Klaus Voormann

Klaus Voormann (born 29 April 1938) is a German Grammy Award-winning artist, noted musician, and record producer. He designed artwork for many bands including The Beatles, The Bee Gees, Wet Wet Wet and Turbonegro. His most notable work as a producer was his work with the band Trio, including their worldwide hit Da Da Da. As a musician, Voormann is best known for being the bassist for Manfred Mann from 1966 to 1969, and for performing as a session musician on many recordings, including some by former members of the Beatles.

His association with the Beatles dated back to their time in Hamburg in the early 1960s. He lived in the band's London flat with George Harrison and Ringo Starr after John Lennon and Paul McCartney moved out to live with their respective partners, and designed the cover of their album Revolver, for which he won a Grammy. Following the band's split, rumours circulated of the formation of a group named The Ladders, consisting of Lennon, Harrison, Starr and Voormann. This failed to materialise, outside of all four bandmembers (plus Billy Preston) performing on the Ringo Starr track "I'm The Greatest," although Voormann did play on albums by all three, and was for a time a member of the Plastic Ono Band. In the 1990s, he designed the artwork for the Beatles Anthology albums.

In 2009, he released his debut solo album A Sideman's Journey, which featured many notable musicians, including the two surviving Beatles, performing as "Voormann and Friends".

Early years

Klaus Voormann was born in Berlin, Germany, and raised in the suburbs of North Berlin. His father was a physician and he was one of six brothers.[1] In his July 2010 interview on "Talking Germany", Voorman discussed his dyslexia.[2]

The Voormann family were interested in art, classical music, and books, with a feeling for history and tradition.[1] His parents decided that instead of studying music it would be best for Klaus to study commercial art in Berlin at the "Meisterschule für Grafik und Buchgewerbe".[1] He later moved to Hamburg to study at the "Meisterschule für Gestaltung", but before finishing his education in the graphic arts, Voormann started work as a commercial artist, graphic designer and illustrator, spending eight months in Düsseldorf working for magazines.[3]

It was in Hamburg that Voormann first met Astrid Kirchherr. After an argument with her and Jürgen Vollmer one day, Voormann wandered down the Reeperbahn, in the St. Pauli district of Hamburg, and heard music coming from the Kaiserkeller club. He walked in on a performance by Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. The next group to play was the Beatles. Voormann was left "speechless" by the performances.[1] Voormann had never heard rock 'n' roll before, having previously only listened to traditional jazz, with some Nat King Cole and The Platters mixed in.[4] Voormann invited Kirchherr and Vollmer to watch the performances the next day. After joining Voorman at a performance, the trio decided upon spending as much time close to The Beatles and immersing themselves in the music as possible.[5]

The St. Pauli district was a dangerous section of town with typical illicit behaviour commonplace; an area where prostitutes were to be found, and anyone that looked different from the usual clientele hanging about took a risk. As a trio, Voormann, Kirchherr and Vollmer stood out in the Kaiserkeller, dressed in suede coats, wool sweaters, jeans and round-toed shoes, when most of the customers had greased-back Teddy boy hairstyles and wore black leather jackets and pointed boots.[6] During a break, Voormann tried to talk (in faltering English) to Lennon, and pressed a crumpled record sleeve he had designed into Lennon's hands. Lennon took little interest, and brushed Voormann off, suggesting that he talk to Stuart Sutcliffe, who, Lennon said, "is the artist 'round here".[6]

Sutcliffe didn't share Lennon's attitude, and was fascinated by the trio, who he thought looked like "real bohemians". He later wrote that he could hardly take his eyes off them, and had tried to talk to them during the next break, but they had already left the club. Strict German law at the time prohibited young people from frequenting bars after 10 o'clock at night.[6] Sutcliffe managed to meet them eventually, and learned that all three had attended the "Meisterschule für Mode", which was the Hamburg equivalent of the Liverpool art college that both Sutcliffe and Lennon had attended. Lennon dubbed the trio the Exies, as a joke about their affectation for existentialism.[4]

Voormann was in a relationship with Kirchherr at the time, and lived just around the corner from her parents' upper-class home in the Altona district of Hamburg. Kirchherr's bedroom, which was all in black, including the walls and furniture, was decorated especially for Voormann. After the visits to the Kaiserkeller their relationship became purely platonic, as Astrid started dating Sutcliffe, who was fascinated by her, although she always remained close friends with Voormann.[7]

