A monthly series penned by artist and restaurateur Ingrid Croce. Featuring interviews with a roster of notable artists & musicians whose lives and work have inspired her path. Eavesdrop on Ingrid & Company as they share stories about craft challenges, being “on the road,” artistic snafus, and the great conversations that have shaped their lives.
“And that’s how a New York City Jewish boy buys himself an Appaloosa horse.”
Freshly back from visiting family and my close friend Judy Coffin in Philadelphia and Connecticut.
I was so happy to FaceTime with Maui and connect with a most prolific artist, Ruby Mazur, who has painted over 5,000 album covers. You may not know his name, but you surely know his work! From the Rolling Stones’ “Mouth & Tongue” logo to Jim Croce’s second album cover, “Life and Times.” When he couldn’t locate the original Jim Croce cover art, Ruby re-painted “Life and Times,” and it now hangs proudly on my wall among the other family portraits! Ruby’s stories of a raucous, roller-coaster life remind us that there is strength in having “more balls than brains.” Of keeping to one’s convictions – and asking for just a *bit* more than you think you deserve. He is unapologetic. He says, “I am who I am.” And we surely wouldn’t want him any other way!
A Conversation with Ruby Mazur
Ruby: Aloha! There you are!
Ingrid: Aloha! Here I am! Hi, sweetie!
Ruby: I’m finally seeing you!
Ingrid: And I’m seeing you! And you can see Jimmy too!
Jimmy: Nice to meet you, finally! I love your hat. I’m a man of many hats myself. A man’s only as happy as his hat.
Ruby: Especially when you’re (lifts the brim of his fedora)…balding.
Ingrid: How long have you been on Maui?
Ruby: Oh! 12 years. To me, it’s the most amazing space in the world. The Aloha spirit. Everything is slowed down. 83 degrees year round. I came here and knew not a soul. I love it upcountry – I’m 3,000 feet up. And now I’m like the “Mayor of Maui.”
Ingrid: That’s great! Ruby: 12 years — and I haven’t worn shoes. I had to go to Los Angeles, I had to buy a pair of shoes! I didn’t have any.
Ingrid: What’s your daily routine look like?
Ruby: I’ve become a complete hermit. A recluse (laughs). I wake up at midnight 7 days a week. Leaving my two mastiffs, Mr. Ziggy & Miss Zenny, snoring in bed next to me, I make a cup of coffee and start my day at my easel. Having the curse of ADD, I’m usually working on at least 3 different paintings at one time.
Since my bedroom is right off my studio, it’s clockwork…Ziggy & Zenny come strolling up to me at 4:00AM and both start grunting at me to take a break and come back to bed with them. And since they rule ME there’s no arguing with them so back to bed for 1 hour until 5AM. Paint til 9:00, hit the beach for an hour and a half, and meditate and back home into the Studio.
I go down on Friday nights to the [Bill Wyland] Gallery, meet people who are buying my art for three hours, and come home. This routine makes me the HAPPIEST man on Earth.
Ingrid: Do you have any love interests?
Ruby: My painting. It saves. Once in a while it’ll disappoint – and when it does, I throw all of my paintings away. Right now, I’m working on The Traveling Wilburys – I’ll show you!
Ingrid, viewing the painting: Oh my goodness – You got them all! George, Bob, Roy…and Tom Petty.
Jimmy: And how long does each painting take you?
Ruby, laughing: 71 years!
Ingrid: 71! I’m 71, too!
Ruby: You look like a baby!
Ingrid: You grew up in New York, in close proximity to the music scene. Your father owned a nightclub. Before painting, you pursued a career in music management, correct?
Ruby: My brother and I were managing Billy Joel. Well, we were managing his first band, The Hassles. Which – the group really were a product of their name. Every day they were fighting about this, that, this, that.
Ingrid: I think that humility and arrogance are kin. Especially when you consider musicians. It’s really an interesting mix! And I heard you met The Beatles?
