INTERVIEW WITH TONY WRIGHT
BY MARCO VIRGONA
Tony Wright (b. 23 October 1949) is an artist who created album covers such as Bob Marley’s Natty Dread and Traffic’s
The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys and others including Bob Dylan’s Saved His art work for Traffic’s 1971 album
The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys and Steve Winwood’s 1980 Arc of a Diver, were listed amongst Rolling Stone’s 100
Greatest Album Covers.
Marco Virgona: Can you recall for our readers the making of the Natty Dread album cover?
Did Bob express his approval?
Tony Wright: I was asked to paint a portrait of Bob Marley for Natty Dread. I had the face painted in and wanted a ‘mayhem’ for a background but I was afraid the effect would be lightweight and cartoonish. In the ‘Tate Gallery’ in London I found a Victorian room with John Martin’s ‘The Great Day of his Wrath’. It was perfect. God destroying Babylon. I painted New York where Martin had
ancient Babylon. Using a classical painting as the background gave the piece a weighty and serious quality. Neville Garrick produced the artwork for the covers after Natty Dread up to Bob’s death but I was involved naturally in a lot of Bob Marley and continued to be so…….right now I’m designing a 5 CD set for Blue Mountain.
Naturally he was around Island all the time as all the artists were as part of the wider family. I did most of the Jamaican artists covers throughout the 70s. In 1974 or whenever Bob was recording Natty Dread he was in London It was the first time I worked with him directly. But I witnessed him from the barely dreadlocked young man playing in LA at the Roxy through to the magnificent seer-like figure of 1980.
As to your question, yes he expressed approval, it was the first record his name was up front and his image was isolated from the others. He asked me to change the label design but I’ve often foundwith artists who …well you could say have genius….those artists tend to be less interested in what’s on a cover and are very easy to work with….
The last time I saw Bob, it was in Jamaica, he greeted me but was just standing in an a strange aura of his own. He must have been sick by then but I guess didn’t know it. I was struck that it was, as if, he wasn’t in his body. There seemed to be a separation between the being and the body. In early 1970s LA after the Roxy gig Chris Blacwell took everyone to a restaurant in Malibu, as the waiter went round the table and got everyones order it came to the Wailers and their crew, it was the first time I’d heard, one after the other, “Fish with scales. Fish with scales……..or is it without?
I can’t tell you if Bob ordered off the menu. In the dressing room there was a little table top stove on which they cooked their Rasta food. Bob was gone before he was a legend. If I met him today I’d notice what he did, said, eat, but then he may have been the best of them but he was just Bob. We were spoilt in the 60s and 70s we thought another band would come along and be the ‘new Beatles’ we didn’t realize these people were going to be immortal. That would have been arrogant and unimaginative.
I’ve got the Natty Dread painting framed on a wall so I pass it and look at it several times a day.
It’s an amazing privilege.
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