Flournoy Holmes talks Allman Brothers and his famed album covers

Credit: Brenda Stepp

Credit: Brenda Stepp

The artist talks about the origin of the album title “Eat a Peach” and how he painted Charlie Daniels’ bus.

There’s a good chance that nearly every music lover’s home has at least one album cover that was designed by Atlantan Flournoy Holmes.

He created the iconic cover (and psychedelic inside fold-out) for the “Eat A Peach” album by The Allman Brothers Band, which Rolling Stone recently named as one of the 100 greatest album covers of all time. His art has also appeared on the covers of albums by Kansas, Widespread Panic, The Charlie Daniels Band, The Derek Trucks Band, Wet Willie and Tinsley Ellis.

Credit: Spruill Gallery

Credit: Spruill Gallery

Holmes is the art director for Atlanta’s Landslide Records, the indie label that was the original recording home of Widespread Panic, Colonel Bruce Hampton and the Late Bronze Age, Derek Trucks, Tinsley Ellis and others. The label, founded by Michael Rothschild, celebrates its 40th anniversary today with the release of a two-disc compilation that features music from its entire history. The cover features the Landslide logo that Holmes designed in 1981.

Holmes grew up in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and began to draw at an early age. He graduated from the University of Georgia on a full art scholarship and began to design Southern rock albums released by Macon’s Capricorn Records. He has been nominated for several Grammy Awards and his work is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. His cover for the 1979 multi-platinum eponymous Christopher Cross album — a painting of a flamingo — was credited with re-igniting the pink flamingo yard-art craze in the ‘80s.

Credit: Spruill Gallery

Credit: Spruill Gallery

Holmes is also a musician and photographer, and his work has been displayed at the King Plow Arts Center, Spruill Arts Center, Georgia Museum of Art and the Nexus Contemporary Arts Center.

In a chat with ArtsATL on the back deck of his home in Atlanta, Holmes reflected on his career, the bands and musicians who have used his work, and sets the record straight on the “Eat A Peach” album cover.

ArtsATL: When did your path as an artist first begin?

Flournoy Holmes: I began painting in sixth grade. I got a college scholarship in arts — so it’s always been art for me. I was actually accepted to Yale, in their graduate art program. But by then, I just couldn’t deal with more years of school. I was done. So, instead, I went to Europe and hitched around for a year and slept in a sleeping bag.

ArtsATL: What got you into designing the artwork on album covers?

Holmes: Well, interestingly enough, there was this guy doing a documentary on the band Wet Willie. They had just signed with Capricorn Records. It was in Athens, they were playing a gas station. There was no stage. They were just standing there playing, and they were really, really good. I went up to them and started talking to them because there was hardly anybody there. They were super nice and the lead singer, Jimmy Hall, said, “Hey man, we just signed with Capricorn Records and we need somebody to design an album cover. You know anybody?” I said, “Well, I just finished art school, so I could do that for you.” So we did it. That was my first album cover. And it actually got voted runner up for best album cover through an Athens radio station. That led me to doing lots of things with Capricorn. Like the changing of their old logo to their new logo.

Credit: Bita Honarvar

Credit: Bita Honarvar

ArtsATL: You designed The Allman Brother Band’s famous “Eat A Peach” album. There is much controversy over what is meant by the name. Any thoughts on that?

Holmes: Well, there’s so much misinformation out there over the name. Duane (Allman) and I named the album. He and I were meeting in Macon with Frank (Fenter) and Phil (Walden), who were the vice president and president of Capricorn. Duane was late and I was out there waiting for him. When he got there, he was looking at the album cover before we went in and he said, “Man, this is great. What are we going to call it?” And, I said, “I don’t know. How about ‘eat a peach’?” and he said, “How about ‘eat a peach for peace’?” And I said, “How about ‘eat a peach’?” And, he said, “OK.” It was that simple.

ArtsATL: Duane Allman died before that album was released. What word best describes Duane in your mind?

Holmes: Cool. He was just a cool guy. You know, a week before he was killed, we were going to get together so I could paint his motorcycle. I had already painted Gregg Allman’s speakers, the Leslie stack he used for his organ. I did the crazy artwork on them. Duane liked that artwork and wanted me to do something on his bike. But that would not end up happening.

ArtsATL: You designed the cover of Widespread Panic’s first studio album, “Space Wrangler.” How’d that one come about for you?

Holmes: Well, I was this hippie, living off the grid, no phone. Phil (Walden) was getting all these phone calls from labels looking for me. He told me years later he’d tell people, “I don’t know how to get in touch with him. He’s this hippie who lives out in the woods; he doesn’t even have a phone. I just have to wait until I see him.”

