Smithsonian Institution
Spring 2012: The Cover Art of Folkways Records



The online, multimedia magazine of Smithsonian Folkways

Covering the Revolution:
Paredon Records Album Art

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Paredon Records was founded in 1969 by Barbara Dane and Irwin Silber. The label amassed a catalog of fifty titles, documenting the political protest and revolutionary currents in the United States and around the world during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Dane, an accomplished singer/songwriter, produced the albums—recruiting the musicians, writers, designers and artists who created the cover art, and the volunteer language translators. Silber, a writer and editor at The Guardian, an independent leftist newspaper, was responsible for the business aspects of the label. Both Dane and Silber were closely associated with Moses Asch and Folkways Recordings. Dane recorded two albums on the label. Silber was associate producer at Folkways from 1958 to 1964.

In 1991, Dane and Silber donated their company papers and recordings to the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage archives, which committed to accessioning and storing the Paredon Collection and keeping the entire catalog available for purchase through Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. Spanning fifteen years, this collection is a powerful record of an historical moment that encompassed the folk music revival, anti-Vietnam War, and civil rights movements, both in the U.S. and abroad.

In 1991, Senior Archivist Jeff Place interviewed Barbara Dane and Irwin Silber about their personal histories and their experiences as label co-founders. In the following interview excerpts, Dane describes the design production process and how she acquired the photographs used on the covers of the informational booklets that were a signature part of the Paredon album package.

Barbara Dane:
I used to comb the files of the Guardian newspaper and the Liberation News Service that existed at the time in New York. There were different artists—Peg Averill gave me some things, and another woman named Mimi Rosenberg did a couple of covers. Different people would do original artwork and then some of it was just found stuff. I would comb through publications I had from other countries.

Sometimes the Cuban things ... basically, whoever I talked to down there at any point where I needed something from them—it was just a question of, “Well we can’t, you know, we’re not allowed to sell you anything. And we can’t get any of our materials there to, you know, be known there, so whatever you want to take and do, it’s okay with us. Go ahead and do it.” So it was basically a handshake overall agreement. And I would go, when I was there, to something called the OSPAAAL. It was Organization of Solidarity of the People of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. And they published in a magazine called TRIcontinental, which had great artwork. Sometimes I’d snatch a piece out of there. Or as time went on, I used it, I’d be in touch with the artist in different countries. I’d ask them to send me sides of recorded materials. I’d ask them to send me graphic materials. “I need photos for the booklet. I need cover art.” I need this; I need that, you know. And you’ll see as it unfolds that artists began to supply that largely.

But it was always a last minute scramble to find something decent to put on the cover, something interesting, something just right. I happen to really like a good photograph for that purpose ’cause it reproduces. We were only able to do two-color covers. So reproducing a photo in black and white, you know, or a good line drawing, is fine—is great. The problem is that we were living in a world of color movies and color magazines and everything. It’s not as easy to market it in a bin that is of all full-color things—especially as the psychedelic age of the sixties brought on a huge amount of color.

So we just tried to make it as dramatic as we could without spending money. We’d have to spend for full-color stuff. And then we had this whole system of printing the “slicks,” as they’re called. In our case—we didn’t use slick paper, but they’re called slicks because most people used slick paper. We would print the slicks in certain quantities. Those can be stored and then they can be later pasted on the jacket as needed .... So it was the most economical by far way to do that rather than send it—the way things are done now, you know—send it to have a full color such-and-such-made where it’s all assembled and stuck together. In that case, we would have been stuck with stacks and stacks of empty [sleeves], you know, things to store. We didn’t have warehouse space. We weren’t about to start having warehouse space. So it was designed—the process was designed to accommodate the finances.

The only thing that I didn’t really like to skimp on was the booklet itself and, of course, the sound quality. I was really striving all along to get the best sound quality possible.

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Click images to enlarge and view captions

Click to enlarge and view captions

Irwin Silber and Barbara Dane at a concert at Washington Square Methodist Church, New York, April 1969. Photo by Diana Davies, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collection

For more information about Paredon Records, its history,
and its catalog:

Click to view recording details

Two years before Paredon Records was established, Barbara Dane and the Chambers Brothers recorded this album on Folkways Records, 1966. Design by Ronald Clyne; Cover photo by Mark Roth

Listen to "It Isn't Nice" performed by Barbara Dane and the Chambers Brothers