Screen-printed band t-shirts have been en vogue for so long, that it can be hard for some younger music fans to conceive a time when they weren’t in fashion. Whether it’s grabbing a shirt from the merch table at a concert all the way to massive retailers now carrying shirts for classic artists that you can buy off the rack, band tees and merch are about as ubiquitous now as most other clothing items. But that wasn’t always the case. Journey with us as The Bakeree welcomes Living on the Fringes – a pop up gallery showcasing 70s band merch, highlighting an era that finally bridged the gap between rock music and fashion.
This exhibit, which is currently being featured in our store until October 15th, features work by Jeffrey Axelrod and Barry Anderson. The two founded Hip-O-Potamus Creations back in 1970 and steadily defined the style of the decade as they began to work with higher profile artists. Rock and roll in the 1970s was vibrant, exciting and full of a tenacity in the artists that they carried both on and off stage. The energy around the music that was coming up needed visual components that matched the enthusiasm and eclectic nature of the sounds being produced by artists like the Grateful Dead, The Who, Janis Joplin, and Fleetwood Mac. Some of that you could get off of album covers and posters. However, the clothes being worn by artists on stage started to create a movement of fashion on its own.
This left another opportunity wide open – why not merge the identity of the artist with fashion? Axelrod and Anderson saw the opportunity and the drive to make it happen as they started the very first licensed manufacturing business for silk-screened t-shirts for rock musicians, film, as well as the marijuana initiative of 1972 to 1974. All these different realms collided in a beautiful way throughout the decade with apparel justing being one of the many ways they’d intersect throughout the decade and through to today. So, who were these two guys that helped define the looks of these movements?
Jeffrey Axelrod was originally born in Massachusetts but really settled his early life in New York in the 1960s. By the time he was 21 years old, he owned a gas station and two parking lots in Chelsea. But Axelrod had a spirit of adventure. In 1969 he stowed away in the bathroom of an airplane as a means of getting himself to Los Angeles. However, he quickly found that Los Angeles wasn’t suited for him and moved up the coast to San Francisco. It was there that he met his eventually business and art partner, Barry Anderson. Anderson had lived in San Francisco his whole life. At that time, he was working a motorcycle shop painting bikes and creating custom designs for their customers. The same year Axelrod moved to San Francisco, Anderson’s friend who served in Vietnam reached out to him about starting a t-shirt company with Axelrod. Anderson hopped on board, doing t-shirt designs at night until his boss at the motorcycle shop found out and fired him for freelancing. A minor setback ended up being a blessing in disguise, giving Anderson more time to focus on his apparel designs. A company that Axelrod started with only $100 was about to take off with everyone in their right place.
Steadily Hip-O-Potamus creations took off. Soon they found themselves created t-shirts for the likes of David Bowie, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Santana, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, and more future iconic artists. As those artists became more prominent, so did Anderson’s designs. Anderson and Axelrod’s partnership became a huge part in defining the look of the era, with their shirts being sold on tour with these artists – as well as creating shirts for the crew and exclusive looks for the artists.
The marijuana initiative of the 70s proved to be another defining point for the burgeoning t-shirt company. Expanding beyond working with artists, they decided to put their skills toward political change. They began creating shirts that encouraged the community to get out and vote for legalization of cannabis, partnering with groups such as Mothers for Marijuana to help get traction. It was the first ballot initiative to seek legalization in the history of the United States. While that campaign ultimately didn’t pass, it created the foundation for campaigns that would ultimately lead to legalization here in Washington and other states like Colorado, Oregon, and eventually even their own home of California.
“People still refer to Barry and I, with our initials B and J, as the Ben & Jerry of marijuana,” Alexrod says on their website.
Axelrod and Anderson are still hard at work today running Hippo Tees. They still sell some of their classic designs but also continue to innovate and create custom works be request. Anderson, not personally keen on the advent of Photoshop, still does all of his designs by hand which gives his work that unique, irreplaceable look that’s become part of the pop culture conscious for nearly five decades. Whether it was musicians we’ve idolized or the marijuana movement that’s made businesses like The Bakeree a possibility, these two innovators have been through it all. What they do is art and a gallery may be the best way to experience it (other than wearing the shirts for yourself!).
This is the first time and only time this exhibit has been seen, after being in storage for 42 years prior to going to Back Stage Auctions. The Bakeree is thrilled to host their works in our gallery space. It’s a rare opportunity to see some of the original works that spurred an entire industry and movement within music and fashion. There are some of the original concepts and sketches on display as well, showcasing how these famous designs were birthed all the way through their eventual printing on shirts. Come see it for yourself. Stop in today and check it out for yourself. The Bakeréé is located at 74 S Lucile St., between Hwy 99 and 1st Ave in Seattle’s historic Georgetown.