I’ve known Krusher Joule for years. He’s an album sleeve designer, graphic artist, television presenter, DJ, master of ceremonies and bon viveur of legendary repute, and I thought you’d like to hear some of his tales about life in the music industry in the ‘bad old days’. So, I asked the questions and off he went – enjoy.
I first became aware of the man through his work with august print medium metal tome Kerrang! Starting out as a one-off supplement to British music weekly Sounds, Kerrang! quickly established itself as the weekly metal bible for fans of ‘our kind of music’ worldwide. How does one get a break with such a genre-defining publication?
“I started working on Kerrang! in February 1983. The first issue that I did was number 35 with Tony Iommi on the cover for an interview about Black Sabbath’s Live Evil album; ironically the last ever cover that I designed for Kerrang! Some ten years later also featured Iommi and Black Sabbath.”
We’ll get back Sabbath later, but, I ask again – how does one hop aboard a media juggernaut like the big K!?
“I got the job by phoning the then editor (and one of the finest men to ever draw breath) Alan Lewis, and telling him that I was a freelance designer and had worked for Motorhead, Girlschool, Hawkwind and Ozzy Osbourne, to name a few, and asked if he would be interested in seeing my portfolio, and to my great surprise he said yes he would. This would have been December 1982. We arranged a lunch time meeting in one of the pubs nearest their offices, which were above Covent Garden tube station in London, and after several pints and rock ‘n’ roll tales he asked me to go away and redesign the mastheads (the regular headings that they used for the different sections of the magazine) and to come back in the new year and we’d take it from there if he liked them.
As it turned out he loved them and asked me if I’d like to work freelance as their designer, I of course said “Too foooookin’ right boss!”
When I did the mastheads I also redesigned the Kerrang! logo which for some mysterious reason never got used until issue 36 and wasn’t used the way I’d designed it until issue 38 which had Rock Goddess guitarist Jody Turner on the cover.”
Was Kerrang! a fun magazine to work for?
“Was it fun to work for? Shit, apart from the last year I was there it was the BEST job I’d ever had. I couldn’t believe how much we were allowed to get away with, just as long as the magazine came out and there were no major fuck ups in it we could do ANYTHING that helped our creative streaks. [It's a bit like life at MaF, then!].
"Bottles of Jack and Mescal were everywhere, drugs, spontaneous air guitar freakouts on top of the desks could occur at any given moment, pub lunches that lasted days, a party or gig to go to seven nights a week and every goddamned rock star that you’d ever wanted to meet walking in and out of the office and not because they had to be interviewed but because they just wanted to come and hang out with the Kerrang! gang.”
Again, I’m thinking this is exactly like life at MaF HQ!
“Here’s a perfect example of that, when I first joined the mag I was well behaved for the first couple of weeks, finding my feet and observing just how far one could go. So when it came to lunch time I would grab a sandwich and stay in the office and get on with my job, whilst everyone else headed to the pub for their alcoholic fix. So there I am alone, munching on my cheese and pickle sarnie when who walks in?”
Who walks in? I don’t know, Krush, me ol’ mucker – I wasn’t there. You’d better tell us…
“Who walks in? Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top with (absolutely legendary – we’re talking beyond Zeus and Hercules here – photographer) Ross Halfin. They enquired as to where everyone was, to which I replied, 'The White Swan'.” (For the uninitiated, TWS was a well known local Covent Garden boozer).
"They left, but not until after Billy had requested some Kerrang! letterheaded paper as a souvenir. In return, he gave me a badge reading “I made it to the Top!”… fookin magic!”
I’m sure it was.
“Sadly when EMAP Publications (the huge multi-national conglomerate that still owns Kerrang! to this day) took over the magazine the magic very quickly disappeared, but that my friends is a story that you’ll have to wait to read in my memoirs!”
Earlier on, Krusher mentioned that he blagged his way into the Kerrang! gig by mentioning your glittering career as an album cover designer. I asked him how his CV was reading at that point, and what some of his favourite designs were at that time.
“My first ever album sleeve was Hawkwind’s Live ‘79 and others that followed included Ozzy Osbourne’s Diary Of A Madman, Speak Of The Devil and Bark At The Moon, Girl’s Wasted Youth, Iron Maiden’s Live After Death, Gary Moore’s Dirty Fingers and Live At The Marquee and (eighties new romantics) Japan’s Tin Drum. All can be seen at my website. The ones that I’m really proud of are the Ozzy covers, plus the Japan one.”
But of course Krusher is being modest here. He’s most renowned for his work on the cover of Black Sabbath’s 1983 effort, Born Again, an album that incumbent vocalist Ian Gillan was said to have launched a box of fifty copies from an upstairs window of, in disgust at being associated with such ‘rubbish’. But we’ll look at this most famous of covers in more detail presently. Inevitably, the Kerrang! gig came to an end when the ridiculously successful magazine was subsumed by the EMAP publishing empire – ‘they didn’t like the fact that sometimes we’d have so much fun in the office we had to come to blows with one another’ is an explanation Krusher gave to me a few years ago as to why his association with the magazine came to an end - and so our hero embarked on a new career in radio: with predictably chaotic results.
Krusher's first show, on BBC local radio station Radio London, was called somewhat appropriately Krusher’s Sunday Metal Mayhem, wherein our hero was joined by the likes of David Lee Roth and Motorhead for a bit of a chinwag and some, erm, ‘afternoon tea’. However the show was moved from its original Sunday afternoon slot to a late night weekday berth to accompany the more ‘lurid’ tales of his rock ‘n’ roll guests- but even that wasn’t enough for the good burghers of Broadcasting House.
