Artist Alton Kelley died last week. The name might not immediately strike a bell with most, but the elaborately designed concert posters from 1960s and 1970s bearing names like the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix or album covers for The Beatles, Journey and Steve Miller speak his name loud and clear.
Alton Kelley, along with collaborator and fellow artist Stanley "Mouse" Miller, was one of the creators of the artwork that proved to be just as enticing as the music for an entire generation of fans. The psychedelic San Francisco graphic style of Alton’s and Miller’s posters soon hit the streets and lured fans to such venues as the Avalon Ballroom, the Fillmore Auditorium and Winterland arena.Credited with designing the skull and roses image for the Grateful Dead and the wings seen on Journey albums, Alton created to a new kind of concert poster, band logo and album cover that went far and beyond the staid and static musician photo that so often graced posters and covers. Culling ideas from artist Gustav Klimt, poster art from Japan and vintage art nouveau design with its characteristic stylistic flow, Alton and Miller at times produced a poster a week for such groups as Big Brother and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Hendrix and the like.
While the iconic art style that summed up an entire generation of music created by Kelley and Miller might have faded somewhat, it remains a powerful draw. Original posters and handbills found on Wolfgang’s Vault continue draw nostalgic fans and can cost hundreds of dollars. A search of Wolfgang’s Vault offered a bit of sad irony to Kelley’s death in the form of a handbill for a Bo Diddley concert at the Longshoreman’s Hall in San Francisco, a reminder of another sad passing this past week.
Recently, Mr. Kelley and Mr. Miller designed a poster for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Alton Kelley succumbed to complications from osteoporosis. He died at his home in Petaluma, California and is survived by his mother, sister and wife Marguerite Trousdale Kelley, children Patty, Yosarian and China and grandchildren. Mr. Kelley was 67.
The family has requested contributions be made to Petaluma’s Washington Mutual Western Street branch in order to create a memorial bench for Kelley in the Sonoma County Park.