Stephen Kroninger
Cal Schenkel

My appreciation of Cal Shenkel's work began around forty years ago when I first discovered the music of Frank Zappa. Beginning in 1967, Schenkel was the in-house artist/art director for Zappa and his Bizarre/Straight record labels. Along with Zappa his work also appeared on albums by Captain Beefheart, The GTOs, Tom Waits, The Fugs and Wildman Fischer among others. In the time of vinyl, album cover art was an integral part of the entire package. The art and music were of a piece. I can't think of another pairing of artists that explified this better than Schenkel and Zappa. Both embodied an aesthetic than ran counter to the prevailing counter-culture. His work has been deeply influential. Schenkel's many acolytes include Gary Panter and Matt Groening. In my head I have my own personal Illustrators Hall Of Fame. Cal was inducted with the first class.
 In the links at the bottom of this thread are to two interviews that fill in a lot of biographical information. When selecting art for this post I focused on his paintings, drawings and assemblages dating from his earliest work with Zappa to the present.
"When I first met him (Zappa) in New York, the art studio was in his apartment – but that was only for a brief period. I didn’t actually live there, but I would commute to work at his place. When we moved to LA when he had rented the log cabin, I had a wing of it. It was my living quarters and art studio, which I rented separately from him. There was probably more of a chance to fraternize when I lived in that close proximity than when I didn’t, but even when I lived in my own place I’d be hanging out a lot and listening to what he was doing with the music. I think that it was just that I happened to fit the mold. I’m not sure I totally did understand it, but it just happened to coincide with what I was doing. I liked working in a lot of different directions and doing very eclectic stuff and working in different styles and Frank was doing that with his music."---Cal Schenkel

We're Only In It For The Money (1968)

Design: Cal Schenkel, Photography: Jerry Schatzberg

"It was Frank's concept, and it was just a question of parodying what already existed. First Frank did a little sketch of the cover and said, 'I want to find all these people and get them and put them in the picture.' And there were like 100 people. We started to try and get people and it was just impossible. Jimi Hendrix was the only live person there other than the Mothers and the corporate members and Herb Cohen (manager), Tom Wilson (executive producer) and a few others like Gail (Zappa). The rest were just found images, some of them came out of Frank's High School year Book and there were some old pictures I had...This was the first job I did. It was a very complicated piece and I had no idea what I was doing, but the printers for MGM were actually printing the Sgt Pepper job so they were able to help me match the look really well, in fact we printed the insert sheets with Sgt Pepper on the same press run." *

We're Only In It For The Money insert cut-outs

print advertisement for the album 1968

Cruising With Ruben & The Jets (1968)

"When we were still in New York, I started working on the Ruben & The Jets story, which is connected with the Uncle Meat story in which this old guy turns this teenage band into these dog spout people. That came out of my love for comics and anthropomorphic animals." *

Uncle Meat insert booklet (front cover)

Trout Mask Replica (1969)

"The original concept came from Don Van Vliet's title, then I decided, 'Well, why don't we get a real fish head?' We went to the farmer's market and got this actual fish head, a real fish head and rigged it up for a prop. It was just an amazing session." *

Burnt Weeny Sandwich (1969)

Originally done for an Eric Dolphy album, Moop Record, that Frank was supposed to produce. "It took about a day. I found all these interesting things and it went very quickly. But then the project was cancelled and the piece of art just sat there. Then Frank used it for Burnt Weeny." *

The Fugs Alive At The Fillmore East: Golden Filth (1970)

animated sequence for the film 200 Motels (1971)

The Grand Wazoo (1972)

"The back cover of The Grand Wazoo is where the Uncle Meat character is introduced, so there's the connection with that album. The Grand Wazoo was pretty much a straight interpretation of the story that's inside. Frank wrote it out inside, I just interpreted." *

One Size Fits All (1975)

"The sofa came out pretty nice. The cover was specified by the storyline. The back cover was my idea, 'Oh, why don't we do a star chart?' I found one and goofed on all the names and put together a funny star chart." *

Tinseltown Rebellion (1981)

"I did that piece for a tour book, a quicker version, then Frank said, 'Why don't we use this for the cover?' and I said, 'Well I can do a more involved version.' So I got involved." *

NO-D Glasses, front and reverse, Honker Home Video, Barfko-Swill (1987)
Frank Zappa modeling NO-D Glasses

The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life (1995)

Cheep Thrills (1998)

Son of Cheep Thrills (1999)


quotes marked with an * first appeared in MOJO Zappa Special. HAVE A COPY SENT STRAIGHT TO YOUR HOME! Also includes a spread where Cal Schenkel identifies who's who on the Sgt. Pepper parody cover for We're Only In It For The Money.

Recent Articles

Washington Square Park (22)

CITY SYMPHONY: Video and Production Art (51)

Children's Book Sketchbook (Psssst...It's Me the Bogeyman) (27)

Faces (14)

My Studio (49)








LINKS--Advertising (11)



Links to Articles
Stephen Kroninger