Ruby (laughing): Well, not exactly. We heard The Beatles were coming to Shea Stadium to perform. As a marketing kind of guy, I thought: what better way of exposing The Hassles than to get up and be the opening act at Shea Stadium for The Beatles? Great idea! Except we couldn’t get hired, of course!
So even though we weren’t on the lineup, we rented two limousines with “The Hassles” painted on their sides. We got to Shea Stadium early and pulled up to the front gate.
The security guard says, “Can I help you?”
I say, “We’re the opening act for the show tonight.”
And he says, “Okay – where are your credentials?”
I say, “Shit! Where are the credentials, guys? Oh no, we left them home? We left them home!”
He says, “I can’t let you in without the credentials.”
I say, “We’re supposed to be set up at 3 o’clock on stage with the equipment.”
He says, “I can’t let you in without your credentials.”
I say, “Well, I tell you what. If we can’t get in, it’s your ass.” I turn around and tell the driver to turn the limo around, that “we’re not doing the gig tonight.”
As the driver’s turning the limo around, I say to the security guard, “What’s your name by the way, pal?”
He says, “Why?”
I say, “Because I’m reporting you when we’re not showing up tonight.”
He was so scared! He says, “Oh well – I’ll tell you what. Go to the back. Talk to the people in the back. Head down the ramp. And speak to the people over there.”
So I say, “Okay! Let’s go!”
And that’s how we got into the stadium. We pull around in the back. There’s no security guards. So, our road managers begin taking our equipment out and setting up on stage! My brother and I walk to the dugout where the dressing room is — and suddenly, we’re hanging out with The Beatles!
Ingrid laughing: Oh gosh!
Ruby: Now, it’s about a half hour before showtime. The stadium is filling up. A little, short, fat guy walks over to me and says, “Hi, how are you doing, son?”
I say, “Just fine, how are you?”
He says, “Where are your credentials? You’re supposed to be wearing them around your neck.”
I say, “We’re the opening act. We’re The Hassles. We’re going to be opening up for The Beatles.”
He says, “Really! Who hired you?”
Now, I’d done my research. I knew who was hiring the acts. I say, “Sid Bernstein – why?”
He goes, “Well. I’m Sid Bernstein. And I didn’t hire you. But you almost pulled off the greatest scam in rock n’ roll concert history.
After that, Sid and I became good friends for a very long time.
Ingrid: That’s such a great story!
Jimmy: And Sid just passed away a few years ago.
Ruby: He was such a nice guy. Every time he saw me, he cracked up laughing — years later.
Jimmy: And the band that did open for The Beatles was The Young Rascals, correct?
Ruby: Yes! And Eddie was a friend of mind.
Ingrid: Felix Cavaliere — he was a friend of ours!
Ruby: I don’t need to tell you about the two of them.
Jimmy: So, how did you get into album cover art?
Ruby Mazur: I was hired as the Assistant Art Director of Go magazine, a small magazine in New York City, and well: I knew nothing about what I was doing. But I’m a quick learner. I did these wild designs. Very much like Rolling Stones magazine. Three weeks later, Phil [the publisher] calls me into his office. He says they’re going to hire me as the Art Director. Fantastic! Now, I’m the Art Director at Go magazine.
I stayed there six months. My friend came in and said, “Ruby! Paramount Records is opening up at the Gulf and Western building. Why don’t you try to get an Art Director job there?”
I said, “The only album cover I ever did was for The Hassles on United Artist Records – and that sucked!” But I had more brains than balls — I mean, more balls than brains!
Ingrid and Jimmy laugh.
Ruby: So, I call up Paramount. The President was Neil Gallagher. I said, “Hello, Mr. Gallagher, my name is Ruby Mazur and I’d love to set up an appointment with you to talk about being Art Director for the record division.” I go into Neil Gallagher’s office with no portfolio. I was just a kid. I was 21 years old.
I said, “You want to start a record division? I want to give you some of my ideas on records and the music business today. I know you’re talking to Bill Costa [a bigwig in the album art world] and he’s very renowned in the music business – kudos to him. But I think you’re missing the boat. You want to aim your records toward the young market. Kids today. Album covers are boring. Bill Costa’s a big name but he does the same shit over and over.
