R.I.P. Tom Wilkes 1939 – 2009

tom-w-coversThis morning my friend Matt passed on the sad news that Grammy Award-winning album cover designer Tom Wilkes passed away this week. Like Matt, he was a Long Beach native.

Tom Wilkes gained national prominence when his advertising firm landed the 1967 Monterrey International Pop Music Festival. He designed and created all the graphics, posters and other print materials for the festival, including the iconic psychedelic poster that was printed on foil stock paper.

According to his daughter, Katherine Fotch, “He won an award from Reynolds aluminum for the most creative use of aluminum foil. He was always very proud of that.”

Music producer and festival organizer Lou Adler said Wilkes “caught the spirit of the time” with his graphics for the ’67 Pops Festival.

“Most of the artwork in that particular culture was coming out of San Francisco, and what Tom did was he took a San Francisco look, or niche, and made it international,” Adler said. “You can see a lot of the posters from that period and say, ‘Oh, that’s the ’60s.’ With Tom, it isn’t dated. There’s a very special look to it.”

Wilkes designed or provided the art direction or graphic design for scores of classic album covers. As an example, he designed the covers for the Rolling Stones’ “Beggars Banquet,” Neil Young’s “Harvest,” Eric Clapton’s “Eric Clapton,” Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” and George Harrison’s “Concert for Bangladesh” and “All things Must Pass.”

Wilkes was a photographer as well, and often shot the images that appeared on the album covers. The most infamous of which was the cover photo of Joplin for her 1971 “Pearl” album. According to Fotch, “He was the last person to see her alive”

In 1973, Wilkes won a Grammy Award for best recording package for the Who’s rock opera “Tommy.”

Back then, there wasn’t the huge music hype machine that we have today. When you when into a record store, you were often flying blind. David Fricke, a senior writer at Rolling Stone magazine explains “the magic and the sort of importance of album design was to be able to catch the eye, to try and get a sense of what the music and the personalities were inside and also make you want to buy it.”

Wilkes, Fricke said, “was able to capture a certain essence of what was on the record and the person who made it.

According to the LA Times Obituary, A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. today at First Presbyterian Church of Orange, 191 N. Orange St., Orange.

Instead of flowers, the family asks that donations in Wilkes’ memory be made to fund ALS research and sent to the ALS Assn. Development Department, 27001 Agoura Road, Suite 250, Calabasas, CA 91301.


  1. Thank you for the kind tribute to my dad. And actually, my name is Katherine, not Kathleen. And I was wrong about Janis Joplin, she did not overdose that evening, Tom was the last person they know of to see her alive. Just a little trivia, he called that picture of himself holding that bird “Tom flipping the bird”.

    Thanks again.

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