeth Taylor won more acclaim. Branching into multi-media he made hundreds of films between 1963 and 1968 including the art house releases “Chelse Girls”, “Trash”, “Heat”, and “Andy Warhol’s Bad”. In 1964 his supermarket Brillo Boxes and Heinz Boxes sculptures came to fame and his opened his studio dubbed “The Factory”.

Warhol died in New York City on February 22, 1987 succumbing to complications from gallbladder surgery. Andy is buried at St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cemetery in Bethel Park, Pa near the intersection of Library and Connor Road.  The Andy Warhol Museum opened on Pittsburgh's North Side in 1994 and attracts over 100.000 visitors annually.
Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground
Velvet Underground Documentary
Interview with Lou Reed about Andy Warhol
Exploding Plastic Inevitable Show

Velvet Underground & Nico Album 1967

Rolling Stones -Sticky Fingers
Count Basie