Mike McCarty, born in 1946, is a Dothan, Alabama native and graduated from Auburn University in 1970. Although Mike is not a musician, due to his countless designs of album cover art and other music industry design projects, the Wiregrass Blues Society sought to recognize his significant achievements and award him as the Living Wiregrass Blues Fest Honoree in 2018.
According to Mike, he first intended on becoming a veternerian while attending Auburn University, but he had difficulty with the math and science courses that were required. In order to raise his grade point average, he began taking art classes and realized he had a knack for illustration. During that time, Mike had an opportunity to submit a pen and ink drawing to a contest for the band, Steppenwolf. The band accepted the drawing and then he started to see his work utilized on promotional posters for the band. Mike confesses that when he saw his art in print, he was “really hooked then.”
Mike also knew Buddy Buie, the famous songwriter/producer also from Dothan, AL, from childhood and was enlisted by Buddy to design and illustrate numerous album covers for the band, the Atlanta Rhythm Section. In 1976, Mike, along with his wife, Sherri, established the graphic design firm called McCarty Graphics and designed over 200 album covers for many famous artists including: Isaac Hayes, Willie Nelson, Fats Domino, Piano Red, Waylon Jennings, Sam and Dave, Joe South, Billy Joe Royal, James Brown, Solomon Burke, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Patti Smith. Much of his album art has been featured on hugely popular albums achieving Gold, Platinum, and Double Platinum status. Mike notes: “The irony though when I was in high school, I was buying these albums of these people that later on I got to do covers for. And we became friends. I never would have imagined something like that happening.”
In addition to designing album covers, Mike also designed T-shirts and other products that were created to market musical artists for many major record companies such as: CBS Records, Columbia Records, United Artist Records, Polygram, Warner Brother Records, Capricorn Records, Mercury Records, ARISTA Records, and MCA Records. Furthermore, Mike was a voting member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and also served as Chairman of the Album Packaging Committee for the Grammy Awards.
Outside of music related design work, Mike’s art was also featured in advertising campaigns like the famous Chevron car (i.e., smiling car with fat tires) which has enjoyed a successful run over the years. In addition, he was enlisted to design a poster in 1976 for then presidential candidate, Jimmy Carter. The campaign staff wanted to reach African American voters and since Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer, the campaign staff wanted Mike to link back to George Washington Carver, the original peanut farmer. Mike created cariacatures of both Jimmy Carter and George Washington Carver, sitting on top of a gigantic peanut with their arms around each other; and the caption read: “The Great Peanut Connection.” As Mike tells the story, he was later at a promotional picnic given by Capricorn Records; in attendance were Jimmy Carter, the Allman Brothers and other musicians, along with the artist, Andy Warhol. According to Mike, Andy Warhol walked up and said: “Hey – where can I get one of those T-shirts?”
When asked what are his favorite album covers that he created, Mike notes that it is difficult to narrow it down. Yet, when pressed, he did note his particular love for: Atlanta Rhythm Section’s Red Tape (1976), Rossington Collins Band’s Anytime, Anywhere, Any Place (1980), and Starbuck’s Moonlight Feels Right (1975), as well as Patti Smith’s single, “Because the Night” (1978).
Mike now resides in Santa Rosa Beach, FL with his wife, Sherri, and mostly focuses on abstract art, inspired by the beach and the area’s lush botanical life. In 2009, the Tourist Development Council (TDC) awarded Mike the “Beaches of South Walton Artist of the Year,” representing the various beach communities of that area. Mike’s artwork has also been featured internationally and throughout the U.S., including at the Wiregrass Museum of Art, in his hometown of Dothan, Alabama.