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Herb Alpert Article...4/6/05

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Herb Alpert Hopes to Get A Second Wind From His Feel-Good 'Tijuana'
> Sound
> By Paul Farhi
> Washington Post Staff Writer
> Wednesday, April 6, 2005; Page C01
> SANTA MONICA, Calif.


> Just a few notes from that peppy horn are enough to book you on a
> first-class nostalgia trip. They take you back to turntable parties
in
> the paneled rec room, tiki torches on the patio, and Dad sporting his
> groovy new sideburns. They evoke enormous plastic daisy decorations,
> wide whitewall tires and yellow shag carpet.
> Odd as it seems now, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass had as much
claim
> on the soundtrack of the 1960s as the Beatles. The group's
instrumental
> pop albums, slickly produced by Alpert himself, made him king of easy
> listening, god of the gentle and long-gone Middle of the Road genre.
> You heard those horns everywhere -- on "Ed Sullivan," on Top-40
radio,
> on chewing-gum commercials, on "The Dating Game." Your parents loved
> him, but so (often in secret) did the kids. At its peak in 1966, the
> TJB
> -- essentially Alpert and an evolving cast of L.A. studio musicians
--
> had four albums in the Top 10. By the end of the decade, the group
had
> sold more records than anyone except the Beatles, Elvis and Sinatra.
> And then? And then the Tijuana Brass began a slow shuffle toward
> used-record store bins and Muzak-al obscurity. There were a couple of
> brief Alpert spikes during the 1970s (notably, the disco-ish "Rise"
in
> 1979), but the air went out of the golden trumpet soon enough. Alpert
> devoted more of his time to building the record empire he had
> co-founded
> (he was the "A" in mighty A&M Records) and to other pursuits. As
> ubiquitous as such perky Tijuana Brass hits as "Spanish Flea,"
"Mexican
> Shuffle," "Tijuana Taxi" and "A Taste of Honey" were four decades
ago,
> they are dusty artifacts today, the musical equivalent of double-knit
> polyester slacks.
> So maybe it's as good a time as any for a Herb Alpert revival, or at
> least a retrospective. After more than a decade out of print,
Alpert's
> best-selling TJB works from the 1960s are being reissued by Shout!
> Factory, a small Los Angeles-based label. A complicated publishing
deal
> tied up the rerelease until last month, when the Alpert-approved
series
> began with "The Lonely Bull," the TJB's 1962 debut, as well as "South
> of
> the Border" (1964) and a collection of unreleased and obscure
> recordings
> (some with new Alpert trumpet parts) from 1963-74 called "Lost
> Treasures." Eight more remastered originals will follow throughout
the
> year.
> "My kids say a new generation will discover this, but I don't know,"
> says Alpert. "I couldn't predict that I was going to make a hit
record
> [40 years ago], so I can't say if they will or they won't. I will say
> it's upbeat and positive music. There's so much dark music out there
> now."
> Alpert, now 70, who is as low-key and relaxed as a bass solo, talks
in
> the offices of his self-named philanthropic organization here, which
is
> decorated with imposing sculptures and paintings by the man himself.
> The
> jet-black hair and angular features that made him salable to middle
> America a few decades ago haven't quite been erased by time.
> Despite one health issue last year (atrial fibrillation, a heart
> ailment), Alpert remains active and creative. He practices every day
on
> the same trumpet he has played since 1953, works on his art and
> oversees
> the considerable fortune he has amassed, especially since selling A&M
> to
> Polygram in 1990 for a reported $500 million. Sometime soon, he says,
> he
> plans to produce an album by his wife, singer Lani Hall Alpert, who
> once
> recorded with another A&M group, Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66.
> The legend of Alpert's big recording breakthrough, "The Lonely Bull,"
> really is true, he says. When Alpert and his business partner, Jerry
> Moss (the "M" in A&M), attended their first bullfight in Tijuana,
> Mexico, in 1962, Alpert became intrigued by the brass fanfare that
> introduced each fight, and crowd's excited reactions. He set out to
> capture it in a recording. Alpert reworked the melody of a song
called
> "Twinkle Star," written by collaborator Sol Lake, and mixed it with a
> recording of the "oles!" from an actual bullfight.
> The single was the first hit for Alpert, then 27, and for his
fledgling
> record label. The album that followed, also a popular success,
> established the Tijuana Brass formula: a few highly polished original
> compositions (by Alpert, Lake and other writers), coupled with bright
> cover versions of popular songs of the day and a few golden oldies.
The
> whole package -- music, promotion and, of course, the Tijuana Brass
> name, which was dreamed up by Moss -- was designed to conjure up a
> south-of-the-border tourist fantasy. Alpert played up the old Mexico
> feel by using marimbas, breezy guitars and brass elements that
vaguely
> suggested a mariachi horn section (actually, Alpert overdubbing
> himself). The original songs also had titles that stayed with the
> theme:
> "Acapulco 1922," "Adios, Mi Corazon," "Salud, Amor y Dinero," etc.
> "When
> you're making an instrumental record," he says, "there has to be a
> visual attached to it. You close your eyes and you get a mental
> picture.
