Pedro Bell, the artist responsible for numerous Funkadelic and George Clinton album covers, has died at age 69. Both Clinton and bassist Bootsy Collins confirmed the news on social media, though a cause of death was not announced.
Clinton wrote on Facebook, “RIP to Funkadelic album cover illustrator Pedro Bell. Rest easy, Sir Lleb!”
In a statement issued to Rolling Stone, Collins praises Bell’s art as an “essential” part of the Funkadelic experience.
“The wild and bizarre artwork gave our early audience a sense of seeing the visual side of the music and the language,” he says. “He had a way of translating and communicating what all the weirdness was about, and that you the consumer really wanted to figure it out, because it truly was otherworldly. Every time the two were done together it would create the One. They there would be another satisfied customer! Thanks to our Captain Draw the Clone Stranger of Artistic Gratification to the Nation, Mr. Pedro Bell. The Funk got Stronger. Your service to this world can never be calculated.”
A bio on Clinton’s website details Bell’s influences and describes how his unique visual style collided with Funkadelic’s groundbreaking fusion of funk and psychedelic rock.
“[Bell] particularly liked the distinct and disturbing packaging of Frank Zappa albums,” the bio reads. “It gave a special identity to the artist and to the fans who dug it. It plugged you into your own special shared universe. So he sent elaborately drawn letters to Funkadelic’s label with other samples. George Clinton liked the streetwise mutant style and asked him to do the Cosmic Slop album cover in 1973. That was the moment Funkadelic became everything we think about them being.”
Bell became a fixture for the band, creating the album covers for 1974’s Standing on the Verge of Getting It On, 1975’s Let’s Take It to the Strange and 1978’s One Nation Under a Groove. Warner Brothers censored his original cover for 1981’s The Electric Spanking of War Babies, which included a naked women inside a phallic-shaped spaceship; the resulting image feared a green patch plastered with the message “OH LOOK! The cover that ‘THEY’ were TOO SCARED to print!”
During the 1980s hiatus of Parliament-Funkadelic, Clinton recruited Bell to work on a wave of solo LPs, including 1982’s Computer Games, 1983’s You Shouldn’t-nuf Bit Fish, 1985’s Some of My Best Jokes are Friends and 1986’s Skeletons in the Closet.
“What Pedro Bell had done was invert psychedelia through the ghetto,” the Clinton website reads. “Like an urban Hieronymus Bosch, he cross-sected the sublime and the hideous to jarring effect. Insect pimps, distorted minxes, alien gladiators, sexual perversions. It was a thrill, it was disturbing. Like a florid virus, his markered mutations spilled around the inside and outside covers in sordid details that had to be breaking at least seven state laws.
“More crucially, his stream-of-contagion text rewrote the whole game,” the bio continues. “He single-handedly defined the P-Funk collective as sci-fi superheroes fighting the ills of the heart, society, and the cosmos. Funk wasn’t just a music, it was a philosophy, a way of seeing and being, a way for the tired spirit to hold faith and dance yourself into another day. As much as Clinton’s lyrics, Pedro Bell’s crazoid words created the mythos of the band and bonded the audience together.”
In a 2009 profile of Bell, The Chicago Sun-Times wrote that the artist was living in poverty and battling health issues. Late Parliament-Funkadelic keyboardist and co-founder Bernie Worrell performed at a benefit concert for Bell the following year.