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Janis Joplin, The Doors, and Steppenwolf are among the greatest acts in the history of rock and roll. While their music is recycled through movies, college discovery, and radio today, the visual evidence of their prowess and revolutionary zeal hangs on the walls of museums.
To prepare for the Tweed Museum’s Psychedelic Signatures exhibit, featuring 30 of the rarest and most sought after original concert posters, I spoke with several of the original artists. Victor Moscoso, who has five posters in the show, told me the story of the music of that 1960s era and his own artistic journey.
The earliest poster in the exhibit by Moscoso was created for the Family Dog. They were a group of hippies promoting shows and dances for Janis Joplin (“Piece of My Heart,” “Mercedes Benz,” and “Me & Bobby McGee”), Jefferson Airplane (“Somebody to Love,” and “White Rabbit”), and The Grateful Dead at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco in 1966. Done in black and white, it has simplistic bubble lettering with a photo of a gargoyle on the top of Notre Dame.
“Oh, that’s my worst poster,” Moscoso said. “I call that my greatest failure. Alright, and the thing about failure is that if you examine your failure you learn a lot. Cuz, here I had gone to Yale, I was teaching at San Francisco Art Institute at the time, direct lithography, the way Toulouse Latrec’s posters were being printed, and I saw these crude posters. First by Alton Kelly for the Family Dog, the original Family Dog, not Chet Helms, but the original Family Dog.”
To explain the concert poster art quickly the one thing you should know is that in 1966 a new artform emerged in California using rock concert advertisements as an outlet for the creative energy springing up all around. The artists who were hired to make the first psychedelic concert posters went on to design most of the album art that followed within a year. At first the posters were crude, but the competitive nature of the artists raised the bar to a new level.
Moscoso said that the first concert poster he saw looked like it was just a bunch of doodles. Chet Helms, a hippie who promoted rock shows and brought Janis Joplin to San Francisco to front Big Brother and the Holding Company, eventually became the head of the Family Dog.