Big picture, bold type. It’s boring. You want to give kids artwork to look at. To get into the music! When they’re looking through the record bins, they’re going to get turned on by the graphics. Album covers are going to become an art form. You’ve gotta convey a message on the cover.”
He looked at me and he goes, “What kind of money would you be looking for?”
I said, “Just until you see what I can do, I’ll come down low.” I held my breath. This was 1970. I said, “Give me $50,000 a year. A personal secretary. Three assistants. A full expense account.”
And I’ve learned something. You don’t over-talk. When you put it out there, zip your mouth. The first one who talks loses. So I held my breath. And he said, “You got the job. Can you start Monday?”
Now, I have no clue – I didn’t even know the size of an album cover! But make a long story short, that first year, I was nominated for a Grammy for Best Album Cover.
All of these groups start calling me to do their album covers. I’m getting calls from MC5. Tommy James and The Shondells. Here! There! It was insane. Suddenly, I’m getting itchy at Paramount. My brother and I had made a deal to do Billy Joel’s album. I didn’t want anything to do with it.
He said, “You can’t leave Paramount until you do my album cover.”
I said, “Okay. It’s the last cover I’m going to do.” I did the Cold Spring Harbor cover. When I left Paramount, I opened my own studio in New York. We had 10 assistants and a 3,000 square foot loft on 18th Street. We were knocking out 15 covers a week. A week! At $5,000 a cover.
Jimmy: Lot of money in 1970.
Ruby: I picked up doing all of the mainstream jazz albums. Warner Brothers, Relent Records, Paramount. ABC Dunhill. Then I decided, you know what? Half the music is coming out of California. I’m going to open up a West Coast office as well.
I’d never been out to California in my life. I got on a plane, went out there, rented a car, decided I was going to open a studio. “Crossroads of the World.” Started doing 15 album covers a week — in LA alone! In 1971!
And that’s how a New York City Jewish boy buys himself an Appaloosa horse.
“And I’ve learned something. You don’t over-talk. When you put it out there, zip your mouth. The first one to talk loses.”
Ingrid: During that time, you created the now-infamous Rolling Stones Mouth & Tongue logo. How did that come about?
Ruby: One day, my secretary buzzes. She says, “Ruby, Mr. Jagger is here to see you!” I say, Elizabeth, stop screwing with me, I’m busy.” I thought it was one of my friends screwing with me.
And my door opens up. And it’s Mick.
Ingrid: Oh my god!
Ruby: I almost fell on the floor. He goes (and here, Ruby affects a perfectly “Mick” British accent) “We’re recording across the street. Could you come over? I’d like you to do a logo, maybe a record sleeve.” I say, “Sure! I have nothing better to do.”
Ruby: I go into the studio. Keith’s laying on the floor, drool coming out of his mouth. Mick’s doing all the guitar work on “Tumblin’ Dice” He wanted me to do a record sleeve that looked like him – but didn’t *really* look like him. How do I paint something that looks like him but doesn’t really look like him?
The whole attitude of The Stones was fuck you.
[Here, Ruby blows a raspberry at the camera] His lips. The tongue. The lips. The tongue. Over the weekend, I put it together. Everybody told me I was out of my mind. My friends said, “Ruby, you can’t have a mouth with a tongue coming out of it, it’s pornographic.”
I said, “It’s the Stones. That’s what they’re all about. It’s simple. It’s to the point. It’s recognizable.
I went up to Mick’s house on Monday morning, up on Mulholland Drive. And I said, Mick if you don’t like it, tell me – I’ll change and redo it. But I just think it works.”
He opens it up and goes, “Holy shit, mate!”
And he pushes me — into the pool! I fall back into the pool, fully clothed, thinking: shit, he hates it.
Jimmy: That was a stroke of genius when you came up with that.
Ruby: It was doing the absurd, you know? Circumventing the obvious.
