April 6th 2021 marks 40 years since the release of the album “Come An Get It” by Whitesnake. Here’s the story of how I came to create that iconic album cover artwork.
It all started early January 1981 when I got a call from an old music business friend John Ward aka Magnet. I originally met Magnet back in the early 70’s when he worked with Led Zeppelin during the time I was connected to Black Sabbath. Magnet was now working as road manager with Whitesnake who were in the final stages of recording a new album.
He explained that the band didn’t like any of the ideas for the album cover that EMI, their record label had come up with and so he suggested getting me involved. The band agreed and so I was asked to go and meet them and come up with some ideas.
Magnet told me the album was to be named “Come an’ get it” and told me that Whitesnakes lead singer David Coverdale always wanted a white snake on the cover.
That weekend I got stuck in and came up with some preliminary sketches based on the idea of temptation, seduction, Adam & Eve with the apple. “Come An Get It“
On Monday I was taken to meet up with David Coverdale at his home. I was feeling excited but nervous, hoping he would like my ideas. Luckily he did and said “you’ve got the job” or something like that.
David Coverdale said that he wanted to see the artwork progress and so I agreed to do the final piece at Magnets flat that was near to the studio where the band were recording. The following day I travelled back down to Devon and grabbed everything I would need and was soon back at the flat making a start.
I chose to paint and airbrush the artwork on a 24″ x 24″ canvas. This was double the size it would be for the album sleeve in order to get the best definition when it was reduced for print. There was no Photoshop in those days!
The final artwork sees the white snake trapped inside a glass apple on the front cover and on the reverse the glass apple is shattered and the snake set free. The power of seduction / temptation clearly too strong.
One thing I always get asked about is the snakes mouth. At the time it just felt right to give it , how should I say, “a sexual element”. I felt some apprehension at first to how it would be received and if it would be acceptable. I felt that in the context of all the elements “Come An Get It“, apple, temptation, seduction it all seemed to work. Thankfully it worked and gave the piece an edge. The American market though thought differently and apparently the mouth was airbrushed out !!
Once the artwork was finished and got sent off to EMI to be printed I chose to stick around for a while. Ian Paice, the drummer with Deep Purple and Whitesnake asked if if would do a painting of his house. This was to sit above a large open fireplace. I also painted a drum kit for him.
One day Magnet suggested we visit the house where the band were recording the album. He told me it was a special place but it wasn’t until we got there did I realised just how special. It turned out to be Tittenhurst Park in Berkshire, the house that John Lennon once lived with Yoko Ono. This was the house where they filmed the video for Imagine.
I felt quite elated and spent most of the day exploring the magnificent grounds. In the evening I was shown into the white room where the John Lennon had sat at a white piano in the video. I remember going in on my own and sat down in the silence, thinking this is amazing. To be honest it blew my mind and a shiver shot through me. Only weeks before John Lennon had been shot and killed in New York and here I was sitting in this room. I felt so inspired that later that year, I did my Imagine, a tribute to John Lennon painting in homage to a great man.
Magnet used to have quite a lot of interesting visitors to his place. One of them was Alvin Lee of Ten Years After. Alvin was a really lovely, relaxed and friendly guy to be around and he invited me over to his home and recording studio. He and his partner were interested in buying a painting. They ended up buying two in the end. I was made to feel very welcome and had a great time visiting his home. He even let me play his “Big Red” Gibson ES-335 guitar that he played at Woodstock.
Alvin’s partner told me she had a friend visiting from America and suggested it might be good to meet her. She had just written a children’s book and was looking for an illustrator. We arranged to meet her at the Holiday Inn Swiss cottage.
She was a lovely lady and during our conversation she explained that she was planning to meet an old friend later that evening. The issue was that she would be meeting him at the Mosque across the way and as a woman she couldn’t go in alone. She asked me if I would go in with her as her chaperone. I said of course and it wasn’t until we arrived I found out we were meeting Yusuf Islam, formally known as Cat Stevens. As a fan of his music I was thrilled and got to chat with him for about an hour. A truly beautiful man.
Just three days ago life had seemed quiet and fairly normal until that phone call out of the blue from Magnet. It all felt quite crazy and surreal that it was happening. When I think about it, if I had worked on the artwork from home I would never have had these wonderful encounters.
When the album finally came out I remember walking past a huge window display of my artwork on the way into EMI. I felt very elated seeing my work in shop windows and magazines.
When the tour ended I was invited to a party held at Jon Lord’s house. Jon was the keyboard player with Deep Purple and at that time also Whitesnake. To be honest I don’t remember the details of the party very clearly but do recall meeting George Harrison very briefly.
It turns out that one of the paintings I had done for Ian Paice had been a gift for George Harrison.
George was another beautiful human being and following his death in 2001 I created my tribute to George Harrison painting of him.
A few months later, Bernie Marsden (Whitesnake guitarist) got in touch and said that he had been recording what would become his second solo album and asked if I would be able to design the cover artwork for that. Of course I agreed. The album was titled “Look At Me Now” and with Bernie being such a slick guitarist I had the idea to paint him playing guitar with his hands blurred depicting the speed he could play.
The guitar and strap featured various runes and markings. On the head of the guitar I added the symbol for “Taurus”, Bernies star sign, as he was born 7th May 1951. The album was released on Parlophone. At the time only Bernie Marsden and The Beatles were on that label.
Its been 40 years now since those crazy times and its great to look back and remember the adventures and chance meetings.
The one thing that has always bothered me though is that the actual “Come An’ Get It” artwork went missing. To this day nobody knows where it went and who has got it. I would love to know what happened to my work. If you are reading this and have any clues get in touch.
If you loved this album or have enjoyed the story behind it feel free to post your thoughts in the comments.