Monday, June 22, 2020

Kerry Waghorn's Legendary Led Zeppelin Poster

From The Vancouver Province.

Kerry Waghorn’s Led Zeppelin poster has become something of a Holy Grail for Led Zeppelin collectors.

When Rolling Stones fans rioted outside the Pacific Coliseum on June 3, 1972, Vancouver council was alarmed. So on June 8 they voted 9-2 to cancel the city’s next big rock show, Led Zeppelin at the Coliseum.

Artist Kerry Waghorn had done a poster for the show, which was being promoted by his friend Gary Switlo of Concert Box Office.

“We would print them up in packs of 200,” explains Waghorn, 73. “For a show like that they would have printed a lot more. But I don’t know how many posters actually got out before they cancelled it.”

Forty-eight years later, Waghorn’s Led Zeppelin poster has become something of a Holy Grail for Led Zeppelin collectors.

“That poster now, because of its rarity, goes for like $17,000,” he said.

Waghorn is constantly getting requests for it on his website. Alas, he can’t even make copies, because the poster is so rare he doesn’t even own a copy himself.

But there’s a wrinkle to the story. When the gig was cancelled, Switlo gave Waghorn a partial pack of the unused posters. But he threw them out, because he didn’t like his own illustration.

“I remember having quite a few from a packet of 200,” Waghorn recalls.

“Bob (Masse) and I had an office in Gastown, and there were train tracks down below, and a dumpster. You know where that railway car restaurant is? Right there.

“And I remember throwing 150 of them away! But I console myself that if those 150 flooded the market (today) it would drop way down anyway.”

He chuckles.

“We had no idea back then that posters would be collected, we never thought like that,” he said. “It was just like a job, you did it and were happy and went on with the next one.”

It’s hard to understand why Waghorn didn’t like his illustration — it’s a marvellous depiction of the band in all their hairy glory, executed in Waghorn distinctive style.

Images like this helped make Waghorn one of the most successful caricaturists in the world — his work has been published in over 400 newspapers in 60 countries, including the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle.

Born and raised in North Vancouver, Waghorn started off doing cartoons and illustrations for the student paper at Simon Fraser University (The Peak) in the late ‘60s. 

He progressed to the Georgia Straight and then The Vancouver Sun, where he estimates he did 40 to 50 covers for Leisure magazine.

For many years he shared a studio with Masse, a legendary psychedelic poster artist. Waghorn did a lot of posters as well.

“I think I did about 40, 45,” he said. “Didn’t do nearly as many as Bob. Bob was a lot more into it than I was. My ambition — my high, lofty ambition — was always to work at The Sun, to be with Roy Peterson, a cartoonist or caricaturist.”

His big break was in 1971, when Waghorn and Masse drove to San Francisco.

“Bob knew a few people so we actually got into a van and we drove down and went to the underground comix places, all the poster studios and learnt a bunch of stuff, it was great,” he recounts.

“But then the van broke down. He wanted to go to North Beach to go to City Lights (bookstore) and all that stuff, do the beat tour, and I went to the Chronicle

I wanted to see a cartoonist called Graysmith. He wasn’t in but the receptionist said ‘Do you want to see Stanley Arnold?’”

As luck would have it, Arnold was one of the giants of newspaper syndication — he was instrumental in the success of Dear Abby, Doonesbury and The Far Side. He suggested that Waghorn try syndicating his caricatures.

“I had to do a hundred, to show I had speed and consistency, and that changed my life,” he said.

He was distributed by Chronicle and Universal Features for four decades before he retired four years ago. 

He more or less gave up posters after his syndication career took off, but you can find some of his old posters on his website,

“My best one, my fondest one, was Laura Nyro,” he said. “She was going to actually use it for a re-release of her first album — she phoned from New York and we talked quite a few times.

“But her mother decided the look I gave her made it look like she was on drugs. ‘Too stoned’ was the quote. So I didn’t do the album cover.”

John Mackie

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