Klaus Voormann, Hamburg (self portrait) 1959
As a young artist living in Hamburg, Germany in 1960, Klaus was already well on his way to a very successful career in commercial art. Klaus had attended "Meisterschule für Grafik und Buchgewerbe" in Berlin before moving to Hamburg where he continued his education at "Meisterschule of Gestaltung". Klaus worked on freelance projects for fashion and art studios. He spent eight months in Dusseldorf working on advertising and layouts for magazines. But it was when he returned to Hamburg in 1960 that he had his first encounter with the music that would eventually take his life in a completely different direction.
One night, Klaus was on the Reeperbahn in the St. Pauli district of Hamburg, when he was drawn to the sound of music coming from a basement window. It was the Kaiserkeller Club. Klaus went down into the club to better hear and see the band playing onstage. Despite being alone and feeling out of his element and uncomfortable among the leather clad rockers, Klaus stayed on for the next band. It was The Beatles--John, Paul, George, Stuart Sutcliffe on bass, and Pete Best on drums. Coincidentally, Klaus also saw Ringo Starr that night because he was the drummer for the first band, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.
Klaus had not had any exposure to rock & roll. He grew up in a family that listened to classical music. Klaus himself studied classical piano from the age of 8 to age 15. This rock & roll music and this rough environment were foreign to him. But he loved it! So much that he brought his friends Astrid Kirchherr and Jürgen Vollmer back to see the Beatles the following evening. Over the course of the next couple of weeks they became regulars at the club. When it was suggested that someone try to make contact with the band, it was Klaus who approached them. He brought with him a record sleeve he had illustrated and he showed it first to John Lennon, then to Stuart Sutcliffe, who John pointed out as the artist of the group.
From that first meeting, Klaus’s friendship with the Beatles continued to grow. Eventually he moved to London at the invitation of George Harrison and Ringo Starr and he stayed with them in their apartment while he sought work as a commercial artist. But Klaus had been bitten by the rock & roll bug. It was not enough for him to just see and hear other bands on stage. He wanted to play himself.
Klaus got a job at an ad agency in London and was working there for about five months when he received a call from a friend, asking him if he wanted to play in a band. Klaus packed his bag and three days later he was back in Hamburg playing bass on stage! This was the beginning of Klaus’s musical career. This first band Klaus was a member of, Paddy, Klaus & Gibson, played in Germany at the Star Clubs. Later they went to England where they were booked at the Pickwick Club in London, a place frequented by high profile people. Brian Epstein was in attendance, and after the performance he signed them and became their manager.
Paddy, Klaus & Gibson, 1964-1966
Then in 1965 Klaus received a call from John Lennon asking him to design the cover of The Beatles' next LP. Klaus had been out of the art scene for some time, playing bass in Paddy, Klaus & Gibson. And now he was being asked to design a record cover for the most famous band in history! Klaus accepted the challenge, and he spent the next couple of weeks coming up with different ideas for the cover. He had the idea that he wanted The Beatles’ hair to be a focus, and in contrast to what was being done by everyone else, he wanted to do a black and white cover. He tried different ideas, and eventually (from memory) he drew the four line drawings of John, Paul, George and Ringo, then placed photos in and around the drawings.
The Revolver cover was well received by The Beatles, George Martin, and Brian Epstein, who cried tears of joy upon seeing it. With Revolver, The Beatles' music had taken a different direction. It was more psychedelic and less about love and relationships. This change in musical direction made Brian unsure of how the public would receive the new sound, and he believed that Klaus’s cover would be a bridge for that change and help people to accept the new direction. As it happened, at the 9th Annual Grammy Awards in 1966, Klaus was awarded the Grammy for Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts. It was the first time anyone had ever won for a graphic cover.
Klaus in 1966 with Revolver and his first Grammy Award
From 1966 to 1969 Klaus played bass in the Manfred Mann band. At the time, Klaus had offers to join the Hollies, the Moody Blues, and Manfred Mann. He chose to join Manfred Mann and during this 3-year period, the band produced several hit records, including The Mighty Quinn, on which Klaus played flute and bass and sang backup to Mike d’Abo’s lead vocal. (The Mighty Quinn by Manfred Mann is the only Bob Dylan song ever to hold the number one spot in the UK charts.)
Manfred Mann Band, 1966-1969
L-R: Tom McGuinness, Manfred Mann, Mike d'Abo, Klaus, Mike Hugg
In 1969 Klaus received another unexpected telephone request from John Lennon. John wanted Klaus to join his and Yoko’s new band, the Plastic Ono Band. And he wanted Klaus to get on a plane in two day’s time and fly to Toronto to play an unrehearsed concert with a band of four guys who had never played together! After some consideration, Klaus agreed. The four new band members, John, Klaus, Eric Clapton, and Alan White (a then unknown young drummer) flew across the Atlantic to play one show at the Toronto Music Festival. Their only rehearsal took place sitting in the back of the plane, with Alan White drumming on the seat in front of him.
Plastic Ono Band on the plane to Toronto, 1969
L-R: Klaus, John, Eric Clapton
The Plastic Ono Band's Live Peace in Toronto album is the only live performance by the original members of the band.
Plastic Ono Band, 1969, Toronto Music Festival,
L-R: Klaus, Alan White, Yoko, John, Eric Clapton
George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass triple album was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London from May to August 1970. This was George’s first post-Beatles release. Klaus played bass on the album, along with Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Ringo Starr and Bob Dylan, among others. Released in November 1970, All Things Must Pass spent eight weeks at number one on the UK charts and seven weeks at number one on the US charts. It produced My Sweet Lord, a hugely popular song that was number one worldwide.
