Ioannis Vasilopolous (that’s just Ioannis to you) has spent nearly two decades creating distinctive and striking artwork for some of the most luminary names in rock, blues and progressive music.
While fans of the Allman Brothers Band, which he calls “one of the last great American bands,” are probably most familiar with his cover art to 1995’s Where it All Begins, Ioannis has also lent a his talents to works by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Deep Purple, Yngwie Malmsteen, Styx, Blue Oyster Cult, jazz-fusion violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, and Johnny Winter, among many others.
As a young man, the Greek immigrant was always attracted to both rock music and art. When he saw the books Views by legendary artist Roger Dean (most famous for his work with Yes) in 1975, he finally found a way to connect his two loves. Deciding that his given name was too long to be catchy (and likely too hard for Americans to say properly), he styled himself after one of his musical heroes, the Greek composer Vangelis (of the Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner soundtracks).
It proved to be a very fortuitous choice.
“The [nickname] for Ioannis is ‘Yanni,’ ” he laughs. “If I’d gone that route, it’d be a nightmare!”
Ioannis got his start by working with local talent in his home state of Connecticut in the late 70s and early 80s. His first professional work came on the self-titled debut of a band called Art in America that featured included keyboardist T Lavitz (Dixie Dregs, Jazz is Dead). Guitarist Steve Morse (Deep Purple) was also involved with the project. The Yes connection was still alive: the album was produced by Eddie Offert, who worked with that band.
The cover of Art in America is a mystic affair, a long view over a landscape full of mountains and valleys. The dawn is breaking, blues dominate the scene, especially the swirling sky. A long line of blue, pearlish spheres (a recurring motif in Ioannis’s work) guide the eye from the lower left of the cover far off into the distance.
Regular work for major artists followed for the rest of the decade. But by the early 90s, Ioannis had decided to “get really serious-” he wanted to go into business for himself. He founded the firm Vivid Images Design to achieve that end.
“I wanted it to be approached from the fans’ point of view,” he says, rather than a business point of view.
That view has always driven his work. He recalls the work that first attracted him to cover art: Dean’s with Yes and the Hipgnosis art featured on Pink Floyd’s albums, as well as such famous works as Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell.
“The record covers attracted me as much as the music did. It worked hand in hand.”
In early 1994, Ioannis was able to take that approach to work for the band he calls “one of the last great jam bands:” the Allman Brothers Band.
“I made contact with [ABB manager] Bert Holman through the Allman Brothers Band’s merchandising company,” he says. He brought three or four different ideas, expecting to contribute them to t-shirts and posters for that summer’s tour.
“Unbeknownst to me, they had pretty much run into a brick wall with designs for a new album,” he says of what came next. The band was nearing completion of its next studio album, and was in need of artwork. They had talked to a handful of other artists, but none had contribted anything that captured the band’s attention.
Holman appraised Ioannis of the situation and asked if he could try his hand at designing the cover for the still-untitled release.
Time was very short, and to make matters worse, Ioannis was not even allowed to hear any of the album to help get a sense for its musical content.
“I did these two miniature paintings, about 10” by 10”, two very quick concepts,” he says of the results. One of the two was chosen to become the cover.
Holman’s immediate response?
“He said, ‘Oh wow, this is great- I’m gonna show Dickey.”
Upon seeing the artwork, Betts knew that the album was to be called Where it All Begins. Unfortunately, both he and Holman had mistaken the concepts’ state of completion. They were only sketches, and were never intended to be a final product.
Ioannis had only another week to transform the preliminary sketches into a full-fledged cover. He made it in time, but the final results bore little resemblance to the sketch Betts and Holman had liked so much.
“It didn’t even look remotely the same, it looked like something from a different series,” he says.
Unaware of the changes, Holman invited Ioannis to Boston, where the band was rehearsing for the summer tour.
Holman brought the band one by one into a side room to see and evaluate Ioannis’s final effort.
“Dickey was just over the moon with it,” he reports. Betts told Ioannis “I understand your spirit as an artist.”
That version of the band’s signature mushroom logo shining like the sun in a wooded scene, endures to this day, and Ioannis says it is among his favorite of his own works.
“It’s become one of their most popular images, right up there with [the peach and truck from] Eat a Peach,” he comments. It is still featured in the band’s stage art, and has now become a part of its Web site.
The artist designed two t-shirts for that summer’s tour, and also contributed artwork to the 1998 tour. He may also design the cover art for the band’s recently completed (and, perhaps true to pattern, still untitled) studio album, due out in the first quarter of next year.
While he says it is a challenge to work with a band with such recognizable symbols, Ioannis is excited to work with the Brothers again, and he has nothing but kind words for them.
“They’re one of the last greats, they really are,” he says. “They’re at the top of their game as far as I’m concerned.
As the process with the Allmans continues, Ioannis is now busy with a second company, Dangerous Age Graphics, which will feature original artwork, limited-edition prints signed by Ioannis himself or the artists for whom they were designed, and many other items. Limited edition prints from the Allman Brothers Band will be included, and the art, as always, will be approached from the perspective of the fan.