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Interview: Album Covers & Magazine Designer Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule
Obi-Dan   |  

You may not recognise the name, but I guarantee that you have seen (or own) his work. For over 30 years, Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule has designed album covers for the likes of Hawkwind (Live ‘79), Ozzy Osbourne (Diary Of A Madman, Bark At The Moon), Black Sabbath (Born Again), and more.

For 10 years he was the art director for Kerrang! Magazine that Metallica’s Lars Ulrich once called “the most important magazine for us.”

I called up the “van Gogh of metal” for an extensive chat about his work, comics, and his dear friend, guitar hero Würzel. He’s funny, he’s sweary, and he tells it like it is.

Geeks of Doom: First of all, do I call you ‘Krusher’ or Steve?

Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule: Most people call me Krusher.

Geeks of Doom: Where did that come from?

Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule: It was when I was working on Kerrang [magazine]. I just wanted a nickname for a week and thought it would be clever to have Krusher spelled K-E-R-R – as in Kerrang – and U-S-H-E-R. Somebody changed it at the printers to Krusher thinking it was a spelling error…and it just stuck! [laughs]

Geeks of Doom: You’re most well known, to me at least, for designing Ozzy Osbourne album covers particularly Diary Of A Madman and Bark At The Moon. How did that come about?

Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule: It basically came about through work contacts and the old saying of ‘being in the right place at the right time’ basically. I used to work for a company called, I think it was called Grey Brain…it was part of Motörhead’s management company. I had been asked to do Motörhead’s first-ever tour programme and they liked it and it kind of developed from there. I got to do quite a few, well, quite a lot, of merchandising for not just Motörhead but Ted Nugent, Girlschool, and Black Sabbath for the ‘Heaven and Hell’ tour, the first one with Ronnie [James Dio]. Through that I met the photographer Fin Costello who was providing some of the photographs for the tour programme and we just hit it off. He had done album covers for KISS, Rush, well, to name a couple. Oh, Deep Purple’s Burn, the candle ones he did. So he was quite high profile and he just out of the blue asked me if I would be interested in working with him on the Diary Of A Madman cover. Basically he offered me to art direct it, come up with the basic idea for it, and that was it really.

Geeks of Doom: Cool. You said the cover for Diary Of A Madman was inspired by Hammer house of horror and you wanted a bit of humour in there as well.

Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule: Yeah, the actual original idea for it was more or less the set that you got on the cover, but my idea was to have, right in the foreground, a really old leather-bound diary, that, obviously a little girl had found Ozzy’s lair, got in there, and was reading the diary. Ozzy was supposed to be coming through the door behind her, a bit like the old Frankenstein where [there would be] a little girl with the monster in the background. In the end, it got changed to just Ozzy being the main centerpiece of the picture and we had Ozzy’s son from his first marriage whose name I believe was John [Ed. Note: Ozzy’s first son is Louis John Osbourne]. He sat slumped over the table, I think he sat in the corner of the picture on the front of the cover…I still am a great Hammer horror film lover and also not just Hammer, but also the classics like Frankenstein, Bride Of Frankenstein, you know, Werewolf, all those sort of things…that was one of my inspirations for the cover and also I got a lot of inspiration from comics as well.

Geeks of Doom: Really? What comics do you read, or did read?

Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule: I used to read everything I could get my hands on up until the ‘90s, early 90s, and then I basically stopped. I don’t know why. Yeah, it was money. I couldn’t support it and also at the time I was going out with a girl who worked in a comic shop [called] Top Ten Comics, which was owned by Jonathan Ross and Paul Gambaccini. She was the manager there so I got a lot of free comics which I don’t think Jonathan Ross would be too happy about! I used to love the Creepy and Eerie comics and also, not another comic but a magazine, Famous Monsters. I used to love that one as well. When I was a kid my mum used to take me to Kidderminster market once a week and there was a stall there…the deal was once you’ve read it you could come back and part-exchange it. So I had I think I had Fantastic 4, X-Men, Spider-Man, The Hulk, and probably a few other number ones that I part exchanged! [laughs]

Geeks of Doom: I bet you were kicking yourself!

Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule: Could have fucking retired comfortably! And that’s how my love for comics – actually no, that wasn’t my actual love for comics. I was actually very young and my grandparents used to buy me a comic called, I think it was called, Play Hour. It was basically for kids who were about 4, 5 years old and, yeah, from that I got a love for reading comics and continued. But sadly as I say I hadn’t bought a new comic in years, but I’ve still got a pretty good collection of stuff from the early ‘70s through to the ‘90s.

And I also used to have 10 pages original artwork from Watchmen.

Geeks of Doom: Wow!

Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule: Yeah I know! But sadly over the years I had to sell them one-by-one. I sold my last one, let me think…a year ago and it was page one and issue one signed by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. [I’ve] still got a few bits of original art still, got some signed [Simon] Bisley and a couple of black and white pages from Iron Man and The Hulk and stuff like that from the ‘70s, but obviously you don’t get nearly as much money for them as the Watchmen.

Geeks of Doom: No, but still impressive. Have you read Dodgem Logic, Alan Moore’s comics magazine?

Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule: No, no. Sadly I haven’t kept up with anything at all although obviously having met Alan Moore a few times and obviously Dave Gibbons to get the pages signed. Dave Gibbons was not at all happy when he saw page one of issue one. He just went, “bloody hell, I told the fucking wife not to sell this one!” [Laughs] “Too late, mate, sign it for me!”

Geeks of Doom: [Laughs] I bet he was secretly chuffed really.

Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule: Well hopefully. To be honest I wish I could have kept them. They were great pages that I bought and at the time they were pretty expensive, they were ranging between £80 and £60 a year after or even maybe later in the year from when Watchmen was released. And again that was just being in the right place at the right time. I was just passing a comic shop that I used to pass on my way to work at Kerrang and he was literally sticking a poster up in the window going ‘original Watchmen artwork for sale’ and as he’s sticking it in I opened the door and said, “where is it?” He goes, “oh that person at the end has the portfolio, that’s it.” And this person was literally opening the portfolio, you know, unzipping it, and I legged it down to where he was and the owner followed me and as we were getting there he [the owner] goes, “do you have any idea what pages you want?” and this poor guy opened the portfolio and there it was page one, issue one. I said, “yeah, that one!” [Laughs] and I got it on the spot.

Geeks of Doom: The other guy must have been furious! You also designed Black Sabbath’s Born Again which caused quite a stir at the time.

Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule: Yeah, it’s one of those ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ covers.

Geeks of Doom: Do you think the fuss made of that was all blown out of proportion?

Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule: Absolutely. But I learned early on that the more press an album gets, the happier the band and the management are, no matter if it’s good or bad press. If you’ve got a controversial album cover you’re always going to get press on it and it will eventually help the sales.

Geeks of Doom: You said that you designed it to piss off Don Arden.

Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule: No, not to piss him off. It was a polite gesture as I’d been asked to do it.

I knew I had Ozzy’s Bark At The Moon album cover coming up and I didn’t want to piss off Sharon [Osbourne, Don’s daughter] by doing the Black Sabbath cover. So I basically came up with four ideas that were pretty shite and the first idea that went through my head was born again – baby. Yeah, horns, fangs, all that shit. I had a picture I could nick it all from and when I went to the meeting to be told whether it was on or off, I got told in no uncertain terms that it was definitely on. I explained the story to Sharon she didn’t fucking hold it against me [she] let me do the Bark At The Moon one and that was the last Ozzy cover I ever did. Because I think she was pissed off basically! [laughs] Because I’d done a good job on Diary and Speak Of The Devil she thought she’d keep my services for one last attempt and, you know, that was that.

Geeks of Doom: Well love it or hate it, personally I think Born Again is a brilliant cover. The fact that it’s still being talked about almost 30 years later is amazing.

Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule: Yeah, yeah, I know. You know the album was re-released a few months back, I think it was at the end of May, it was a special re-issue. Believe it or not, even though I designed the fucking cover I still haven’t been sent a copy of the album…and I have received no payment for using my artwork again. Even though any contract I would have signed for it in ‘83 which there will be no fucking record of because everything disappeared after fucking Don Arden basically became ill with Alzheimer’s. But there were no CD covers [back then]…I probably signed something saying it could be reproduced on album and as an album sleeve but certainly not as a CD sleeve and, you know, I should be paid for it but sadly I don’t even get asked. I did chase it up with the record company, but there’s no way that I can afford to take them on…they’d take it to court and it’s just not worth it. I consider myself to be the van Gogh of metal! [laughs]

Geeks of Doom: [Laughs] That could be your new nickname!

Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule: Yeah! [laughs] van Gogh? van Krusher! [laughs] But yeah it’s no fucking use getting upset about it. As you say my name is still on it and it still is getting talked about and, yeah, I’m happy with that! [laughs] I know it’s left its mark and quite a few people did like it. One good story I heard about it was Kurt Cobain, and I’ve never actually verified this or bothered to read up on it, apparently Kurt Cobain, after his death, they published his diaries and somewhere in his diaries, this is obviously way before Nirvana, it was his birthday and his mum took him out to Wal-Mart or wherever. [She] said, “you can pick any album you want and I’ll buy it for your birthday” and he picked Black Sabbath Born Again. She refused point blank to allow that hideous cover to be allowed in the house! [laughs] I’ve always wandered about it because on the Nevermind album cover he used a baby, you know, the baby swimming, and I don’t know if it was some kind of inspiration for it. The baby chasing the dollar, it’s another little devil baby! [laughs] So, yeah, there could be a connection.

Geeks of Doom: Wow! How did you become art director for Kerrang Magazine?

Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule: I’d just done Diary Of A Madman and I was getting quite a lot of regular work coming in from heavy metal bands. Merchandising and the odd singles cover and stuff like that. I just phoned up Alan Lewis who was the editor of Kerrang at the time and said “I’m a freelance designer, would you be interested in having a look at my portfolio?” Obviously I dropped the fact that I’d worked for Ozzy and Motörhead and shit like that and he said “yeah, bring it along”. We had an amazing lunchtime drinking session in the pub just around the corner where Kerrang was based…this was just before Christmas he said, “look, we’ve got the Christmas break now. Go away and have a go at re-designing the logo and the mastheads,” you know, like ‘albums’, ‘tours’, ‘news’ that they could use on a fortnightly basis for the magazine. I came back after Christmas with those all done; he absolutely loved it. Within a couple of weeks of that he offered me the job as art director on a freelance basis…sadly Kerrang has become a pile of shit (since then) [laughs]. Since Emap Publishing took it over in ‘92 I think it was and just turned it into fucking Smash Hits. It’s quite upsetting having worked for it for ten years and actually helped to establish it being considered to be, at that time, the heavy metal bible. And they just won’t acknowledge me now, I don’t exist as far as Kerrang’s concerened. The most recent example was my friend Würzel, he was in Motörhead. He died about 4, 5 weeks ago and Motörhead released an official press release. In it it said, ‘and as our good friend Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule said, “RIP dear Würzel, a rocker and a gentleman”’ and Kerrang ran the whole press release but took that line out.

Geeks of Doom: Really?!

Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule: Yeah, seriously. It’s not worth getting upset about, but that’s the kind of mentality that sometimes you have to deal with…there was ten years there that were special, and they were, and when we would do Kerrang at that time it wasn’t a bunch of specialised journalists who specialised in rock. It was just a bunch of rock fans who absolutely loved rock music and we all felt incredibly, incredibly privileged that we were in a position to work for this magazine. We all wanted to make it the best we could and put the best that we could into it. So people that were working at the time as I say Alan Lewis the editor, absolutely brilliant guy. People like Dante Bonutto and Malcolm Dome and Mick Wall. They all made it something special, all good people to work with. Sadly some of them aren’t anymore! [laughs] Some of them let it go to their heads. There were some good people but now I just think it’s full of fucking devils and fucking demons.

Geeks of Doom: You can certainly tell the difference. I’ve got a stack of old Kerrangs and the journalism is very slick now but back then there was a lot of excitement in the writing.

Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule: And also it was personal…the journalists had a personality and as I say with some of them it did go to their heads because suddenly the journalists became almost as established as some of the rock bands. But now with Kerrang I couldn’t even name a journalist on it…they’re just taking everything, every bit of personality and character out of the magazine which is horrendous. It’s quite sad really.

I sometimes wonder if it was fucking worth it, but it was at the time.

Geeks of Doom: Well yeah, it wouldn’t be where it is now without that.

Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule: Oh no, it wouldn’t. And Emap wouldn’t have bought it if it hadn’t been doing so well. I remember at one point this was probably a couple of years before Emap bought it but basically Kerrang made a million pounds profit. The publishing company then (Spotlight), they had a load of other mags. They had Sounds, Record Mirror, and then they had girly mags like Over 21 and shit like that. Basically our million pound profit went into fucking keeping these other things alive…I remember we went fucking ballistic when some fucking crap offshoot from Sounds, can’t even remember what it was called it lasted about 6 issues, anyway, they set up the offices in the same building as us. We saw the fucking stereo system that they’d bought for them and we then looked at ours. I basically was going to throw it out the window but they stopped me. But I did manage to smash it so they had to buy us a new one, which I got reprimanded for! [laughs]

Geeks of Doom: Is that why you left Kerrang?

Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule: It was because Emap fucking bought the magazine. They promised us when they bought us that they were not going to change it. Everybody had a safe job. When they actually saw how we worked, which was pretty fucking hardcore, you know, there were bottles of Jack, beers, fucking lines of coke, going outside fucking have a smoke, all of that. It was fucking sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll that produced that magazine. And Emap absolutely fucking hated it, they couldn’t understand it. So one-by-one they picked off the people they didn’t want on it and I was the first to go.

I got taken down the pub by Geoff Barton, Geoff ‘spineless’ Barton. He was the editor at the time and he bought me a pint, sat down and said, “erm, I don’t know how to tell you this but we’re advertising your job in the national press and any press that we’re associated with, advertising with.” And he goes, “and we don’t want you to apply.”

Geeks of Doom: What?!

Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule: Yeah, that was it, literally…basically they just didn’t want me anymore. I’ve still got the fucking letter which one day I’ll publish on my website…I literally just fucking – I did drink me lager – I just went back in the office, chucked everything that I wanted in to a bag and walked out. And that was the last time I was ever at Kerrang.

Geeks of Doom: Ok, what about your band?

Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule: Oh yeah WVKEAF: Wurzel Violent Krusher Evil As Fuck. We did one record, one single which was a hardcore techno version of “Jump”, have you ever heard it?

Geeks of Doom: Not your version.

Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule: Oh, it’s a cracker mate…it was working with Johnny Violent who also has a band [called] Ultraviolence. I’d heard an album of his called Life Of Destructor and I’d never heard fucking hardcore techno like that before. It was like ‘this is just fucking genius!’ I got in contact with him, asked Würz if he’d be interested ‘cause he was doing fuck all at the time…it was sort of a semi-joke thing that, you know, if anything came of it that would have been a bonus. But yeah, we got it out and that was it – we split up because of horticultural differences, in all honesty! [laughs] Würzel had more or less actually given up on music after that.

He went to, oh I can’t remember what the proper word is, but it’s like a college for gardening and farming and landscaping. He did that for a few years and so it was – horticultural college – that was true! [laughs]

Geeks of Doom: [Laughs] Wow! Well, since Kerrang left you out of their statement is there anything you would like to say about Würzel?

Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule: Well Würzel was just one of the finest men to ever draw breath. It was always an absolute delight and adventure to go out with him, it was also an honour to be his friend. What I’ll miss most is I always used to buy him the fucking biggest firework I could find for his birthday until one New Year’s Eve he kept his firework that I bought and hadn’t set it off. We were in his house in Islington, which was quite a posh part of Islington, and its gone midnight probably about 3 o’clock in the morning. Most people have gone to bed and he’s like, “let’s set off the fucking firework in the square!” And I’m just like, “fucking genius, Würz! Genius!” So him and me, we got the firework, went into the square, lit the fucking fuse, and we had about 150-yard run back to the house. And fucking hell, it was one of these things that was about 20 fucking bangs in it and I’d never heard anything so loud! It was so loud actually it was setting car alarms off and [laughs] and we got back in the house obviously pissing ourselves and we found out the next day that people had been phoning up [the police] thinking it was a fucking bomb that had gone off! It’s things like that I’ll miss him for. And of course he was the most incredible guitar player. I miss him dearly, I really do. It’s very sad. Very, very sad. He was a great man, as I say, a rocker and a gentleman and I raise my glass to him.

Geeks of Doom: Krusher, thank you so much for your time.

Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule: A pleasure, Dan.

[all photos: Steve ‘Krusher’ Joule]

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