He goes by the Mad Peck, Dr. Oldie, and a few other cheeky monikers, depending on his pursuit: making posters, writing record reviews, archiving comics, spinning discs, or selling rare recordings. Today, he’s the Mad Peck, because this week he’ll be showing his acclaimed collection of hippie era rock posters (digitally remastered!) at What Cheer Antiques in Wayland Square.
THE WAY IT WAS: A Bee Gees bill.
“Ever since I was in junior high I loved music, but the poster thing came about later,” says Peck, whose given name is John. “In the late ’60s some kids from RISD used to go out to this crash pad in San Francisco once in a while and they’d come back with these posters with all this crazy lettering.” Peck took to the art style quickly and it wasn’t long before he was doing a few of his own. “Some promoters showed up and said they wanted a poster pretty fast and they heard through the grapevine that I was doing it.” The show featured pre-“Piece of My Heart” Janis Joplin and Country Joe and the Fish, who were booked to play at Rocky Point Park. He whipped up a colorful poster for the gig. Today that original ultra-rare work could sell as high as $10,000.
Back in the day, when a band hit the road, promoters would petition customized posters for each tour stop. At the time, the work was cheap and expedient; artists were always available. No one imagined that the concert poster business would become so thriving and lucrative. “I knew I knew I was making art,” Peck says, half-joking. “I’d say to myself, ‘Gee, I wonder if any of these would be worth anything.’ ” But he never really thought that they would. Yet his ballyhooed Cream poster now retails for about $5000, and his Hendrix, Doors, and Dead pieces also command hefty prices. “It’s not for the art, really,” he admits. “But people into those acts are more compulsive and obsessive.”
Peck envies the poster artists working today, largely because of the tools they have at their disposal. “Technology allows them to work with color much cheaper than it used to be,” he says. “Today, they make a single poster for an entire tour, with a space for local information and it’s printed on a color press. Back in my era, you’d run it on a sheet press, and have to run it once for each color, which was really time-consuming.”
On the other hand, today’s artists don’t get to play with type the way the poster artists of the ’60s did. “With press-type lettering,” he explains, “you could mess around with it, vary the spacing, alternate letters, make it more decorative. But the days of handset type are completely dying out, I think.”
These days, Peck, who spends some of his time at home in Vermont, collects rare comics for the John Hay Library and periodically runs a record collector’s fair. He recently introduced a design for a series of vintage “big-letter postcards” (“Greetings from New Orleans!”) for big-band New Orleans jazz act Deacon John, whose livelihood was destroyed by last year’s hurricane. On the bottom of each post card there are various local slogans: “Drink Outside and Smoke Inside” and “Let the Good Times Roll” which, as you will see when you get a peek at Peck’s gorgeous rock posters, he most certainly did.