Boyd Elder Skull Art Featured on Eagles’ Best-Selling Album in U.S. History

Eagles: Their Greatest Hits, with cover art by Boyd Elder.

The Recording Industry Association of America on Aug. 20, 2018, announced that Eagles’ “Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975)” was the best-selling album ever in the United States, certified 38x platinum – which means at least 38 million American music fans own a piece of art by Texas-born artist Boyd Elder but probably have no idea who he is.

Another four million record-buyers own “One of These Nights,” the first Eagles album to feature a Boyd Elder piece on the cover, out in 1975, according to the RIAA in 2001, the album’s most recent certification.

Among contemporary American artists, Texas art aficionados, and musicians from coast to coast, however, Elder, now 74, is a living legend – a true artlaw who has spent a lifetime expressing his artistic vision with often flagrant disregard for convention. He’s not nicknamed “El Chingadero” (Tex-Mex Spanglish for “The Fucker”) for nothing.

But to most people, including the 42+ million American fans who own his art without knowing it, Boyd Elder is the “most famous artist you have never heard of,” as writer Sterry Butcher put it in Texas Monthly’s February 2018 edition.

Not for long. Elder and a few co-conspirators are finally now assembling a massive coffee-table art book collecting images of his most significant works plus the fascinating, often hair-raising stories of the man who created them, and the people who knew him best. Publication of “ARTLAW: Boyd Elder – The Most Famous Artist You’ve Never Heard Of” (working title) is projected in 2023.

“I’ve always been more interested in what’s ahead than what’s in the rear-view, and that’s still true,” Elder said in August 2018. “But my supporters have been after me for decades to put together a cross-section of my past works and get these wild tales told. Now’s the time.” He wasn’t kidding.

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

Eagle Skull – Real or Fake?
The story behind the eagle skull on Eagles’ “Their Greatest Hits” is just one of those wild tales.

“First, the eagle skull was modeled out of clay, because it’s illegal and wrong to own a real one,” Elder said.

“I originally did the piece for Neil Young,” he said. “He had a Silver Eagle (tour) bus. I told Elliot Roberts (Young’s manager) I wanted $1,500 for it, and he told Neil I wanted $15,000 (laughs).”

Young didn’t bite at $15K.

“In time, the Eagles contacted me saying they had to put this greatest hits album out, and it had to be done right a-fucking-way,” Elder said. He showed them a slide of the faux eagle skull, and they went for it, eventually paying him $5,000 to use the piece, he said.

“I did the ‘Eagles’ and ‘Their Greatest Hits’ lettering in Santa Barbara at Mary Kuhl Smith’s house,” he said. “She was a real close friend. She’s the ‘MKS’ in the album cover credits.”

Elder didn’t have a car, so a friend’s paramour offered to drive him back to Hollywood to deliver the work.

“I had a friend, Michael Butler, and I was in love with his girlfriend,” Elder said. “We’d been seeing each other, hanging out. I said, ‘Yeah, I need a ride, to go straight to see David Geffen at Asylum Records right away.’ She said she’d take me. I asked her if she’d talked with Michael about it. ‘Oh, yeah, it’s fine. He’d love to go meet David!'”

In Hollywood, Elder worked with Glen Christiansen, Asylum’s art director, on how to best present the piece. “We went through all kinds of photographs, and finally used glass beads for the background reflector,” Elder said.

No, the bumpy background texture was not cocaine, Elder said, contrary to myth.

For “One of These Nights” a year earlier, Gary Burden was the art director. The cover earned a Grammy nomination. But for “Their Greatest Hits,” it was Christiansen.

“I did not do ‘Their Greatest Hits’ with Gary Burden – I’ve already snapped at about 10 people about that,” Elder snapped in late August 2018. “Gary Burden had nothing to do with that fucking cover. And he was all pissed off he didn’t get to do it. I wouldn’t have let him use my art anymore, anyway, the way he treated me with ‘One of These Nights.’”

Find out more about “The Most Famous Artist You’ve Never Heard Of” by reading the articles below. And stay tuned for Elder’s forthcoming book.

RELATED: Boyd Elder – Encounters of the Southwestern Kind (1978)

RELATED: ‘Supernatural’ Fate for Texas Artist Boyd Elder’s ‘Y6 Sunrise’ Bull Skull

Eagles: Their Greatest Hits 1971-75, with cover art and lettering by Boyd Elder

Note: This was the last story Boyd and I worked on together. He died October 6, 2018, four weeks after this story was posted. — SKP

Santa Clarita journalist and Grammy nominee Stephen K. Peeples (aka “El Perpetrado”) was raised by career newspaper journalists and music-lovers in Miami and Los Angeles. His first music industry gig was as an Associate Editor at Cash Box magazine in Hollywood in 1975. He has written extensively about Texas music and art and wrote his first story about Boyd Elder in 1978. Peeples was the original, award-winning producer of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series for Westwood One from 1988-1990. He earned a Grammy nomination as co-producer of the “Monterey International Pop Festival” box set (Rhino/MIPF, 1992). He was a record company Media Relations-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), then elevated to content editor of Warner Music Group websites (1998-2001). In California’s Santa Clarita Valley, Peeples 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 (archived online and still airing in reruns). At this writing (September 2018), he is VP/New Media Emeritus for Rare Cool Stuff Unltd. and a News Editor at SCVNews.comFor more info and original stories, visit exclusive behind-the-scenes interviews, subscribe to his YouTube channel. 

Article: Boyd Elder Skull Art Featured on Eagles’ Best-Selling Album in U.S. History
Category: News and Reviews
Author: Stephen K. Peeples
Article Source: