Tom Gundelfinger O’Neal – The Essential Covers

To complement our interview with the legendary Tom Gundelfinger O’Neal we take a look at 8 essential covers from his back catalogue…

Guess Who – BB King 1972


O’Neal brought the blues legend to ground zero, flat on his back. You can’t get more salt-of-the-earth than this shot:

“We rented a car and picked him up at the Aladdin Hotel in Vegas,” remembers O’Neal. “He was a Southern gentleman. We took him into the desert to find an interesting spot, but first he had to buy a little hooch at a 7-Eleven en route, which he drank in the back seat. We got to a dry lake bed with a painted sky and it was looking cool – and he was so relaxed that he fell asleep, and I got the shot with him and Lucille (King’s legendary guitar). He had so much fun that day, he didn’t want to go back to Vegas. He had so much humility. A wonderful experience.”

Déjà Vu – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young 1970

As meticulously shot as this cover is, it has been said by Stephen Stills that the album itself took a marathon 800 hours in the studio to perfect. O’Neal has some special memories of the shoot:

“The title had not existed for that album until after my cover was done. That was a very special thing. It feels magical.”

HP LoveCraft II – HP Lovecraft 1968

Although this was a short-lived, lesser-known band, Tom brought a hallucinatory eloquence to the project, with the group notorious for their psychedelic folk-rock and substantial chemical appetites.

“That cover shot was taken at the beach, which you would never know, and the colour transparency came from that shoot,” says O’Neal. “We kept extracting all the graphic possibilities that came from that. That was allegedly the first time an album was recorded with the entire band tripping on LSD. There’s a texture of shower glass on there – the effects were intended to be trippy. I manipulated the colours, too. Graphically, it was a lot of fun and the record company gave me carte blanche.”

Steppenwolf 7 – Steppenwolf 1970

O’Neal collaborated with the celebrated Canadian rockers on nine albums, including this one (their fifth, despite the title).

“The cover was created by a series of layers, as you would today using Photoshop,” says O’Neal. “I made a collage of the main photo, and the two rings at sunset were shot at different places at different times. It’s not just a typical decoupage job. These are very expensive dye transfers, very strong emulsions used. I was able to both shoot and design it, as I was given so much freedom… The inner sleeve has a Game Of Thrones feel. The record company liked it so much, they made a billboard out of it.”

Steppenwolf Live – Steppenwolf 1970

“My first take on the cover with a fake wolf was rejected by their label,” remembers O’Neal, “so I was told to get a real wolf, and found one in the Valley. The wolf was really vicious and was known to attack, so I was warned to stay outside the pen.

I got photos of him stalking a chipmunk outside his cage, but they wanted the wolf coming at you head-on. All I could think of was, ‘I’ll be a one-armed photographer if I get close’, so I borrowed a stuffed wolf and photographed it that way, painted it up to look real, and it looks pretty menacing.”

Journey Through The Past – Neil Young 1972

A soundtrack album from the film with Neil Young, with music from Buffalo Springfield and outtakes from the Harvest sessions.

“Neil called me and had ideas for that,” says O’Neal. “We took a frame from the film and made a Polaroid using a very early format of a Polaroid printer… It’s a pretty strong cover.”

4 Way Street – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young 1971

The cover for this live album by the all-conquering supergroup was shot by both Tom and his dear friend Henry Diltz.

“We used a Plexiglass box to display the photos,” says O’Neal. “We taped them on the box and used dye-transfer transparencies, with the colours very saturated. It was a very expensive and arduous task to bring all the photo effects together.”

John Phillips – John, The Wolf King of L.A. 1970

The leader and backing singer of West Coast vocal sensations The Mamas & The Papas, Phillips was a notorious figure and, ironically, the only musician O’Neal didn’t really connect with.

“The hat he wore for the shoot was a gift to him from Leon Russell,” O’Neal says. The album received major kudos from critics for its songwriting and contributions from members of The Wrecking Crew, who recorded it.