Boyd Elder – Encounters of the Southwestern Kind, 1978

Boyd Elder's 'One of These Nights' and Rick Griffin's turkey breast cap. Composite: Randy Nauert.

A close encounter with the artist who created the skull art for Eagles’ ‘One of These Nights’ and ‘Their Greatest Hits’

By Stephen K. Peeples

Boyd Elder Profile revised and republished March 30, 2015. First version was published in Rocky Mountain Musical Express, Denver, Colo., March/April 1978.

Boyd Elder: Encounters of the Southwestern Kind

People who’ve had direct contact of one sort or another with the Southwest’s mystical nature have been struck dumb by the experience(s), whether they knew to expect such things or not.

An untamed, unnamed power lives in the red Pleistocene mud, in the long-deserted dwellings of once-thriving pre-Colombian peoples.

That kind of power is hardly obvious to practitioners of scientific methods. And as a wordsmith, it’s a challenge to describe such non-verbal phenomena.

Because it, too, is non-verbal, the artwork represented here reflects the Southwest’s mystical nature without any pretense of explanation.

These images are just a sampling of the one-of-a-kind pieces created by experimental fine artist Boyd Elder, aka “El Chingadero” (colloquial Mexican for “The Fucker”).

Whether his medium is enameled bovine skill or leather boot, hand-loomed (by Oaxaca Indians) rugs and blankets of his design, or even t-shirt designs, El Chingadero’s contemporary “American Fetish” artwork, as he calls it, symbolizes power.

‘American Fetish’ Inspired by Rick Griffin

Elder created his first piece of animal skull art in the early ’70s, inspired in part by longtime friend Rick Griffin, an L.A.-born artist he met in 1965 when both were attending the Chouinard Art Institute in downtown Los Angeles.

“It all started on Christmas (1971) in New Mexico,” Elder says.

The soft glow from the kerosene lamp reflects in his eyes, giving them a hint of wildness.

Elder continues, “Rick Griffin sent me a present packed in an apple crate and lettered ‘To Boyd’ in Olde English.

“Inside was the breastbone of a Thanksgiving turkey he’d scalloped and pinstriped,” he says.

Boyd Elder's 'El Chingadero Show' poster by Rick Griffin.
Rick Griffin’s poster for Boyd Elder’s ‘Chingadero Show’ in Venice, California, April 2, 1972.

The ‘Chingadero Show,’ 1972

Earlier that year, April 2-30, El C had mounted an exhibit of his earlier art pieces – large-format experimental creations made from resins and acrylics – he dubbed the “Chingadero Show” at a hip art gallery in Venice, California.

One of them, “Corona,” part of a set of discs 7½ feet in diameter, represents “a section of space one might have if one sliced Saturday in half,” El C says. “Corona” now hangs in Stanford University’s psychology department.

Griffin created a special poster for the Venice show, tracing the route of “El Diablo Blanco de Tejas” and his monster Ford pickup on their wild road trip west from Valentine to Venice. Only a couple hundred copies were printed and mailed out as invitations. A precious few unfolded posters were instant collector’s items.

Bernie Leadon and Ned Doheny jam at Boyd Elder’s ‘Chingadero Show’ as Jackson Browne, John Barrick, Joni Mitchell, David Geffen, and more friends sing along, April 2, 1972. Photo: Henry Diltz/Henry Diltz Photography.

At the opening reception, a revolving gallery-full of L.A. artists, musicians, and scenesters invited by El C and album cover art director friend Gary Burden raised hell with a day and a half of unbridled craziness.

As documented by renowned rock photographer Henry Diltz, “Chingadero Show” celebrants included Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Cass Elliot, David Geffen, Ned Doheny, members of the new group Eagles, and many more. It was, in fact, one of the band’s first public performances after months of writing and rehearsing.

Flying High with Eagles

A year later, after a fire in the Elder family garage in Valentine (on May 31, 1973) had destroyed several finished pieces and works in progress, El C found inspiration from Griffin’s adorned turkey breast, and created his first “American Fetish” skull art pieces.

Joni Mitchell, Cass Elliot and David Geffen at Boyd Elder's 'Chingadero Show.' Photo: Henry Diltz.
Joni Mitchell, Cass Elliot, David Geffen, and friends at Boyd Elder’s ‘El Chingadero Show.’ Photo: Henry Diltz/Henry Diltz Photography.

By then, Eagles were becoming a major recording and touring act. Hanging out with the band after a show in Dallas in late 1974, Elder showed them a couple of slides of his latest works, and they chose one of them for their next album cover, and later, another piece for the album after that.

So if you own a copy of the band’s “One of These Nights” (1975) or “Eagles: Their Greatest Hits” (1976), you own copies of El Chingadero’s artwork.

Elder says Frey owns the original photograph of the skull his band used for the “One of These Nights” cover and he refuses to remove the actual skull from its place of honor mounted on a ten-penny nail driven into one of his walls.

Joni Mitchell owns the second piece Elder created in the “American Fetish” series, called “Geronimo,” another called “Thundercloud” and the third, made of crow’s feathers and the skull of a coyote. And Jackson Browne has a couple of Chingadero pieces.

Jackson Browne (left) leads a singalong at Boyd Elder's 'Chingadero Show.' Photo: Henry Diltz.
Jackson Browne (left) leads a singalong with Bryan Garofalo (behind Browne), Joni Mitchell, Cass Elliot, David Geffen, and Ned Doheny at Boyd Elder’s ‘Chingadero Show’ in Venice, California, on April 2, 1972. Photo: Henry Diltz/Henry Diltz Photography.