Ingrid: Tell me, how did you meet Jim Croce?
Ruby: I was brought in as Creative Director at ABC. Do you remember Corb –
Ingrid perks up: Corb Donahue! Oh, he was just – lovely. So lovely. A good friend to Jim Croce and me. I went down to Costa Rica with him and his family and AJ (Croce) when he was two years old. And some surfers! He passed away about 20 years ago.
Ruby: Corb was in the studio with Cashman & West. And Jim walks in. Such a nice guy. Down to Earth. Humble. You know — no airs about him whatsoever. Just a regular guy. So few guys in this industry are genuine. I could name them on my hand.
I had a townhouse in Kensington and all of my album covers were up on the walls. I was hiring an assistant. I had been working on a logo for Jim. I remember it, it’s still in my head. It was in a circle. It was a black & white caricature of Jim. And it was really cool.
It was on my drawing board and this kid walks into my studio and looks up at that album cover. He says, “Wow, what a pity about that, huh.” I looked at him. “What are you talking about?”
He says, “Jim Croce was killed in a plane crash last night.” My heart just fell right into my stomach.
Jimmy: He touched a lot of people. Even those he never met in person. His death had that kind of effect all over the country – all over the world.
Ruby: He was just a genuine guy. Elton John is like that. Jimmy Buffett is like that. Good, regular guys. Guys you can remain friends with.
Ingrid: You’ve worked closely with Elton John and Jimmy Buffett –
Ruby: And Jim Croce, Billy Joel, Kenny Loggins, Mick Fleetwood, Mick Jones from Foreigner, David Copperfield.
Ingrid: How has celebrity affected you?
Ruby: It’s not celebrity, it’s music. Music and art has always been my life. When I’m painting the musician, I try to capture their music, their vibe in my painting.
The best way I can speak to my own celebrity is to give you a scenario that happened with my daughter Monet Mazur. She was hooked on acting – her first role was on “Days of our Lives.”
She was 16 years old when I had my first exhibition in a SoHo Gallery in New York. Of course, I needed her by my side. The Gallery had invited 400 people for the preview Opening Night and Page Six had run a blurb. When Monet and I pulled up to the Gallery, we were astounded to witness police lining 2,500 people around the block in freezing March.
The exhibition was a huge success — much to my amazement. After the show, the Gallery surprised me with a private party at a famous nightclub where I was surrounded by many people wanting my autograph. Faces I couldn’t remember pretending to be my best friend.
My daughter was angrily tapping her foot. I broke away to have our private time. Her first words to me with a very angry face were “Dad, you had to talk with EVERYONE for 45 minutes?”
My reply to her was a life-awakening moment… “Monet, let me tell you something. You’re an Actress and for sure one day you’re going to be very famous and people will want to talk to you and ask for your time. Listen to me right now – if you’re a jerk to ONE PERSON, they will tell 10 of their friends about you, and they will tell 10 of their friends, and before you know it you’ll have a million people who don’t even know you saying what a jerk you are.”
If a little of your time will make a fan happy, then feel lucky and embrace that time.
It was about 3 years later when Monet had 3 big movies out. We chose to go to lunch at some outdoor cafe in LA. A young girl approached our table with a cute, beet red face and her hands over her mouth. She asked Monet for her autograph. My daughter turned her attention to the girl and started talking to her and making her feel special.
I was sitting there beaming with joy and when the girl left. I turned to Monet and asked, “Mo, do you remember when I had my exhibition in New York?”
She replied, “I know, Dad, you made your point!” One of the proudest moments of my life.
Ruby: I love your work, Ingrid. It’s very fine artsy.
Ingrid: Oh! Well, I’ve been taking a hiatus. I’ve had a speech problem and was not able to speak for some time. But, I think that I am getting better. I’m tenacious — really tenacious. I’m coming back to it!
Ruby: I’m a perfectionist, too. Above all, I don’t want to be influenced by other people’s work.
Ingrid: I was like that as a singer. Jim and I would sing and we would watch our friends perform and support them at clubs. But, we didn’t really listen to music when we were recording. We didn’t want to be influenced.
