Album covers. For the music fan, they're often half art, half visual comfort food. On the walls surrounding my desk, I have an assortment of them mounted in black frames. I can look left and see Van Morrison and a pair of enormous hounds on the cover of Veedon Fleece. Next to that, I can see the jacket for the Replacements' Tim. To my right are R.E.M.'s spooky Murmur cover, the Clash's London Calling (with Paul Simonon getting ready to slam his bass to Kingdom Come) and an impossibly young looking Steve Forbert on an autographed copy of Jackrabbit Slim.
For Jud Patterson, a 48-year-old Apex resident who left behind 15 years in the software and telecommunications industries for his etching career, the music of fanatical choice is progressive rock. After studying glass etching and photoresist technology with a man named Larry Cooper ("a true artist," Patterson calls him), Patterson bought the necessary equipment and Kreative Concepts was born. He has seen the business expand to where he now etches a variety of materials, including a patented beer hopper he designed even before studying with Cooper, and now corporate awards, wedding-related items and urns designed to hold a beloved pet's cremated remains.
But it's primarily to the prog-rock world in its 1970s heyday that Patterson turns for etching inspiration. This makes sense, since in prog-rock, the music and the album art were frequently, and intricately, intertwined. Patterson defines prog-rock as, "a style of rock that tends to combine a higher degree of musical virtuosity with sometimes obscure, if any, lyrics, and the songs are often longer or at least linked suite-like." The covers for progressive rock albums often reflect this virtuosity, as well as the imaginary worlds that are painstakingly created by the music. "In the '70s, when prog-rock was very popular, it is nearly safe to say that a style of rock could nearly be identified by its cover art," Patterson says. "Plus, the 'canvas' was bigger, so the art could play a more important role in the look and feel of the album. Today, the square inches for art are one-fourth what they were in the vinyl days."
Patterson's etchings loom even larger than the classic long-player cover art from days of '70s yore. Working with Roger Dean, the creator of memorable work for Yes and Uriah Heep and arguably the best-known album cover artist of all-time, Patterson has crafted a woven-fabric tapestry that is 6 feet wide and over 4 feet tall, depicting the Dean-designed cover of Uriah Heep's Magician's Birthday. One hopes Patterson will eventually enlarge more of Dean's forbidding landscapes and otherworldly Siberias characterized by alien topographies, such as Yes' appropriately titled Tales from Topographic Oceans.
On Patterson's Web site, www.kkllc.com, one can also view etchings based on George Underwood's fantastic cover art for the original Gentle Giant album. These adorn marble paperweights and coasters, brass pins, and solid cherry refrigerator magnets. Another popular item is a 4-by-4 woven throw that captures the woodblock print found on the cover of Jethro Tull's 1969 album Stand Up. But it's not just front covers that are appealing. Stand Up's back-cover print decorates a wooden box designed to hold playing cards.
For Patterson, nostalgia is a factor in the appeal of his products, whether displayed in a $10 frame or woven into a $65 throw. "It takes people back to a time that is important to them," he offers. "Just as hearing certain songs transports one into an instant of time in the past, seeing a favorite album cover has a similar effect. It links the visual of the cover to the music and to the feelings one had when listening to it."
I have my eye on the Stand Up throw myself and mostly for the reasons above. My core group of friends throughout high school came together over, among other things, a shared devotion to Jethro Tull. Our main social activity involved getting all hopped up on Old Milwaukee and Malt Duck and driving to the conveniently named Tull Drive. There we'd engage in what we'd call a Tull Fest. Translation: four or five shit-faced 16-year-olds screeching along with "To Cry You a Song" or "Two Fingers" or whatever Jethro Tull song was roaring out of the eight-track player. Anyone unlucky enough to drive by no doubt wondered why the occupants of the gray Chevette were torturing wolverines.
Music helps build relationships when you're young, and it apparently has the same powers when you're, well, less young. Through his work, Patterson has become friends with Dean, Jethro Tull leader Ian Anderson and Woodstock veteran Country Joe McDonald, that last one more progressive thinker than progressive rocker. Correspondence with the drummer from the John Entwistle Band led to the reissuing of a set of ceramic tankards with etching based on Entwistle's The Who By Numbers artwork.
Everything comes together for Patterson in a few weeks at the fifth annual Near Fest in Trenton, N.J., a progressive rock festival that spun out of our very own ProgDay, based in Chapel Hill. He'll be working at a vending area with Dean, surrounded by the music he's crazy about, and he'll also get the chance to see his all-time favorite band, Camel. "I actively listen to music," says Patterson when discussing Camel and others, adding, "I think about what it took to create it and marvel at those who can do it." A lot of folks, in Trenton and elsewhere, might end up saying the same thing about his work.