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JohnnyRingo's Journal
JohnnyRingo's Journal
February 23, 2020

Mystery woman on the cover of Black Sabbath finally identified

“By the lake a young girl waits, unseeing she believes herself unseen, she smiles, faintly at the distant tolling bell, and the still falling rain.”

"Louisa Livingston". There. I could end now and you'll know her name, but this iconic album cover has so much more to explore. She's led a quiet life and plays music now under the stage name Indreba. If you're a fan of Ozzy you may not appreciate her ambient medleys, but they are what they are. Check her out here, but you'll probably be back: https://indreba.bandcamp.com/

Back then she claimed not to really like Black Sabbath, saying "it's not my kind of music". She was more interested in mainstream rock like Clapton and The Stones. Let's get back to her further down.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of Black Sabbath's self titled first release. It was on February 13, a Friday of course, and a new era of heavy metal dawned. There was arguably nothing like Black Sabbath before that date, though many have followed. This premier cover is considered by collectors as one of the best designs ever printed, from that cast over the Mapledurham Watermill in Oxfordshire to the witchy woman staring hauntingly before the murky pond. She is not credited at all on the album and the photographer only as "cover design by Keef", and that's how it's been for 50 years.

Back in the '70s and early '80s I busied myself at record conventions collecting vinyl LPs, not so much for the music, but for the album art (certainly a lost art), and the import version of this one was one of my staple artifacts. Unfortunately, my teenage sons discovered Ozzie sometime in the early '80s and it suffered accordingly. Forever gone is the 12" X 36" poster of the band (by Keef) that was folded up within the gate fold cover. It ended up on their bedroom wall, but I can't fault them now. At least they couldn't kill my Bose 901s with it.

In this iconic image Ms Livingston appears as an other worldly apparition, seemingly with little purpose beyond invoking misery and strife in the unsuspecting. The watermill behind her is cast in a pinkish wash and grainy texture with a foreboding haunted nature, all done in the days before digital editing. It was shot that way right out of the camera.

"Keef" is Keith "Keef" Macmillan, young, eager, fresh out of art school and working as album designer at Vertigo Records, the English imprint of Phillips. When chosen for this contract he was given access to the actual studio tapes to listen to and became a Sabbath fan for life. Keith went on to design 4 more covers for the band and tagged along on the road for about twenty years as the band's photog. That first album was released on his 23rd birthday.

For this one he hired a professional model. At barely 5 feet tall, Louisa was chosen for her petite build to make the rest of the scenery appear larger. Livingston clutches at her coat, and while Keef says she was holding a black cat to her bosom, Louisa recalls that she was just freezing that November morning. She says she has absolutely nothing on under that coat because they took some more revealing shots earlier, but Keith decided it worked better without the nudity. It's perhaps just as revealing that Louisa recalls being "about 17 or 18 years old at the time", so there's that.

They got up that fall morning at 4:00am to arrive just as the sun rose. Macmillan had spent the day before preparing his gear. Keef used Kodak Infrared Aerochrome film, a particularly light sensitive medium used in aerial photography, and a dual lens camera, apparently for the panorama. In order to get this grainy false color look he actually ruined the film by alternately boiling and freezing it over and over. The rest is rock & roll history from the age when album art was a thing.

It certainly is amazing that it took this long to learn their identities.

There's a full Rolling Stone Magazine interview here for those who want to learn more about this behind the music team and where they went after this project. It's a truly fascinating article, I promise, if you like Sabbath, you'll like this. It includes a lot of historical input from the band and why Keef placed a War Pig on the cover of the album titled "Paranoid":


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Gender: Male
Hometown: Cortland, Ohio
Home country: USA
Current location: I never go anywhere
Member since: Mon Jul 7, 2003, 03:08 AM
Number of posts: 18,912
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