Friday, May 08, 2009

Beatle People: Klaus Voormann

Klaus Voormann (born 29 April 1938) is a German artist, musician, and record producer known for his long association with the The Beatles, for whom he designed the cover of their album Revolver, as well as for being the bassist with the British Invasion group Manfred Mann and later a respected session player and record producer.

Early years

Voormann was the son of a doctor, was born and grew up in the suburbs of North Berlin as one of six brothers. The Voormann family were interested in art, classical music, and literature, with respect for history and tradition. Although Voormann had studied classical piano from eight to 15-years-old, his parents decided that instead of studying music it would be best for Klaus to study commercial art in Berlin at the "Meisterschule für Grafik und Buchgewerbe." He later moved to Hamburg to study at the "Meisterschule für Gestaltung," but before his graphic art education was finished Voormann started work as a commercial artist, graphic designer, and illustrator, spending eight months in Dusseldorf working for magazines.

It was in Hamburg that Voormann first met Astrid Kirchherr. After an argument with her and Jürgen Vollmer one day, Voormann wandered down the Reeperbahn, which is in the St.Pauli district of Hamburg, and heard music coming from the Kaiserkeller club. He walked in and watched a performance by Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, and the next group scheduled to play were The Beatles. Voormann stayed and watched both groups, and was left "speechless" by the performances. Voormann had never heard this new music called Rock 'n Roll before, having previously only listened to traditional Jazz, with some Nat King Cole and The Platters mixed in. Voormann invited Kirchherr and Vollmer to watch the performances the next day. After hearing this new music, Voormann and the other two decided that all they wanted was to listen to it, watch groups perform it, and to be as close to The Beatles as they could.

The St. Pauli district was well-known as being an area where prostitutes were to be found, and was dangerous for anyone that looked different than the usual clientele. As a trio Voormann, Kirchherr and Vollmer stood out in the Kaiserkeller—dressed in their suede coats, wool sweaters, jeans and round-toed shoes—when most of the customers had greased-back Teddy boy hairstyles and wore black leather jackets and pointed boots. During a break, Voormann tried to talk (in faltering English) to Lennon, and pressed a crumpled record sleeve he had designed into Lennon's hands. Lennon took little interest, and brushed Voormann off, suggesting that he talk to Stuart Sutcliffe, who, as Lennon said, "is the artist round here."

Sutcliffe didn't share Lennon's attitude, and was fascinated by the trio, who he thought looked like "real bohemians." He later wrote that he could hardly take his eyes off them, and had tried to talk to them during the next break, but they had already left the club. This was due to the strict German law at the time which prohibited young people from frequenting bars after 10 o'clock at night, and bars like the Kaiserkeller were dangerous for anybody that looked as different as Voormann, Kirchherr and Vollmer did when customers became drunk and aggressive.

Sutcliffe managed to meet them eventually, and learned that all three had attended the "Meisterschule für Mode," which was the Hamburg equivalent of the Liverpool art college that both Sutcliffe and Lennon had attended. Lennon dubbed the trio the Exies, as a joke about their affectation for existentialism.

Voormann was in a relationship with Kirchherr at the time, and lived just around the corner from her parents' upper-class home in the Altona district of Hamburg. Kirchherr's bedroom (which was all in black, including the walls and furniture) was decorated especially for Voormann, although after the visits to the Kaiserkeller their relationship became purely platonic. This was because Astrid started dating Sutcliffe, who was fascinated by her, although she always remained close friends with Voormann.


In the early 1960s, Voormann decided to leave Germany and move to London. George Harrison invited him to live in the Green Street flat formerly shared by all four Beatles; John Lennon and Paul McCartney having moved out to live with their respective partners (Cynthia Lennon and Jane Asher). Voorman lived with Harrison and Ringo Starr for a time before finding work as a commercial artist and renting an apartment of his own. Voormann returned to Hamburg in 1963, founded the beat band with Paddy Chambers (guitar/vocals) Voormann (bass/vocals) and Gibson Kemp (drums) called Paddy, Klaus & Gibson.

In 1966, Voormann returned to London and was asked by Lennon to design the sleeve for The Beatles' album Revolver. Klaus had a style of "scrapbook collage" art in mind, as it is later shown on the sleeve of Revolver. When showing his efforts to the band and their manager Brian Epstein, the band loved it, although Voormann's payment for the album cover was £40 pounds. Voormann later produced an updated image of Harrison for the cover of his 1988 single, "When We Was Fab," which also included the image of Harrison from the cover of Revolver. For this work, Klaus won the Grammy Award for Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts.

Around the same time another group was about to release their international debut album. The Bee Gees had recorded their first album and Klaus was hired to design the cover of that album. The album cover featured all five group members standing above a colorful, psychedelic collage painted by Voormann.

In 1973, Voormann created the sleeve and booklet artwork for Ringo Starr's album Ringo, on which he also played bass.