Elder pursues his muse between his home in rural Valentine, Texas, and art enclaves elsewhere in Texas, California, Miami, and Hawaii, with untold stops at assorted power places in New Mexico and Arizona.

As for El Chingadero, he seems to appear and disappear at will. Not many have met him, fewer still know him well. That may change. For now, those who understand the power in his art know him best.

Elder silently braids a length of horsetail he’ll soon hang on a new painted-and-adorned “American Fetish” creation.

When he finally speaks again, he points at the star-splash covering the Southwestern night sky and talks knowingly of the orbs’ origins, so knowingly one begins to expect visitations of the Third Kind at any moment . . .

The Man and the Artlaw

So just who is this Boyd Elder character with the bad-ass Western artlaw alter-ego, with the otherworldly visions of space and time?

He could be the dude smoking Luckies on the next stool in the Cafe Corona in Freeman, Texas.

Or maybe he’s that cowboy hitchhiker who flipped you off – after you inconsiderately sped right past him up on Rt. 93 outside Wikieup, Ariz.

READ MORE: Texas Artlaw Boyd Elder Mounts Skull Art Exhibit in Austin (2016)

Or was that Elder walking out of the Sheridan Hotel in Telluride, with a tuxedo over one arm and a SCUBA tank in the other?

Elder is always on the move, “somewhere between the Astrodome and Coos Bay,” as he puts it, trying to pass as undetected as possible. He prefers the freedom of anonymity, even as his creations bring him increasing notoriety.

Art Director Gary Burden and Artist Boyd Elder, Studio City, 1978. Photo: Stephen K. Peeples.

And the spotlight in articles like this.

“You can’t take a spotlight and shine on a specific inch of me and say this is what I am,” he said. “I want the freedom to express myself through any medium.”

This mysto-shaman image thrives in what he terms the “wholistic” universe around him – the world we see, and the world we don’t see but believe in.

If others attempt to pin him to any other singular style, he says, they run the risk a) of having BE carved in their forearms or b) having their desks turned into toothpicks.

He was just kidding. Or was he?

A writer in New West magazine recently tried to pin him down, and assigned a category to his process, since no such category existed before Elder. He tagged the artist as a “primitive pointillist.”

“Imagine that guy!” Elder recoiled. “Me, a fucking pointillist!?”

Channeling El Chingadero

Then what is this distinctly Southwestern craft Boyd Elder practices? For the “American Fetish” pieces, Elder channels El Chingadero “in a total attempt to communicate power, and it blows people out of their shoes,” he says.

Eagles: Their Greatest Hits 1971-75, with cover art and lettering by Boyd Elder
The cover of Eagles’ ‘Their Greatest Hits – 1971-1975,’ with painted eagle sculpture and lettering by Boyd Elder.

“If we can do something so far out that it makes people want to puke . . . I’ve heard people say this art makes me sick . . . if we can do something so gruesome, so realistic that people just can’t stand it . . . a lot of people in the city never smell a dead object, they have no idea what it’s like to transfer that sense to the creative process.”

The power of nature is already there; Elder tries to be receptive to it and to reflect it.

“I believe I’m one of the chosen few,” he says, “but not different from anyone else – when it comes down to it we all came from the same four drops of blood.”

He feels he has been chosen to communicate with “the invisible forces” and find creative vision.

With Eagles, for instance, that vision has become an image, one that Elder says “reconfirms all the things the Eagles strive for.” The band owes “the image they supposedly wanted” to El Chingadero, he says.

Elder will continue to search for the chords that link it all together. He is motivated by the belief that one day, someone will create one thing that “everyone in the world will be able to see or hear and understand and would be able to speak it in the next second.”

What that would be is where the mystery and the power live.

“I can’t put my finger on it. You tell me what it is,” he says.

“I believe in survival, I believe in trial and error, in sorrow and in drama,” he adds.

Those beliefs inform his art.

“I want to keep on creating positive energy,” El Chingadero vows. “I will not be denied.”

Santa Clarita journalist Stephen K. Peeples was introduced to Boyd Elder by photographer Henry Diltz in early 1978. Peeples grew up in North Miami, Florida, and Los Angeles. He was the original, award-winning producer of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series for Westwood One from 1988-1990. He is also a Grammy-nominated record producer (“Monterey International Pop Festival” box, Rhino/MIPF, 1992). Peeples was a record company PR executive for Capitol Records (1977-1980), Elektra/Asylum Records (1980-1983), and Rhino Entertainment (1992-1998). He was Rhino’s first web editor (1996-1998), and then editor of Warner Music Group websites (1998-2001). In California’s Santa Clarita Valley, he was the award-winning Online Editor for The Signal newspaper’s website from 2007-2011, and wrote-hosted-co-produced SCVTV’s WAVE-nominated “House Blend” local music show from 2010-2015. He is VP/New Media Emeritus for Rare Cool Stuff Unltd. and researching and writing an authorized Boyd Elder biography, “Artlaw: Boyd Elder – The Greatest Artist You’ve Never Heard Of.”  For more stories and info, visit exclusive behind-the-scenes interviews, subscribe to his YouTube channel. 

Article: Boyd Elder: Encounters of the Southwestern Kind, 1978
Category: Blasts From the Past
Author: Stephen K. Peeples
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