“Pete Way from UFO was recalling a Michael Schenker tale which ended with him saying, “Michael broke away from the police officers, goose stepped across to the hotel receptionist and said “You’re a fucking cunt!”, which resulted in him spending a night in the cells!” I got hauled into the programme controller’s office and received my first written warning. Eventually I told him to stick his job up his arse when he again dragged me into his office and questioned why I wasn’t playing the new Def Leppard album Adrenalize, I told him that I had played a track from it the week of its release, oh and of course it was a pile of regurgitated shit! He then informed me that he’d received a letter from the bands record company saying that I wasn’t doing my job properly. I told him if he was going to allow record companies to tell me what and what not to play he could shove his job up his arse, which he did - and has been walking strangely ever since,' he laughed.
But enough of these base anatomical discussions. Joule then moved, after a stint emceeing in America on the Ozzfest tours, to the world of the Internet, and a gig at web metal station Total Rock. Strangely enough, he experienced some turbulent times here, too.
“Regarding Total Rock, like EMAP publications I don’t really have anything that I want to say about them, but if you’d like to listen to parts of the last ever show that I did for them, you’ll find it at my website again. Be warned: it’s not for the faint-hearted and is definitely not suitable for young ears!”
Anyways, back to the matter in hand. This is a piece that’s supposed to examine the ‘industry’ in all its tattered glory. So, how does one go about getting the job of designing an album cover for the biggest band in metal?
'The Born Again album sleeve was designed under extraordinary circumstances; basically what had happened was that Sharon and Ozzy had split very acrimoniously from her father (Don Arden)’s management and record label. He subsequently decided that he would wreak his revenge by making Black Sabbath (whom he managed) the best heavy metal band in the world, which, of course they had been, but back then in the early '80s they weren't quite the international megastars that they had been in the '70s. His plans included recruiting Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan, getting Bill Ward back in on drums and stealing as many of Ozzy's management team as possible. I was designing Ozzy’s sleeves at the time, so I of course got asked to submit some designs.
"As I didn't want to lose my gig with the Osbournes I thought the best thing to do would be to put some ridiculous designs down, submit them and then get the beers in with the rejection fee. But no, life ain't that easy. In all I think there were four rough ideas that were given to the management and band to peruse (unfortunately I no longer have the roughs as I would love to see just how bad the other three were; sadly my booze- and drug-addled brain no longer remembers that far back).
"Anyway, one of the ideas was of course ‘the baby’. The first image of a baby that I found was from the front cover of a 1968 magazine called Mind Alive that my parents had bought me as a child - so in reality I say blame my parents for the whole sorry mess. I then took some black and white photocopies of the image that I overexposed, stuck the horns, nails, fangs into the equation, used the most outrageous colour combination that acid could buy, bastardised a bit of the Olde English typeface and sat back, shook my head and chuckled.
"The story goes that at the meeting Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler were present (the others were absent). Tony loved it and Geezer looked at it and in his best Brummie accent said, "Its shit. But it's fucking great!" Don not only loved it but had already decided that a Born Again baby costume was to be made for a suitable midget who was going to wear it and be part of the now infamous Born Again Tour. So suddenly I find myself having to do the bloody thing. I was also offered a ridiculous amount of money if I could deliver finished artwork for front, back and inner sleeve by a certain date. As the dreaded day drew nearer I kept putting it off until finally, the day before it was due, I sprang into action with the help of a neighbour, a bottle of Jack Daniels and the filthiest speed that money could buy. We bashed the whole thing out in a night, including hand lettering all the lyrics, and delivered it the next day whereupon I received my financial reward. But that wasn't the end of it. When Gillan finally got to see a finished sleeve he hated it with a vengeance!
"Gillan might have hated it but Max Cavalera (Sepultura, Soulfly etc) and Glen Benton (Deicide) have both gone on record saying that it is their favourite album sleeve. Kurt Cobain told a story of his mum taking him to Wallmart for of his birthday and telling him he could pick any album he wanted and she’d buy it for him; he chose Born Again and his mother refused point blank to buy it for the cover alone.
"I always wondered if that was an influence on the Nevermind baby cover that Nirvana released many years later. Another story that I've heard told about the sleeve, and this might just be evil, malicious gossip, but as soon as the first set of printers proofs were delivered to the (Sabbath’s management company) Jet offices, one was put on a bike and sent to Sharon to piss her off as she was in hospital having her and Ozzy’s first born, Aimee. Ever since, the baby on the cover has been known as Aimee, fact or lie? You decide. And there you have it. I can honestly put my hand on me old John Thomas and say that Depeche Mode played no part in its creation: in fact the first time that I saw the Depeche sleeve was when a friend of mine emailed the black-sabbath.com address to me and I took a look. And that, my friend, is the story of the Black Sabbath Born Again'sleeve.”
And that, people, is how a legend is born in this industry we love so much.
Krusher Joule would, on the face of it, done just about all there is to do in his chosen field. Is there anything he hasn’t yet done? And what does the future hold for one of metal’s most colourful characters?
“I’m currently running a rock night at the Embassy Club in Mayfair, London, imaginatively called ‘KRUSHER’. We have guest DJs, live bands, cheap booze and the usual rock’n’roll shenanigans related to a proper rock night," he said. "I’m getting back into doing a bit of design and I’m currently working on projects for Skin, The Whybirds (watch out for these boys, unsigned and going to be huge), and Down.
"I’m hoping to publish my Ozzfest diaries from 1999 and 2000 when I went out as the MC/DJ for several months across the whole of America and I’ve a couple of things up my sleeve in case of emergencies.”
Anything else the MaF community should know?
“ROCK HARD! ROCK HEAVY! ROCK ANIMAAAAAAAL!!!!”
I guess that says it all…