London

In the early 1960s, Voormann decided to leave Germany and move to London. George Harrison invited him to live in the Green Street flat formerly shared by all four Beatles, John Lennon and Paul McCartney having moved out: Lennon to live with his wife Cynthia Lennon, and McCartney to live in the attic of the home of Jane Asher's parents. Voormann lived with Harrison and Ringo Starr for a time before finding work as a commercial artist and renting an apartment of his own.[1] Voormann returned to Hamburg in 1963, founded the beat band with Paddy Chambers (guitar/vocals), Voormann (bass/vocals) and Gibson Kemp (drums) called Paddy, Klaus & Gibson.[1][8]

In 1966, Voormann returned to London and was asked by Lennon to design the sleeve for The Beatles´ album Revolver. Klaus had a style of "scrapbook collage" art in mind. When showing his efforts to the band and their manager, Brian Epstein, the band loved it, although Voormann's payment for the album cover was £40. For this work, Klaus won the Grammy Award for Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts.[1] Voormann later designed the cover art for Harrison's 1988 single, "When We Was Fab", which included the image of Harrison from the cover of Revolver along with an updated drawing in the same style.

Around the same time another group was about to release their international debut album. The Bee Gees had recorded their first album, Bee Gees 1st, and Klaus was hired to design the cover for that album. The album cover featured all five group members standing above a colourful, psychedelic collage painted by Voormann. In 1973, Voormann created the album sleeve and booklet artwork for Ringo Starr's album Ringo, on which he also played bass.

Bassist

In 1966, at the same time he was designing the cover of Revolver, Voormann became a member of the 1960s band Manfred Mann,[9] having turned down offers by The Hollies[10] and The Moody Blues.[11] Voormann played bass for Manfred Mann from 1966 to 1969, appearing on all their UK hits from "Just Like a Woman" (July 1966) through to their final single "Ragamuffin Man" (April 1969). As well, he played bass and flute on Manfred Mann's 1968 international hit "Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)" (#1 UK, #10 US).[9]

After that, he became a session musician, playing on solo projects by Lou Reed, Carly Simon, James Taylor, and Harry Nilsson amongst others. Voormann was a member of Yoko Ono and John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band, with Ono, Alan White (future Yes drummer) and Eric Clapton, which played at the Live Peace in Toronto 1969 album, recorded prior to the break-up of The Beatles in Toronto on 13 September 1969.[12]

In 1971 he moved to Los Angeles. In an interview with EMI about his album Walls and Bridges, John Lennon was asked who was playing bass on the album. John answered with a hard German accent: "Klaus Voormann. We all know Klaus, ja (German: "yes")". He also played in Harrison's assembled band in the 1971 The Concert for Bangladesh; Harrison fittingly introduced him to the audience by saying, "There's somebody on bass who many people have heard about, but they've never actually seen him, Klaus Voormann."[13] After Harrison died, Voorman played bass as part of the supporting band on the song "All Things Must Pass", in the Concert for George on 29 November 2002.

After The Beatles disbanded, there were rumours of The Beatles reforming as The Ladders, with Voormann on bass as a replacement for Paul McCartney. An announcement to this effect filtered out of the Apple offices in 1971, but was ultimately withdrawn before it got very far. This line-up (Voormann, Lennon, Harrison and Starr) did perform in various combinations on Lennon's albums John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970) (Voormann, Lennon, and Starr) and Imagine (1971) (Voormann, Lennon & Harrison) as well as on Ringo Starr's eponymous album Ringo, in 1973, and Yoko Ono's Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band (1970) (Voormann, Lennon, Starr, and Ono). Starr's album features the Lennon-penned hit single "I'm The Greatest" which is the only song in which all four musicians appear together, joined by Billy Preston.

In 1979 Voormann moved back to Germany. He produced three studio albums and a live album by the German band Trio. He also produced their worldwide hit "Da Da Da". After Trio broke up in 1986 he produced the first solo album by their singer Stephan Remmler and played bass on some songs of the album. The following year he produced a single by former Trio drummer Peter Behrens.