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Van Halen and SMU: A Match Made in the Library

by Jerome Weeks 18 Jun 2012 9:57 AM

Who knew David Lee Roth liked libraries? He probably doesn’t. But his design firm liked something at SMU’s DeGolyer Library.


Nifty trivia: The new Van Halen reunion album, A Different Kind of Truth — the group’s first in more than a decade — features a kind of neo-Constructivist cover image. It’s based on a photo of an art-deco-y, 1930s-era, streamlined locomotive, an image that the design company, SMOG Design, found in SMU’s DeGolyer Library, specifically its digital archive of the Robert Yarnall Richie photo collection.  It features some 95,000 negatives of the photographer’s work, plus films, manuscripts and equipment. SMOG was behind album covers for Tom Petty and the Decembrists, so they’re, you know, pros.

Oh yeah. Almost forgot. Van Halen is still scheduled to perform June 20 at the American Airlines Center.

The full release follows.

Van Halen Quest Leads to SMU Library

DALLAS (SMU) –Van Halen singer David Lee Roth’s influence on the band’s latest album extends beyond his musical prowess. He selected the cover image for A Different Kind of Truth, sending designers on a far-reaching  hunt that led to SMU’s DeGolyer Library.

Roth sent Los Angeles-based SMOG Design, Inc. his concept for the cover, including a photo of the streamlined 1930s-era Henry Dreyfuss-designed locomotive. SMOG Design artists created recent album covers for Katy Perry, Tom Petty, the Decemberists and Brittney Spears.

SMOG co-owner John Heiden’s internet photo quest led him to DeGolyer Library and the original photo, one of 10,000 photos in DeGolyer’s Robert Yarnall Richie photography collection, which includes 95,000 negatives, films, manuscripts and photography equipment. Richie was an industrial photographer, known for his artistic angles and Mid-Century Modern designs. Everett L. DeGolyer, Jr. acquired the collection in the 1970s.

“Richie’s angle on the photo makes it look like the locomotive is in motion and coming off the page,” he says.

Finding an album cover image at a library is “somewhat atypical,” Heiden says. But he has become a fan of Richie’s work after trolling through DeGolyer’s digital archive.

“His compositions are direct and idealized in the way that they illuminate the subject he was documenting – machines, architecture and manufacturing facilities,” he says. “His Chrysler building images reflected in a Chrysler hubcap are simply brilliant.”

A Different Kind of Truth, Van Halen’s first album in 14 years, debuted in February at No. 2 on the Billboard chart, along with the kick-off of a 40-city tour featuring the comeback of former Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth and the introduction of 21-year-old bass player Wolfgang Van Halen, Eddie Van Halen’s son. Van Halen has cancelled 31 tour dates after June 26, but still is scheduled to perform June 20 at American Airlines Center in Dallas.

Has the album cover been a success?

“As the designers of many LP covers, Jeri (his wife and SMOG co-owner) and I have debated this subject ad nauseam,” Heiden says. “The music has to be great for the LP cover to stand the test of time. This cover becomes an instant classic because it’s Van Halen’s long awaited reunion with David Lee Roth after a 20-year hiatus.”


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