From the Nov. 9, 2009 Chicago Sun-Times:
Artist behind Parliament Funkadelic art struggles to get by
Chicago’s Pedro Bell was the artist behind some of music’s most iconic album covers. Now his life is anything but a pretty picture.
November 9, 2009
BY KARA SPAK Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org
Thick dust covers the gold lame shirt and silver leather coat in Pedro Bell’s closet.
The clothes are remnants from a brighter time when Bell, a rainbow Afro wig on his head and platform shoes on his feet, strutted through Chicago as a charter member of the ’70s funk revolution whose sound is heavily sampled in rap songs today.
“It was psychedelic from a black perspective,” Bell said.
Bell, 59, designed the cover art for more than two dozen George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic albums. Under the name Sir Lleb (Bell backward), he wrote the albums’ liner notes, peppering them with cartoonish drawings, clever puns and names like “Thumpasaurus” and “Funkapus” that remain synonymous with Clinton’s music.
“George Clinton gets a lot of credit for the conceptual dimension of P-Funk, but actually Pedro Bell was a big part of that with his texts and imagery,” said Pan Wendt, co-curator of a gallery exhibition in Toronto called “Funkaesthetics” which featured Bell’s work.
Now, as Bell’s art receives increased recognition in the art world, the artist struggles to survive.
Almost totally blind, Bell can’t see the dim hallways of the Hyde Park Arms, the shabby SRO he calls home. His ankle is swollen from a wound that won’t heal. He receives dialysis three times a week because severe hypertension damaged his kidneys. He recently beat an eviction order on a court technicality.
And despite the commercial success of Clinton’s music, Bell said he didn’t profit from it.
“He should be well-taken care of,” said his younger brother Maillo Tsuru, who has been flying back and forth from his Denver home to help his brother find affordable assisted living. “He has work that is very famous.”
Bell first heard George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic on the 1970s underground Chicago radio station Triad, he said.
“I found the record company and sent a letter and said I wanted to do stuff,” he said.
He started designing concert posters and playbills for the group’s Chicago performances, then branched out into national press kits and promotional material.
Clinton asked him to do the artwork for his 1973 album “Cosmic Slop.” During most of his collaboration with Clinton, Bell worked jobs as a postal worker, security guard and for an auto parts manufacturer.
Despite the day jobs, he lived the funk philosophy, popularized in the music of Clinton, Sly Stone and Funkadelic member Bootsy Collins. Their creed was “free your mind and the rest will follow” and “when you’re going down you’re still up,” Bell said.
“We believed where the funk was going to take us,” he said. “We’ve got philosophy to back up the music.”
Museum of Contemporary Art curator Dominic Molon featured Bell’s work in his traveling exhibit “Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock ‘n’ Roll since 1967.”
“They looked somewhere beyond to find alternatives to the kind of weak realities of African-American life in the ’60s and ’70s,” Molon said of Bell and Clinton’s collaboration.
Wendt noted that Bell’s creations weren’t meant to be “high art.”
“They were business, they were funny, part of life, meant to be spread around widely and shared,” he said.
He says he thinks Bell’s original paintings, stored at a friend’s house, are worth “a lot of money for sure.”
Bell said he thought his involvement in the funk movement would sustain him beyond a falling-out he had with Clinton more than 15 years ago. Clinton’s agents did not respond to requests for comment.
“We really believed that if we [did] this, we’d be able to support ourselves,” Bell said.
Bell’s financial situation, though, is increasingly bleak.
“We’re just looking for collectors at this point,” Tsuru said. “There’s no reason a world-class artist shouldn’t have patrons.”
Hipped to this via Joe Carducci at The New Vulgate
man, typical of someone making all that money to “not respond to requests for comment”. using bell as a stepping stone ain’t cool, but that’s fame for you.
I wish that I had money to help him out, as his covers were something that I stared at for hours while listening to pfunk as stoned youth!
