Mary Scott on Roland Young
A Mentor Worth Mentioning
It was forty years ago. Does that seem possible? To remember going to my first job inside a famous round building in the heart of Hollywood that was all about music? People like Nat King Cole, Nancy Wilson, Buck Owens, the Beach Boys, Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby Darin, Wayne Newton, Al Martino, Peggy Lee, Stan Kenton, a very young Glen Campbell, Franco Corelli (yes there were classical artists too), not to mention the zaftig, barely post adolescent Linda Ronstadt, the cute Beach Boys and of course the Beatles — they all came and went on a daily basis.
I was 22 and eager to use what ever skills I had to be creative and be part of this magical world where people made the music, pressed the vinyl and made the glorious 12“ x 12” covers that housed the sounds of the recording artists. I didn't know much, although on my interview, I described myself as having creative tendencies. (Graphic designers were called commercial artists in those days and I knew I wanted to do that.)
Quickly, I noticed I didn't know much about this thing called typography, but I understood that album covers usually had the picture of the artist and some words surrounding their boldly rendered name. The bigger the artist, the bigger the name. Everyone used to paint on acetate with gouache, overlaid on top of the photo to simulate what the type might look like. (the photo was usually provided to the art department by the in house photo studio).
Then I met Roland Young. He was cooler than cool. Confidence exuded from his pores. (He joined the art department shortly after I arrived.) He was fascinating. He talked about imagery and type as if it were some inextricably linked phenomenon that was magic in the hands of the right people. Of course, he was one of them. He began commanding respect, overseeing photo shoots instead of just being the recipient of the contact sheets. Hired models to be photographed with the artists and even got a Nikon and began shooting photos himself. This of course was not pleasing to the staff photographers who considered themselves the keepers of the image making. Roland said that a designer (he never referred to himself as a commercial artist) should be responsible for the entire project, from start to finish. He would meet with the artist, discussing the focus of the album from the A&R standpoint as well as the artist's creative vision. This may not have been revolutionary to others, but to me, it seemed like he invented the process. I would sit and watch him tracing type specimen sheets, then putting it in what was called a Lucygraph which allowed you to change the size of things with a set of pulleys. He taught me how to use this contraption and I felt I had learned a secret ritual, known only to certain people.
He taught me how important every little detail was—what the artist wore for the shoot, what the background was going to be, he once set me out to shop for fabric for a Jackie and Gale (they had one hit) album cover. I remember it so well, in fact I made a dress out of it later—great big flowers in turquoise and olive green, very '60s. We hung the fabric behind them during the photo shoot and voila, it felt like “Ricky Tickly Stickers.” There were times that Roland would talk to me about type as if it were the Holy Grail, no, it was the Holy Grail. Garamond of course, was the Grand High Priest and all others merely followed on behind. When he did freelance work, which all the in house designers were allowed to do to supplement their income, he would show me his beautiful Swissly gridded layouts for museum catalogs. The work of one of Rolands' heroes, Lou Danziger, was always around him and by osmosis, it crept into my psyche too. “Simple was good, simple and clever was better.” Words I have never forgotten. It was like an entire legacy of thinking and creative reverence along with the spirit of daring innovation was being passed on to me. I felt so lucky to be in a place where everyday was a learning experience, Roland taught me to develop a critical eye for everything that passed in front of me. As the years past, I would seek his advice when taking a new job, he would always have time for me even when he was the big cheese creative guy at A&M Records. To this day, when I see him, it takes me back to that funny building with pie shaped offices, and we laugh about them bringing coffee up to us on each floor, two times a day.
Roland, will always be my hero for so many things. Although it is unspoken, I know he knows it and that I am forever grateful to him for his influence.
Chair of Graphic Design
Academy of Art College
San Francisco, CA