George’s next big project was the Concert for Bangladesh which took place the afternoon and evening of August 1, 1971 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The concert was organized by George, with Klaus on bass, Eric Clapton and Jesse Ed Davis on guitars, Billy Preston and Leon Russell on keyboards, Ringo Starr and Jim Keltner on drums, along with lots of other guests.
Klaus playing bass at the Concert for Bangladesh, 1971
The Concert for Bangladesh was the first time a group of musicians came together to give their time and talent for a humanitarian cause. Nobody got paid and between the concert sales and subsequent album and video sales, millions of dollars were raised. With the recent reissue of the CD and the video, the concert continues to raise money for George Harrison’s relief organization. Klaus won his second Grammy award for his participation in this historic event.
Klaus, George Harrison, Jesse Ed Davis, 1971
The Concert for Bangladesh, Madison Square Garden NYC
In 1973 at the urging of John Lennon and Ringo Starr, Klaus moved from London to Los Angeles, where he began doing a lot of session work for various artists, mostly friends. Klaus played on numerous solo recordings by John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
Imagine recording session, Ascot UK, 1971
L-R: Klaus, John, Nicky Hopkins on keyboards
Gimme Some Truth, The Making Of Imagine, 1971
L-R: Klaus, George, John & Yoko during a session break.
Klaus with Harry Nilsson (2nd from right) in the studio
Klaus, Jesse Ed Davis & Ringo (Nilsson session)
Klaus played on eight Harry Nilsson albums, including Nilsson Schmilsson which contained Harry’s number one record breaking song, Without You.
Klaus as Von Schnitzel the conductor, Popeye, 1980
Klaus also appeared in two films featuring Harry’s music, Son of Dracula, and Popeye starring Robin Williams, and he appeared in the documentary footage of the making of Son of Schmilsson, in which he plays bass and saxophone.
Saturday Night Live, 1976
Carly Simon and Klaus playing You're So Vain
While in Los Angeles Klaus also played on several Carly Simon albums, including her number one charting No Secrets. (That’s Klaus playing the famous bassline on You’re So Vain, a song that has taken on a legendary mystique all its own.)
BB King London sessions, 1971
L-R: Jim Keltner on drums, Klaus, BB King
Klaus played on Randy Newman’s Little Criminals LP, an album that contained Newman’s highest charting song ever, Short People. Klaus can also be heard on albums by BB King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lou Reed, Gary Wright, Leon Russell, Howlin’ Wolf, Peter Frampton, and Martha Reeves, to name but a few. He played alongside The Band, Van Dyke Parks, Dr. John (Mac Rebennack), Jim Keltner, Jesse Ed Davis, Ry Cooder, Larry Carlton and many, many others. In these sessions Klaus played bass, and sometimes saxophone, guitar and piano.
Trio video shoot, 1983
L-R: Klaus, Stephan Remmler, Gert Krawinkel, Peter Behrens
In 1980 Klaus returned to Germany where he began working as a scout for record companies. He discovered an unknown band called Trio, a minimalist band that was part of the Neue Deutsche Welle (New German Wave).
Klaus produced several records for the band throughout the 1980’s, and he played bass on some of the songs. Trio’s “Da Da Da” was a hit in 30 countries and there is rumored to be an estimated 50 cover versions of the song. Klaus later decided that he didn’t want to continue producing, and as the 1990’s approached, he was once again drawn back into the world of graphic art.
Klaus, Hamburg Days book
In 1990 Klaus began working on the book Hamburg Days. The idea for the book was that Klaus and Astrid Kirchherr would compile their memories of meeting The Beatles in Hamburg during the period from 1960 to 1962. Klaus recreated from his own memory and with help from Paul McCartney’s recollections, photorealistic oil paintings of events from that time. This was quite an undertaking, involving a great deal of research during which Klaus, with painstaking detail, perfected the recreation of historic places and structures that had long ago disappeared. Klaus’s work on Hamburg Days continued over the course of the next several years.
The Beatles Anthology, 1996, Alfons Kiefer and Klaus
Then in 1996 Neil Aspinal of Apple Records asked Klaus to create the images for The Beatles Anthology series. This was a big project involving designing the covers that would adorn all three of the albums, as well as all of the other products connected with it. Once again Klaus was faced with having to come up with a design that would be fitting for this monumental Beatles project which was ultimately overseen by Paul, George, Ringo and Yoko. Klaus proposed the idea of painting The Beatles' posters in peeling layers from early album covers and posters to later ones, thus showing the progression of the band over the years. This idea was enthusiastically embraced by Apple and The Beatles, but now Klaus had the daunting task of finishing this work within a relatively short period of time. Klaus enlisted the help of his friend and fellow artist Alfons Kiefer.
The Beatles Anthology painting
It took the two of them over 1,000 hours to paint the images, which incorporate more of Klaus’s photorealistic style. The three Anthology covers fit together when laid side by side and are actually the result of one large painting.
Klaus, Seeshaupt 04/07, Germany
2007 Copyright (C) Joerg Steinmetz
Today Klaus continues to be a very busy artist, trying new things and further developing his style. One of the projects he is currently working on is Remember Revolver, an LP-size book which will be released to commemorate the anniversary of Revolver. In collaboration with designer Stefan Gandl, Klaus will illustrate all 14 songs from the Revolver album.
Klaus lives with his family near Munich.
Klaus Voormann (C) 2007-2013.
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Typography & Design by Voormann/Gandl Neubau