6-27-2011 - Before Became After
Before I heard any of the music for Proto-Kaw's "Before Became After", I began to work on the cover art. Actually, the entire package design was completed before I'd heard a single note. However, I owned Proto-Kaw's first CD, a number of Kansas albums & Kerry Livgren's post Kansas albums. I had no doubt that this album would be something special.
Oh... I suppose it might be helpful to know a bit about the Proto-Kaw history. This band was not always known as Proto-Kaw. In the early 70's a group of musicians began playing a very American brand of progressive rock. Amazingly enough (to those on the coasts anyway), the band was from the heartland, specifically from Topeka, Kansas - and then called themselves by their state's name.
There were 3 incarnations of the band that bore the Kansas name. The 3rd is the one that can still be heard playing at venues across the country. No recordings exist from the first lineup. However, the second lineup to bear the Kansas moniker made recordings in the hopes of getting a record deal. However, before that ever happened, their leader, guitarist & song writer, Kerry Livgren, left the band to join White Clover with former bandmate Phil Ehart.
Kansas (2) disbanded and White Clover picked up the name and went on to fill stadiums and record some of the great rock anthems of the 70's. However, the Kansas 2 recordings were preseverd and even posted on the internet by Chicago guitarist Dawayne Bailey. (Dawayne had been a fan of the band when he was just cutting his teeth on guitar as a teen.) The recordings caught the attention of Cuneiform Records and were released in 2002 as "Proto-Kaw: Early Recordings from Kansas 1971-1973".
When 'Early Recordings' was released, the band threw a CD release party at the Westport Coffeehouse in Kansas City. It was a jam session with the band, and included Dawayne Bailey. While on break between sets, Kerry asked the guys if they'd be interested in recording a new album.
And that is how Proto-Kaw went from being an album title to band name. Proto (Early) and Kaw (Native American for Kansas. In fact, the Kansas River which flows through the state is often referred to as the Kaw River.
Of course being from Kansas, the American bison is pretty much a symbol of the state and Kerry began playing with album art ideas using the beast. He sent me 2 album concepts that they'd put together. One was a snow covered bison standing in the scorched earth aftermath of a prairie fire. The other was a bison standing in city traffic. Because the cover image used a copyrighted National Geographic photo, it couldn't be used. I was asked to recreate the cover.
The budget didn't allow for buying stock photography, which created the challenge of finding photos that would work that were royalty free. Happily, I didn't find what I needed, because it was a good excuse for me to explore my own solutions.
Working from the title alone, I began to explore other possible solutions. Before Became After. Which came first?
I still like the idea, the simplicity of the design, but no. That was not what the band had in mind.
I called my friend, Photographer Kerrick James and asked if he had any bison shots. He told me, "I was just in Yellowstone last week!" He'd taken many shots of the herds in the park, but much as I liked them, I didn't think any of them would work for the cover. I'd wanted something with more focus and texture. These were full of cool atmosphere by the dust clouds the buffaloes kicked up.
Through the process I got to know Lynn Meredith, the band's vocalist. During one of our phone calls Lynn mentioned a bit of trivia in an offhanded way. "The plains Indians used to call prairie fires 'the red buffalo'".
The RED BUFFALO! There was a spark in that phrase that set my imagination ablaze! It sent me back to Kerrick's photos and I began to play. Part of what Kerry really liked about his cover image was the contrast between the snowy buffalo and the fire around it. Although I liked the contrast, I thought that the cover needed to be more dynamic, so I began to play with contrasting the front and back of the package.
The reclinging beastie just seemed too sedate. Although there was an intensity in his gaze, I turned my attention to another pose. After eliminating the other critters in the shot, I turned to creating the Red Buffalo with burning prairie. When I started writing this and looking through the images I'd produced, I found this early version and laughed, seeing how scrawny he looked compared with the finished piece.
Over time the prairie grass and literal flames gave way to less detail, keeping the focus on the blazing bison. For the tray card, I chose to keep the same pose, but to contrast the environment, creating a blizzard. Knowing the history of the band, I liked the idea of this bison, having endured the long hard winter, then bursting into flame!
The band had been apart for 30 years before "Before Became After" became a reality. There is definitely something phoenix-like in the story, arising from the ashes in a glorious blaze!
Finished cover, tray card & booklet interior:
Originally the album was to be released on Livgren's Numavox Records, but the band was then signed to Inside Out Records and the packaging went from a jewel case with 4 panel booklet to a luxurious hard bound, multi-page book, with each band member getting their own page. Thomas Ewerhard of Inside Out reworked the layout and did a beautiful job. I worked with him on Proto-Kaw's next release, "The Wait of Glory", as well. It was fun to feed him components of the art and see him use them in his own way for the interiors.
Ken Westphal is an illustrator/designer who lives in the Kansas City metro area. He is best known for his humorous illustration & cartooning. For a good number of years he worked with Brad Morgan (DDB Needham, Chicago), the creator of Chester Cheetah, on ads for Cheetos, which ran in a variety of publications and network TV.
Having freelanced since the early 80's, in 2003 Ken took a job with Kid Stuff Marketing as Senior Product Designer. During his 6 1/2 years with KSM, he designed character based toys for kids meals. Kid Stuff remains one of his clients.
Over the past decade, Ken has become more involved in creating art for the music industry, exploring another side of his creativity, tapping into his love of SciFi & fantasy.
Ken's clients include Frito-Lay, American Airlines, Logitech, Betty Crocker, Sports Illustrated & SI for Kids, Golf World, Citicorp, Southwest Airlines, Saatchi & Saatchi, Bozell Jacobs, Time Magazine & Nike, among others.