When Frank Sinatra ended his two-year retirement at 57 in 1973, Warner Bros. Records art director Ed Thrasher came up with the perfect title for the legendary singer’s comeback album.
The album -- for Warner’s Reprise Records label -- with its cover photograph by Thrasher showing a relaxed and grinning Sinatra during a recording session, was called “Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back.”
“Ed showed the artwork to Frank, and he just flipped, as we all did,” recalled Joe Smith, former president of Warner Bros. Records. “Frank thought ‘Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back’ was a great phrase, and it later turned out to be an ad hook when Frank was out on the road again.”
As an art director, Smith said, “Ed had the talent for getting along with the talent, especially with a Frank Sinatra, who could get very cranky. With Ed, Frank was a pussycat. He never gave Ed any trouble about the covers.”
Thrasher, who worked on hundreds of major albums as an art director, died of cancer Aug. 5 at his Big Bear Lake home, said his son, Jeff. He was 74.
Thrasher received 12 Grammy Award nominations as an art director from 1962 to 1974, the year he and fellow art director Christopher Whorf won Grammys for best album package for Mason Proffit’s “Come & Gone.”
Joining Warner Bros. Records in 1964 after having been an art director at Capitol Records, Thrasher was the art director on a long string of albums from major artists.
Among them: the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Are You Experienced?,” Joni Mitchell’s “Song to a Seagull,” the Grateful Dead’s “Anthem of the Sun,” Sinatra’s “My Way,” Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey,” Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Earth, Wind & Fire,” the Doobie Brothers’ “Stampede,” Commander Cody’s “We’ve Got a Live One Here,” Bill Cosby’s “Wonderfulness” and Richard Pryor’s “Was It Something I Said?”
Thrasher did the photography for many of the albums, in addition to working on print ads and posters.
In the early 1970s, he also worked with architect A. Quincy Jones on the design of the current Warner Bros. Records building on Warner Boulevard in Burbank.
“He was talented, with a sense of humor and with a little take on things that was different from most art directors,” Smith said. “He was really a prize.”
Said Stan Cornyn, a former Warner Bros. Records executive vice president who was director of creative services when he worked with Thrasher in the 1960s and ‘70s, “He was skilled and flexible, and flexibility is not a bad attitude to have when you’re dealing with rock ‘n’ roll stars.”
Thrasher, Cornyn said, was able to “handle whatever came along,” because of his “charm, sense of humor, and he knew his job.”
Thrasher’s humor extended to occasional practical jokes.
Noticing that the company’s top executive routinely made a 10 a.m. stop at the sole upstairs restroom in the old Warner Bros. Records building, Thrasher installed a life-size dummy -- with shoes, socks and pants pulled down to the ankles -- on the toilet in the restroom’s only stall.
Thinking the stall was being used, the executive made repeated trips to the restroom, Cornyn said, before “he finally got down on his knees and figured it out.”
“This was Ed’s idea of a good time, and I must say it was shared by all,” Cornyn said.
As a joke another time, Thrasher had the faces of Smith and Reprise Records President Mo Ostin, which had adorned a billboard on the Sunset Strip, peeled off and placed on top of the Warner Bros. Records building so the visages would gaze down at employees as they drove into the parking lot for work Monday.
“It was characteristic of the kind of business attitude that hardly exists anymore,” Cornyn said.
“So he was a bon vivant, a good liver. And I think that enabled him to work with artists who, by and large, were nervous people. He did very well with them; he was a good hugger and satisfier.
“It began to change when singer-songwriters became more prominent. Artists like the Grateful Dead and Joni Mitchell decided they wanted to do their own covers,” Cornyn added.
“Ed had to learn to put up with that, and he did. Others didn’t want to do their own covers. Frank Sinatra never dreamed of doing that, but he was a previous generation,” Cornyn said.
After leaving Warner Bros. Records in 1979, Thrasher formed Ed Thrasher and Associates, an advertising company that created art for films, including Prince’s “Purple Rain” and Mel Gibson’s “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.”
Born March 7, 1932, in Glendale, the future art director was the son of Edward Lee Thrasher Sr., a Los Angeles city councilman from 1931 to 1943.
After graduating from John Marshall High School, Thrasher served in the Navy during the Korean War.
He studied art and illustration at Los Angeles Trade Technical College and the County Art Institute before being hired as an assistant in the art department at Capitol Records in 1957.
Thrasher, whose 22-year marriage to actress Linda Gray ended in divorce, is survived by his son; his daughter, Kehly Sloane; two grandchildren; and his sister, Marilyn Ball.