Cal Schenkel is mostly known for his covers for Frank Zappa and/or The Mothers (of Invention). Cal (born 1947) was introduced to Zappa in the 60s. Frank, a sort-of-designer himself, immediately saw the possibilities of Cal’s designs. Zappa’s music at that point was collage-like, Dadaistic, electronic, jazz, doowop and more. Zappa was very much aware of the impact of a good design. Cal seemed to be the ideal designer to match Zappa’s ideas. His collage style a la Kurt Schwitters of early twenties-pictures, influences from dada and Duchamp, specific use of colour and mixing old and new things (e.g. electronic wiring) visualised Zappa’s music. Sometimes Zappa suggested part of the covers, sometimes Schenkel was free to use his own design. The famous Sergeant Pepper pastiche for We’re Only In It For the Money was very clearly a team design. Burnt Weenie Sandwich’s cover was actually made for Eric Dolphy, but due to certain circumstances was never used. The use of infrared photography on Hot Rats was new in the sixties and gave exactly the alienation which Zappa was looking for in those days.
Schenkel’s covers became increasingly complex and offered real puzzles for the hardcore Zappa fanatic due to their hidden clues; often used on stage also as ‘the secret word for tonight’. Zappa’s total work consisted of the so-called ‘conceptual continuity’ and that wasn’t only meant for his music. Schenkel was not the only cover designer for Zappa. In the early period John Williams also made a general contribution to Zappa’s covers (later on also for Joe’s Garage), but Schenkel made the most impact. Maybe for his really ‘spiffy’ cover work Schenkel is the most known in Zappa circles. Zappa himself gave Cal a lot of honor, not only by clearly crediting him, but also by visualizing Cal on and in his covers. Schenkel is to be seen on We’re Only in it for the Money (holding eggs on the lower right side) and in the double spread interior of Just Another Band from L.A. That’s not all: on The Grand Wazoo he was credited on the title of one of the tracks: ‘For Calvin and his next two hitchhikers”. Mostly Zappa wasn’t that generous.
After Zappa created his own labels in the late sixties (Straight and Bizarre) Schenkel also made covers for albums of Tom Waits, Tim Buckley and Lenny Bruce. Second to the Money, Schenkel’s most famous cover, is the one he made for Trout Mask Replica. It is still the most important record of the Captain and for some people the most important record of all times. Don van Vliet’s (aka the Captain) head was covered with a very smelly carp’s head. The inner sleeve is done in solarized/photo-negative pictures. It had a strange effect on me and I liked it….
Nowadays Schenkel makes huge paintings, using mixed media. It’s is possible because of the covers he made for Zappa. The latest edition he did for Zappa was in the nineties for the rererelease of all Zappa’s discs for Ryko. For some discs he made new covers and he also did it for a few samplers. One thing was clear, his style had changed. Maybe necessary also for his own development. Still the covers he made in the past belong between the greatest ever made.
Ahead of Their Time
Burnt Weenie Sandwich
Cruising with Ruben and the Jets
Does Humor Belong In Music?
Just Another Band From LA
We’re Only In It For The Money
One Size Fits All
Roxy and Elsewhere
Son of Cheap Thrills
The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life
The Grand Wazoo
The Lost Episodes
The Mothers Fillmore East