Pedro Bell, Whose Wild Album Covers Defined Funkadelic, Dies at 69

Pedro Bell, Whose Wild Album Covers Defined Funkadelic, Dies at 69

Pedro Bell, whose mind-bending album covers for the band Funkadelic gave visual definition to its signature sound in the 1970s and ’80s, has died. He was 69.

George Clinton, the brains behind Funkadelic, announced his death on his Facebook page. Tim Kinley, an editor of that page and a funk historian who oversees the Groove Maneuvers Archives, said that he died in Chicago, but that he did not know when. Mr. Bell had been in poor health for many years.

Mr. Bell created his first cover for Funkadelic, the pioneering band that merged funk and psychedelic rock, in 1973. The album was “Cosmic Slop,” and it featured a topless woman, space imagery and mutants. Though Funkadelic and its sister act, Parliament, had been around for several years, Mr. Bell’s artwork and the liner notes he wrote under the name Sir Lleb (“Bell” spelled backward) helped define Funkadelic and its elaborate mythology.

“Bell portrayed the members of Funkadelic as ‘The Invasion Force,’ a Technicolor assortment of alien superheroes, afronauts, mutants and cosmic warriors,” Lodown magazine once wrote in an article about him. “Their mission was to fight the good fight, ‘to rise and prevail’ in the ideological and musical ‘Funk Wars.’”

“I’m a self-taught Pagan,” he said, “who tried and completed around 156,000 credit hours at Bradley and Roosevelt universities, with a million credit hours in Weed Science and Decadent Sex (The Joy of Flex) and Last Pocket 8-Ball to balance out the damage of formal education.”

In his memoir, “Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?” (2014, written with Ben Greenman), Mr. Clinton recalled how Mr. Bell came to his attention.

“Around 1972 or so, we started to get letters from a young artist in Chicago named Pedro Bell,” he wrote. “He doodled these intricate, wild worlds, filled with crazy hypersexual characters and strange slogans.”

Mr. Bell’s letters arrived in hand-decorated envelopes, bizarre miniature works of art that sparked official alarm.

“After a few months of delivering Pedro’s letters to us,” Mr. Clinton wrote, “the postmaster general wanted to know if I was involved in some kind of subversive organization.”

“Pedro’s correspondence,” he added, “gave me an idea for how we could move Funkadelic up a notch, how we could take what we were doing musically, and onstage, and capture some of that anarchic energy in the album packages.”

It was a time before streaming audio and viral videos, when an album’s cover art, especially for performers who did not get a lot of Top 40 radio play, was vital to capturing the attention of consumers. Mr. Clinton, who used Mr. Bell’s art on his solo records as well, acknowledged as much.

“To this day, Pedro’s covers are many people’s point of entry for Funkadelic albums,” he wrote. “When people talk about ‘Cosmic Slop,’ for example, they talk as much about the cover art as anything else: the way that the screaming face is inset into the woman’s Afro, her vampire fangs, the map on one nipple and the stereo dial on the other, the strange yellow bug off to the right of the woman with Pedro’s signature along its body.”

Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, founder of the American Visionary Art Museum, which focuses on outsider art, said that the “What Makes Us Smile?” exhibition included as guest co-curator Matt Groening, creator of “The Simpsons,” who suggested including Mr. Bell’s work.

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