Well, the “no comment” comment doesn’t surprise me at all. But let’s get positive here, Bernie will be willing to be part of any benefit put together — you *all* just need to show up and pay so we can help Pedro. Check back at Bernie’s site as well as check with the Black Rock Coalition as they were the first to bring this to my attention.
thanks for the tip to check Bernie’s site!! never ever figured Bernie to say “no comment”! he seems like a real great guy!
please, take that benefit on the road so those of us far from Chicago can help out!
Loved Mr. Bell’s work from back in the day. I hope he writes a book and puts all his wonderful work in it. I would buy one and tell all my friends to buy one too.
So is there anywhere ppl can go and donate or make a purchase? How do we find out more? Is there anyway to spread the word?
I do believe Mr. Bell is an excellent artist and these originals are worth a LOT of money. They should change into collectors hands for big bucks! Also I believe high quality reproductions (larger than LP format) might sell. I’d buy one or two…. and of course a book about the man and his work. It might have a huge impact on young artists. Lately I’ve seen an exhibition in a small gallery in Copenhagen / Denmark and one of the artists’ work reminded me of Mr. Bells work a lot.
Hope he’ll get the respect (and money of course!) he deserves!
judy and bernie worrell are two of the nicest people in the music business… much respect…
pedro bell artwork is a huge part of the vibe of p-funk and hopefully people will show their support…
This is not a unique story. Does he have all the work still ? Original. If so it needs to be properly re photographed . There could be a book, Also there could be a relationship with a print house to create high end prints. There should be a non for profit art liscensing group created this is a relentless problem, Also he needs some one to deaal with and manage this stuff. It is not easy. If there are a number of originals we could organize a show. Easily. good luck . with good work in good condition you can approach institutions like
or the moma?
you never know
This is an awful shame. I have been trying to create a project that will utilize Pedro’s art. The Parliament Funkadelic is the only band in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, where most the members are NOT millionaires. We wanted the Funk to be like the Rolling Stones or Pink Floyd or KISS – bands who took care of their members and treated them with respect to the creative contribution.
Any true PFUNK fan knows just how much Sir Lleb’s writing contributed to the whole idea of FUNK! I know I’m not the only one who would read the album covers like it was a text book to understanding funk.
Pedro should have gotten one million dollar per cover. Cosmic Slop is one of the most amazing album covers of all time!
I’m glad to ready Bernie and Judy are reaching out. I was at BRC funkshun in NYC and Pedro was there. 1996 the landing of the Mothership in Central Park. He was great, bought me a drink and we talked for a few hours. Bought ME a drink!!!! Like most artists, he’s a giver. Dr. Funkenstien are you listening?
Sad to hear about this. The man is a true artist and genius. May God bless him and give him health. My prayers go out to him.
Pedro Bell’s art work is a part of American history and yes he deserves much more compensation. If you haven’t already, it could be very beneficial to start a Facebook fan page and offer prints for sale. While the biggest part of us can’t afford the kind of money Mr. Bell’s originals should bring, there are thousands of us who can afford prints. I also like the idea someone had in an earlier post about a book of his work. Please keep us posted of the progress and good luck!
I am in touch with Pedro Bell on a regular basis as he is one of my coaches and collaborators for The Funk and bess friends
We are looking at ways to rise above it all or drown in our own shit!
We had a MADD MAGAZINE PROJECT CALLED ZEEP MAGAZINE,that included our art jokes writing and featured other artist from this almost extinc genre of music and art “Funk”.
We are in talks of doing books gallery exhibits and he is also writing the liner notes for my upcomming and past
musical projects called
“MUSICAL ADVENTURES OF STOZO THE CLOWN.” The DigiDonz
KlownRed and The Family Stoze
To SUPPORT US ,or get inquiries or communicatioons to P-Dro Bell or Stozo The Clown you can email us at
Stozo’s cd project will also be ready soon so stay toon
keep givin up da fonk y’all !!!!
