Barry Anderson, who has always lived in the San Francisco Bay area, began his professional art career working for a motorcycle shop in Redwood, CA, that wanted to start printing motorcycle shirts. He did sketches of motorcycles, Motocross and more, putting the logo on the front of the shirt and a custom design on the back. But then, in 1969, he was approached by a soldier friend named John with whom he had served in Vietnam and who had moved to San Francisco from New York, and had known Jeff Axelrod, also now living in San Francisco, from New York.
“John was broke and told me that he and Jeff wanted to start printing t-shirts,” Anderson recalls. “So I started doing t-shirts for Hippo at night, creating designs like mushrooms, butterflies, peace signs and the like. My boss at the motorcycle shop fired me when he found out that I was freelancing so I went into Hippo fulltime. I was the artist; John did the printing and production work, and Jeff was the business guy. We started in a little shop at 29th and Mission Street.
Anderson relates that, during the Cold War, Hippo actually did a t-shirt for a Moscow concert with Joan Baez, the Beach Boys and Santana – it would have been the first time Americans ever played in that country – but the concert was cancelled after the U.S. boycotted the Olympics in Russia. One of his fondest memories, however, happened when he and a friend went to a Willie Nelson concert here in the U.S.
“My friend was wearing a Hippo t-shirt that we did for the Bob Dylan Rolling Thunder Revue,” Anderson relates. ”Willie was wearing a Texas Barbeque t-shirt and when he saw the one my friend was wearing, he asked him if they could trade. So Willie wore Hippo’s Bob Dylan t-shirt on stage. We did a lot of shirts for Willie after that.”
Hipo-O-Potamus Tees did shirts for everyone from the Beach Boys to Santana, the Allman Brothers, Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Rolling Stones, David Bowie, and many, many more. Sometimes we’d do three custom shirts for one concert – one for the public, one for the stage crew, and one for the artists.
The thing is that, today, almost all artists use computer graphics and they can get the work done in 20 minutes. Anderson is a computer dinosaur. He draws all artwork by hand. His computer skills are simply scan and send!