The Godfather of Rock ‘N’ Roll Poster Art on Giving Counter Culture Its Look

Illustrator David Byrd helped create the visual aesthetic of late-’60s

At the top of Forest Lawn Memorial Park there is a museum; the guard at the bottom of the hill will instruct you to keep to your left all the way up. This quaint and intimate art space nestled into the rolling hills that overlook Glendale has been curated by Joan Adan for the past decade. Revolutions 2: The Art of Music, the current exhibit which opened in February and runs through August 2, features illustrations, photographs and sculptures that were created for commercial use in the music industry. Many of the images on display, like the original Rolling Stones logo, have become mass produced icons that millions of music fans have held in their hands, printed on the packaging of their favorite albums. But here, at Revolutions 2, the original art can be observed in its proper medium and scale. Adan wanted to revisit the intersection of visual art and the music industry that she explored in the exhibit Revolutions ten years ago. ”It is iconic work and it is important work,” she says, excited to present these artists to the Los Angeles area.

Illustrator David Byrd began designing posters for the Fillmore East when he first got out of college in the late 60’s and is still in the game. Adan is happy to see him continuing to interact with the music industry artistically. “David Byrd did the poster for Woodstock in 1969 and then he did a poster last year for a Crosby, Stills and Nash concert that was in Paso Robles.”

Byrd got involved with Bill Graham and the Fillmore East in New York city back in 1967. As Byrd explains, “It’s kind of a shaggy dog story but when the Fillmore was preparing to open I already knew everyone. I had gone to college with everyone at the Fillmore East. So when Bill Graham said, ‘we need posters,’ they all said, ‘call David Byrd.’ I had never done a poster before so I was flying by the seat of my pants.”

After opening the original Fillmore in San Francisco, Graham decided to open an East Coast venue under the same name in a Yiddish theater built in 1925.  “In those days it just had to look freaky. It didn’t matter. I mean, it just didn’t matter. That’s what I got from looking at the West Coast posters. I said, ‘well, you can’t even read it so it doesn’t seem to matter.’ So I just did whatever came to my mind.”

Byrd moved to Los Angeles in 1981 to work with Van Halen. “Actually when I came out here I truly hated it because it is so horizontal and New York is so vertical. It was very disconcerting. I kept an open ticket for a year so that I could flight back at a moment’s notice.” He never left and after meeting his partner of 35 years, moved to Silver Lake and found a permanent home. “I was living in the wrong place and all that. Once you discover where you should be in L.A. everything is all right.”

Eight prominent artists exhibited in Revolutions 2 have agreed to participate in a panel discussion entitled Record Breakers: Artists Who Revolutionized Visual Music Culture held at 2 p.m, Saturday. Join author and critic Shana Nys Dambrot as she moderates a panel which in addition to Byrd features award-winning artists Hugh Brown, Ernie Cefalu, Michael Doret, Mike Salisbury, William Stout, Charlie White III, and David Willardson.

The discussion is free and open to the public. The Forest Lawn Museum asks that you RSVP in advance by sending an email to [email protected].