Stozo The Clown
I want to thank my professor from UCLA for sending me the link not only to the disturbing article about my friend Pedro but also to comments from an astonishing array for admirers and friends of Pedro, some of whom, such as Stozo, I know pretty well.
I’ve been associated with Pedro since around 1986 and worked with him professionally in 2007 (more on that in a moment). For the last three or four years, I’ve been in communication with Pedro monthly, if not weekly. The upshot is that when his manager, etc., Sharon Davis, died, the process of his demise accelerated. I must say that he has handled it with an amazing amount of strength, dignity, and humor, and stubbornness, too (he is, like everyone else, far from perfect). My view is that Pedro has paid a high price for being a true artist in America, taking his adversity like a man and, for the most part, refusing to whine about it.
Somehow, the wire from the bed spring in his old bed, which repeatedly punctured his foot or ankle, did him in and is the cause of the foot infection that has helped put him in dire straits medically–this on top of having to go to dialysis three days a week and suffering–visual artist that he is–from macular degeneration.
Everyone is right to note that as rich as Pedro’s art work is, the cruel irony is that he is so cash poor while alive. After Sharon’s death, I did what I could from afar (Chicago and Brooklyn) to give him to work. I asked him to let me use his amazing and utterly original portrait of Sun Ra as the front cover of the book I eventually self-published on the cosmic piano virtuoso.
Forgive me for coming off as mercenary (and will accept all criticisms for being so), but if anyone would like to help Pedro financially, they could do so by buying my book at http://www.sunrajazzmessiah.com. The deal cut with Pedro is this: after the money spent to publish the book is recovred, Pedro and my wife, the publisher, will split the profits 50/50, and after his passing profits would then pass to Pedro’s son–“Irate Jr.”
Buying the book, though, is a cheap contribution to Pedro’s cause. For the finanically serious amoung you, I ask that you buy one of his prints of the Sun Ra portrait, which he limited, I believe, to 50. My sister and I, among a few others, have one. Clip Payne’s ex-wife has one, in addition to another original album cover art work that, last I heard, she was willing to sell for about $15,000.
No, Pedro ain’t asking for no handouts at a pity party–though he was stretch to the utter limit by urging the report to write the story of his current plight.
But, on the other hand, it seems that Pedro has a way of asking us without asking us to overcome the paralysis and numbness that allows us to sit by a watch him, as a work of art, wither right before our blind eyes.
I used to stare at the record covers and read the liner notes while listening to entire Funkadelic albums straight through. George Clinton may be a genius, but so is Pedro Bell, and he hasn’t gotten enough credit to date.
The remaining pieces owned by Pedro belong in a major public collection. Whoever suggested the Studio Museum, that’s one option. Probably something in Chicago is another one. This would help preserve the work (they are AMAZING things in real life, and I feel lucky to have seen them at all), and also help make Pedro’s living situation a lot easier. I hope it happens.
Hey P, I picked up guitar because of Eddie, I played drums because of Tiki, I learned Keys because of Bernie, I sung strong because of Glenn and I drew with passion and mysticism back then and even now because of you. 1 million a cover is not enough but well deserved. P, Design 5 originals, digitize them and sell them as screensaver for 1 dollar a piece. There are millions of funk fans, new and old and we will support you. I am going to post this link on my facebook and will be sending this to Michael Baisden, Steve Harvy, Tom Joyner and Oprah (She’s in chicao P, contact her). I do not have money to give but I have a love for your talent, a will to speak-out and a computer to spread out. God Bless, stay focused.
put them on shirts..its way badder than anythang warhol ever did….classic covers..great stuff to read..it made me want to listen even harder..white america lionize their artists..we turn our backs on ours..prove me wrong
I worked with Bo Diddley for the major part of my life and I now play with Original “P” featuring Fuzzy Haskins & Grady Thomas, former bandmates of Bernie Worrell. Bo’s art was sold when there could have been more creative mechanisms put in place to prevent his artistic assets from being seperated from his heirs. Giclées, serigraphs and many other items should be “mined” from Mr. Bell’s work before they should be sold to anyone. Please, think, it ain’t illegal yet.