But my Panic connection came through Landslide Records, not Capricorn. Panic was originally signed to Landslide Records. Michael Rothschild, who founded Landslide, was letting me live on this couch while I was going through my divorce. He opened an office on 14th Street and started the label. So I started staying there. I was living in the studio and I began listening to demo-tape submissions with Michael and offering an opinion. Panic was a new group out of Athens. Michael signed them and did their first album and I did the cover. And I went on to do several posters and about 10 album covers — some for European release, some for singles — for them. I also became the artistic director for Michael at Landslide and remain that to this day, 40 years later.

ArtsATL: Tell me about the celebration of Landslide’s 40th-year anniversary and the commemorative two-disc compilation.

Holmes: Well, it’s very exciting to be celebrating 40 years with Michael and Landslide Records. And it’s still going strong, which is quite amazing. Mike is a super guy and the music he puts out is really, really good. But not all really good music makes it big. It’s not always about the big hits. To commemorate Landslide’s 40th year, he’s put together a double CD with 33 tracks. It has some great music on it from Panic, Colonel Bruce Hampton, Derek Trucks, Tinsley Ellis, Webb Wilder and many more. And Michael’s still using the same logo on the label I created 40 years ago. So that’s pretty cool.

Credit: Flournoy Holmes

Credit: Flournoy Holmes

ArtsATL: You just mentioned Colonel Bruce Hampton being signed to Landside. You just recently did the cover for Jerry Grillo’s book, The Music and Mythocracy of Col. Bruce Hampton. What was your relationship with the Colonel?

Holmes: I met him at UGA. The Hampton Grease Band played and they were really good, though I was about the only person there. We became good friends. We played golf together a lot. Bruce was living in his car, parked outside of my house. He’d come into my house, eat all of my food, and we’d hang out — which was fine with me. He’d bring over different musicians to come hang out on the porch, and it was just awesome. We had some really great jam sessions. Bruce and I were really good friends. There were so many moments and great stories with him. He was fun. He was so weird. I really miss Bruce.

ArtsATL: You have so many stories about so many artists over the years. Can you share one of your favorites?

Holmes: Well, some stories I can’t, or shouldn’t, repeat. But one funny story I can share was Charlie Daniels called me and said, “I want you to fly to Nashville and paint my bus.” I had done the album cover for the “Fire on the Mountain” album, and the album was hugely successful. So he wanted me to recreate it on the door of his bus. Off I went to Nashville, thinking I’d be able to do it in one day. But when I started it, I realized it was gonna take a while. Charlie and the band walked up and he says, “Get in the bus, we’re going on tour. You’re going with us.” I said, “What? I don’t even have a toothbrush, man.” Charlie said, “I don’t care. Get on the bus. We’re going to New York City.” So in the bus I went. The next day, they’re doing the sound check and I’m painting the bus — which is parked on the street in NYC — because I’m thinking, “I’ve got to finish this thing and get back home.”

All of a sudden, I look up and there’s a crowd gathered. A guy walks up and asks, “Do you know a guy named Flournoy Holmes? He did that album cover.” I said, “Yeah, I know him. That’s me.” He said, “Great, can I get your autograph?” And that led to me signing about 25 people’s shirts, shoulders, bras — basically, anything I could sign. They didn’t know anything about me, they just assumed I was famous and got in line. It was quite ridiculous.

ArtsATL: You have your own band, an acoustic trio called Flying Mystics. Have you been able to get back out and play?

Holmes: Yes. We just played outdoors at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, which is a great place for a concert. We really enjoyed it and it was great to play out again.

ArtsATL: What is your latest art project?

Holmes: Designing the poster for the 10th Annual Holiday Hootenany show in Atlanta on December 19 at the Variety Playhouse. There’ll be some great artists performing for a great cause — Atlanta’s Habitat for Humanity.

Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL

Working closely with the American Press Institute, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is embarking on an experiment to identify, nurture and expand a network of news partnerships across metro Atlanta and the state.

Our newest partner, ArtsATL (www.artsatl.org), is a nonprofit organization that plays a critical role in educating and informing audiences about metro Atlanta’s arts and culture. Founded in 2009, ArtsATL’s goal is to help build a sustainable arts community contributing to the economic and cultural health of the city.

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be introducing more partners, and we’d love to hear your feedback.

You can reach Managing Editor Mark A. Waligore via email at mark.waligore@ajc.com.