Rodney Matthews is perhaps best known for his record cover designs, and for good reason; he has been responsible for well over seventy since he was
commissioned by Thin Lizzy in 1969.
Strangely, Rodney could have obtained more commissions in this genre had he been a better businessman. During the
Sixties and Seventies he had played with his band on the same stages as many other well known acts: Cream, Manfred Mann, Slade, Eric Clapton's Derek
and the Dominoes, Yes, and Genesis to name a few, but it hadn't occurred to him to take along his portfolio to solicit work! He was also getting
commissions from David Howells at MCA Records in the early '70s, but for black & white caricature and cartoon work for Stackridge rather than the
Osibisa (and later Yes) covers that fell to another designer and illustrator from Howells. The appearance of the compact disc may (or may not) have
been a step forward for the reproduction standards of music, yet for the designer and illustrator of record covers it was a definite step backwards.
The 12" LP with perhaps a gatefold became a miserable 12cm. Matthews has adapted but reluctantly.
His first interest in record cover design goes back to the 1950s when he beheld the Bill Haley 'Rock Around the Clock' EP. This cover with its glossy
laminated surface and gregarious design seemed so far from the dull, brown paper envelopes used to package the 78rpm records of the previous
generation. The flexible vinyl record with its large, full colour sleeve had come to stay - for thirty years!, and the bulk of Matthews cover artwork
was done within that golden age.
During the years of the Matthews partnership with Terry Brace at Plastic Dog Graphics, Bristol (from 1970 until 1976), Matthews worked on many record
covers including those for local folk bands on the Village Thing label and some American folk, country, or blues on the Sonnet, Specialty, or Kicking
Mule labels. Later, he made the acquaintance of the art director at United Artists Records for whom he did five covers, including one for Brinsley
Schwarz. After dissolving the partnership, Rodney continued to receive record commissions, commencing with the Nazareth 'No Mean City' album, the image
of which became popular with American car customising artists.
One important milestone was the meeting with the British rock band Magnum who ultimately used Matthews for a total of ten covers. In 1984, Rodney's
design for the album cover by Tiger Moth won first prize at the Music Trades Association's annual awards, with Ralp Steadman taking second place!
1990 saw the first of many designs for the newly emerged Christian rock movement in the UK. Most of these were based upon scenes derived from
prophetic Bible scriptures such as The Revelation. A request from the band Asia came along in 1992, resulting in the Aqua illustration pictured below.
This was followed in due course by the albums Arena (1995) and Achiva (1996).
The majority of Matthews record cover designs are catalogued in his third anthology book, 'Countdown to Millennium', available from the
Mail Order section of this site.