i too wish i could afford to help and i wish i could own anything by Mr.Bell…His work is amazing and ive been a huge fan of His art as well as the P-FUNK…4EVER!!! Bell deserves so much more recognition and should be compensated for His contribution to the P-FUNK. IF IM LUCKY…ONE DAY I WILL OWN SOME LITHOGRAPHS…HOPEFULLY. I’D PAY MANY $$$ if i had it. I hope all goes well with Pedro Bell in the future. THANKYOU Sir Lleb 4 all the mind blowing art & words You programmed into my mind while i grooved to da FUNK…You will be ok…things will work out. THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU. I ALSO LIKE TO draw & make cool crazy art & design. You are an inspiration to me and always will. iHope one day You Read this…
Dont blame George Clinton for Pedros hard times. They are both broke, thats why the funk is on a never ending tour (thats the only real way a musician can have steady income and there is no real equivalant for an artist). Plus Chicagos art scene leaves alot to be desired. I truly appreciate Sir Lleb, and pray he and his work will be deservedly appreciated before he leaves us
“Funk grows stronger with time”
I purchased an album Funkadelic – Lets Take It To The Stage
I saw the one online in color, this one bluish grey color.
Is this the color it was first sold in record shops? Was
purchased in little town in TN. Thanks!
I have looked over this website a few times.of course i am in a state of dismay over the news of pedro’s demise,Ive been a fan of his work since i was a child now i go out and collect album jackets so i can have something to keep for my collection.I am a visual artist my self in fact i credit him for his influence with his style of using felt tip markers.i would really like to know if some one could keep me briefed on pedro’s situation please we are praying for him every day thank you ‘god loves you pedro’
Good point Storm Butter that’s exactly what I was thinking. And Darryl McCane, p-funk could never support its members like the rolling stones or kiss because those are 4 person bands versus the sprawling collective that is p-funk. and i dont think any of them are millionaires george clinton is still fighting for royalties he didnt get either. but i think there is definitely a market for pedro bell’s work, books, posters, and prints would be successful because the younger generations still buy up p-funk, it’s got a new market from kids who listen to rap music with p-funk samples and from kids who listen to rock music like red hot chili peppers and primus. i hope pedro gets well and gets a new market for his work! cuz i was googling pedro bell posters thats how i found this page
I consider Pedro Bell to be one of the greatest comic artists of all time. I was heavily into Funkadelic and underground comix (ZAP comix, Furry Freak Brothers, Coochie Cooty Comix, etc.) back in the day, so a new Funkadelic album with the Pedro Bell comic was like a double treat! Me and my buddies would read the comic and laugh our asses off at the exploits of the funky worm
and the rest of characters. The man is a genius, and I hope Mr. Bell gets well and gets the wider recognition and praise he so richly deserves!
Although the benefit concert for Pedro Bell was held back on January 2, 2010 (according to Bernie Worrell’s website), there is still an active link to a PayPal account where those who would like to help Pedro out by making a monetary contribution still can. The direct link to the Pedro Bell Benefit Account on PayPal is: https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=10581525 Or, you can go to Bernie’s website to learn more: http://www.bernieworrell.com/tour/icalrepeat.detail/2010/01/02/28/9%7C11%7C10/NTc2ZGY1Y2VlOTcwNDllOTlkODVjY2NhNzFiOWE2ZWY=
I am a longtime fan of Parliament/Funkadelic (I’ll Bet You 1969) and one of the bonuses in purchasing a Funkadelic album (1973-1981) was the album artwork and liner notes that accompanied each LP. Although he was neither a vocalist or musician, Pedro Bell’s artwork was as essential as any other aspect of the Parliament/Funkadelic experience.
Hey Pedro this is zack & Theresa from 65th hoyne just seeing how you were doing I hope to here from you soon
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Rest In Peace, Mr. Pedro Bell.
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