Monday, May 24, 2021

The Concert Posters of Michael Littrell


Chances are, if you ever attended a concert in Aspen, in the 1970s, you will recognize the poster art of Michael Littrell. 

A 1970 graduate of Hinkley High School, in Aurora. He headed to Metro State, after graduation, to pursue a degree in art.  After dropping out, in 1972, he went to work at Frye-Sills Advertising, in Denver. A year later he would move to Aspen, where he worked at Aspen Graphics, the go-to for concert poster art in area, including at the popular night spot, The Gallery.

I'll let him tell the story, from here...

"I was lucky to have a father who was a graphic designer, engineer, fine artist, and furniture designer, who had studied under Vance Kirkland at DU. My mom was from a family of musicians, but got her degree in broadcasting at DU, and she worked in Denver's early television industry. Also, I had great art teachers from K to 12. It was in high school where I learned to silkscreen. We were always called on to make posters for school events, like dances and plays.  

My first published design was a full page announcement for the 1968 Denver Pop Festival. It was all done in pencil, and appeared in the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News. I was only 17, and it was for a class project. Harry Tuft, of the Denver Folklore Center saw it. I already had an in there, as my dad sold his handmade guitars there.  Harry submitted it to people he knew, who soon became people I would know. Early networking, at an early age. 

About the same time I was in a garage band & the whole rock scene in San Fransisco intrigued me. I started doing Family Dog Presents style posters for local bands. I also did a few event posters in college but I was already working a paid internship for Frye-Sills Advertising, and rarely did any poster-type work while there. Mostly brochures & multi-page publication stuff. 

 I went up to Aspen to visit a former girlfriend, and do some skiing with her. While there I became interested in the handcrafted signage and graphics I saw all around town - much of the work credited to Aspen Graphics. I decided to pay their studio a visit. David Jagoda & Gordon Brown made me an offer I just couldn't refuse to come work for them. It was a great opportunity for a 22-year-old kid, and things went very well for a couple of years. 

When I got to Aspen we would design and print the posters for Frank Wood, who owned The Gallery. We also did posters for Jim McDade's Aspen Inn, and Danny Wardell, at the Cooper Street Pier. The posters would be printed about a week before each show, all in one day. They would then be quickly distributed to almost every shop, bar, grocery store & business willing to display them in a storefront window. It was interesting that by the opening night of a show, every poster would be snatched up. It was fun to go to a party at someone's condo, and find a collection of them wallpapering the bathroom or bedroom. 


The first poster I ever did for Aspen Graphics is probably my favorite - Elvin Bishop, at the Gallery.  It was a great show too! Most of the posters were black & white, but once in awhile we got to do two or even three colors. I was honored to do our first three-color run, James Cotton Blues Band 'Cotton Comes to Aspen'. 

They were all hand-drawn posters, for the most part I'm very 'old school.' Everything I do begins with a pencil.  

The most difficult poster to create was The Coors International Bicycle Classic series. I think I did five or six of them. I had done the original designs for the Red Zinger Classic posters (the pre-Coors sponsors), and it was nice. I had to out-do it to appeal to Coors execs. Then I found myself having to compete with myself each new season, along with other entries, as it became a contest. 

I didn't keep track with how many posters I designed. Too many to remember throughout my career. I usually just took 35mm slides of everything we created, including the posters. David kept hard copies of every poster. He unfortunately passed away two years ago, but had put me in his will to receive the whole portfolio. I have yet to actually get it, as there is an estate settlement that hasn't been dealt with yet. I do have a couple of my favorites. framed and on display in my home studio. 

Due to some reasons that are better left unsaid, I decided to return to the agency work I had been doing in Denver. I eventually got out of the concert poster business, when computers and digital image making took over. I just lost interest. I'm almost 70 now, and retired. Over the past decade or so I designed and built a custom 25' sailboat. Now all I want to do is sail, and forget about being an adult.

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