In 1966, at the same time he was designing the cover of Revolver, Voormann became a member of the 1960s band Manfred Mann. Voormann played bass for the band from 1966 to 1969, appearing on all their UK hits from "Just Like a Woman" (July 1966) through to their final single "Ragamuffin Man" (April 1969). As well, he played bass and flutes on Manfred Mann's 1968 international hit "Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)" (#1 UK, #10 US).

After that, he became a session musician, playing on solo projects by Lou Reed, Carly Simon, James Taylor, Harry Nilsson and others. Voormann was a member of Lennon's Plastic Ono Band, with Yoko Ono, Alan White (future Yes drummer) and Eric Clapton, which played at the Live Peace in Toronto 1969-recorded prior to the breakup of The Beatles-in Toronto on 13 September 1969.

In 1971 he moved to Los Angeles with his second wife and his first son Otto. In an interview with EMI about his album Walls and Bridges, John Lennon was asked who was playing bass on the album. John answered with a hard German accent: "Klaus Voormann. We all know Klaus, ja (German: "yes")." He also played in Harrison's assembled band in the 1971 The Concert for Bangladesh; Harrison fittingly introduced him to the audience by saying, "There's somebody on bass who many people have heard about, but they've never actually seen him, Klaus Voormann." In the Concert for George on 29 November 2002, he played bass as part of the supporting band on the song "All Things Must Pass."

After the breakup of The Beatles, there were rumors of The Beatles reforming as The Ladders, with Voormann on bass as a replacement for Paul McCartney. An announcement to this effect filtered out of the Apple offices in 1971, but was ultimately withdrawn before it got very far. This lineup (Voormann, Lennon, Harrison and Starr) did perform in various combinations on Lennon's albums John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970) (Voormann, Lennon, and Starr) and Imagine (1971) (Voormann, Lennon & Harrison) as well as on Ringo Starr's Ringo (1973), and Yoko Ono's Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band (1970) (Voormann, Lennon, Starr, and Ono). Starr's album features the Lennon-penned hit single "I'm The Greatest" which is the only song in which all four musicians appear together, joined by Billy Preston.

In 1979 Voormann moved back to Germany. He produced three studio-albums and a live-album by the German band Trio. He also produced their worldwide hit "Da Da Da." After the 1986 breakup of Trio he produced the first solo album by their singer Stephan Remmler and played bass on some songs of the album. The following year he produced a single by former Trio drummer Peter Behrens.

Later years

Voormann retired from the music business in 1989, concentrating on his family. He lives near Munich with his second wife Christine and their two children, born in 1989 and 1991. From time to time he appears on TV shows, mainly when the shows are about the '60s in general or the Beatles in particular, or when he is asked to talk about his famous album sleeve for Revolver.

In the 1994 movie Backbeat, about the Hamburg days of the Beatles, Voormann was portrayed by the German actor Kai Wiesinger.

In 1996 Klaus was asked by Apple Records to design the covers for the Beatles Anthology albums. He painted the covers along with his friend, fellow artist Alfons Kiefer.

In April 2003, Voormann designed the cover of Scandinavian Leather for the Norwegian band Turbonegro.

In October 2003, Voormann published his autobiography, Warum spielst du Imagine nicht auf dem weißen Klavier, John? Erinnerungen an die Beatles und viele andere Freunde (Why Don't You Play "Imagine" on the White Piano, John?: Memories of the Beatles and Many Other Friends). The book gives special focus to the 1960s and 1970s, and covers Voormann's close friendship with the Beatles and other musicians and artists, as well as his private life.

A 2005 BBC documentary, Stuart Sutcliffe: The Lost Beatle features interviews with Voormann and shows drawings he made of the Beatles in Hamburg.

In 2007, Voormann designed the sleeve for the album Timeless by Wet Wet Wet.

In 2008 he recorded the song "For What It's Worth" with Eric Burdon and Max Buskohl.

Voormann will be designing and producing the artwork for the latest release by New York Psychedelic Blues band Super 400, called Sweet Fist to be released on May 19, 2009.


With Manfred Mann:

UK Albums:

* As Is
* Soul of Mann
* Up The Junction (Original Soundtrack Recording)
* What A Mann
* Mighty Garvey!

US Albums:

* Pretty Flamingo
* Up The Junction (Original Soundtrack Recording)
* Mighty Garvey!

With Plastic Ono Band:

* Live Peace in Toronto 1969
* John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
* Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band

With John Lennon:

* Wedding Album
* Imagine
* Some Time in New York City
* Walls and Bridges
* Rock 'n' Roll

With George Harrison:

* All Things Must Pass
* The Concert for Bangla Desh
* Living in the Material World
* Extra Texture (Read All About It)
* Concert for George

With Ringo Starr:

* Sentimental Journey - Arrangement on "I'm A Fool To Care"
* Ringo
* Goodnight Vienna
* Ringo's Rotogravure

Other artists:

* Transformer by Lou Reed
* No Secrets by Carly Simon


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