Ruby: That’s the way I am. What I love to do is go into museums and look at the Masters. Because there, I’ll learn. And I can study what they’re doing.
Ingrid: When you’re painting all the time, I think art can become your heart. Do you consider your art to be the love of your life?
Ruby: Painting to me is like BREATHING… there’s nothing else to think about. I couldn’t exist without it. I’ve been in love a few times in my life and have walked away disappointed and heart broken. My painting is always there for me as I am for it and always leaves me wanting more.
Ingrid: I believe that if a person is true to themselves, they can navigate life’s up and downs.
Ruby: No time for apologies! I am who I am.
Ingrid: No time for apologies!
Jimmy: Your skill for realism in your art. Did you always have that ability?
Ruby: I tried to have it as a child, but I wasn’t technically skilled to get to that point. For years, I couched my inexperience in abstraction. Instead of diving in and tackling the problem — learning to be realistic with a stylized flair. A couple of years ago, I said: screw the excuses. Deal with the situation and your problem. And go for it. So I started to. Y
ou gotta get naked and look at yourself. And I did. I’m getting better and better. When I go to sleep for my three hours, I’m painting and blending and figuring. I’m still working. I can’t wait to get up and out of bed and into my studio.
Jimmy: I was reading in Rolling Stone that vinyl records are exploding again. Two of the biggest sellers this past year were “The Concert for George” and a Grateful Dead collection. Do you think you’ll return to creating album covers?
Ruby: If you can’t get into the music, you can’t get into the artwork. About 6 months ago, a dear friend of mine sent me this music by a kid in San Francisco. And my socks were blown off. This guy was between Jerry Garcia and ELO and U2. I was blown away. I called my friend up and said, “I gotta do his cover.”
First album cover I’ve done in 36 years. I was excited. If good music comes along with the vinyl, I’ll get back into it.
“If people are true to themselves, they can navigate life’s ups and downs.”
Ingrid: Ruby, you have such a resilient soul — and spirit.
Ruby: I suffered from polio as a child. One morning, I tried to turn the light switch on in my bedroom. But when I put my hand up…I had to raise my left arm with my right hand. After a month, I couldn’t even walk. My leg would give way. They took me to a specialist. “Ruby’s got polio.” Mother freaked, of course.
It got so bad I couldn’t even (goes to make a fist, and fails). I mean, I was completely paralyzed, my whole left side. They had me in a brace on my leg and my arm hung down. Everyday, my Mother would schlep me to the therapist. They’d put a ball in my hand and I’d try to squeeze the ball. And of course, I couldn’t do it.
But…my mind just would not accept that I couldn’t do anything.
For three years, going to the therapist everyday, I repeated to myself: I have to do this, I have to do this, I have to do this. Finally, I started getting some movement. The doctor couldn’t believe that I was moving my fingers! Then, I started walking without the brace! It was unheard of. You don’t have polio and get rid of it.
It taught me – at the very young age of 8 – that I could do anything. I was a superkid. Throughout my life, whenever problems face me, like we all have, I do not accept defeat, not ever. Never.
Ingrid: That’s what’s most important. Not giving in.
Ruby: A year ago, I was lying in bed and I tried to reach up and my left arm wouldn’t raise up. I went to the doctor and he said that I have PPS. Post-Polio Syndrome. People who had polio at a young age – it’s still in our bodies. It can come back at later times. My doctor said it’s going to get to a point where the muscles will completely deteriorate and I will be useless on my left arm and hand. For the last two years, I’ve watched my arm dwindle down to basically nothing.
(Ruby stands and shows us his arm. It’s indeed shriveled and dangling at his side.)
Ruby: So! Every three hours, I take Aleve. But I’m doing it. Still painting and painting. I haven’t admitted defeat.
Jimmy: You haven’t lost your skill, And your skill keeps improving!
Ingrid: And hey! You have a nice Hawaiian shirt!
Ruby: Well, thanks! I’m glad you like it!