> I got letters from all over the world from people saying, 'Thank you
> for
> taking me on a trip to Tijuana.' "
> The Latin flavor extended to A&M's early artist lineup, which
included
> the Sandpipers ("Guantanamera"), Mendes, and the Baja Marimba Band,
> which featured another Alpert collaborator, Julius Wechter.
> Of course, Alpert and the Tijuana Brass were about as authentically
> Mexican as a Chili's restaurant. Alpert never paid much attention to
> mariachi music (he leaned more toward Louis Armstrong and Miles
Davis).
> He and Moss, a veteran record promoter, were primarily interested in
> creating a bright, radio-friendly pop sound. Although one of the
early
> session musicians was Hispanic (Mexican jazz bassist Abraham
Laboriel),
> most of the group that became the Brass in its touring heyday were
> Italian Americans: Pat Senatore (bass), John Pisano (electric
guitar),
> Lou Pagani (piano) and Nick Ceroli (drums).
> The concept -- gringos dressed in sombreros and matador outfits,
> playing
> Americanized Mexi-pop -- probably wouldn't stand the authenticity
test
> today, let alone a cultural sensitivity or kitsch test. To a few
> critics, it didn't hold up then, either. The San Francisco Chronicle
> dismissed the Tijuana Brass as a Mexican minstrel show.
> Alpert was aware of it then, as he is now: "In the real early days, I
> didn't want to feel like we were stepping on anyone's toes. Some of
the
> PR at the time suggested I was a direct offshoot of mariachi music. I
> didn't want to be perceived as a phony." But he is untroubled by it.
> "When you come right down to it, it's all in the music," he says. "I
> think people just liked the music. It was upbeat for the most part. I
> never thought it was frivolous or corny. I put as much of my heart
into
> it as I could."
> He pauses a beat and reflects, "Art is timing. You're in the right
> place
> at the right time and the door creaks open for you. We came at the
> right
> moment."
> In fact, Alpert eventually got some validation even in Mexico. When
the
> Brass went on tour in the mid-1960s, they played several dates there,
> and the audiences were as large and appreciative as any north of the
> border.
> Although his dark good looks enabled him to pass for Latino, Alpert
is
> actually the son of a Jewish tailor from Kiev and a Hungarian
immigrant
> mother; he grew up in Los Angeles' heavily Jewish Fairfax district.
> Alpert began playing at the age of 8 after he picked out a trumpet
from
> among the instruments on a table at his elementary school's
> music-appreciation day. By 16, he was playing in a local party band
and
> thinking of becoming a professional musician. He eventually played so
> many gigs, he says, that at one time he knew some 2,000 songs from
> memory.
> He also had a brief stint as a movie actor; in his one uncredited
role,
> he played the drums as Charlton Heston descended from Mount Sinai in
> "The Ten Commandments."
> Alpert's early musical career was a hodgepodge of performing,
producing
> and songwriting. He played trumpet during a two-year stint with the
6th
> Army Band in the 1950s, and later with the University of Southern
> California marching band while a student. With partner Lou Adler,
later
> a famed record producer in his own right, Alpert wrote songs for Sam
> Cooke, including "Only Sixteen" and "Wonderful World" ("Don't know
much
> about history . . . "). Alpert and Adler also produced a hit for Jan
&
> Dean ("Baby Talk").
> These experiences provided Alpert with a street-level PhD in almost
> every major aspect of the music business and gave him the confidence
to
> handle most creative aspects on his own albums. He was producer,
> songwriter, arranger and lead musician.
> To be sure, some of the commercial polish on the TJB sound also came
> from Moss, who was a co-producer on the classic Brass records. As
Moss
> recalls, "Herbie did all the playing and arranging, of course, but
some
> of the ideas in the studio came from me. I was a promo man. I knew
what
> would get played on the radio."
> The success of the records, says Moss, was a reflection of the
"warmth"
> of Alpert's sound. "It was the kind of thing you hear and feel good
> about," he says. "That part is as fresh to me now as it ever was."
> It's debatable, however, whether one of Alpert's most commercially
> successful albums owed more to its cover art than to its music.
> "Whipped
> Cream & Other Delights," released in 1965, was certainly high concept
> --
> all of its songs were named after foods -- but its most memorable
> feature may have been the cover photo of a beautiful, dark-eyed and
> apparently naked model covered in white cream.
> The picture occupied a not insignificant piece of real estate in the
> psyches of adolescent boys of that era, who are men of this one. As
> Esquire put it in 1989, "We bought this album for the album cover.
For
> here is what lust looked like in 1966."
> When art director Peter Whorf presented his cover idea to Alpert and
> Moss, Alpert says, "We thought it was pushing the envelope too much.
> You've got to remember this is 1965. Now it's nothing."
> They went ahead anyway, hiring a friend of the A&M founders, a Ford
> Agency model named Dolores Erickson, then 25. Whorf spent most of the
> daylong photo session slathering Erickson with shaving cream, which
> held
> up better under the hot studio lights than whipped cream (although
> whipped cream was used on Erickson's head and hand). All that shaving
> cream covered up the fact that she was three months pregnant at the
> time.
> The resulting image reveals far less of Erickson than the average
> low-cut dress, but the overall effect was electrifying. "People have
> told me that it's the innocence of the look," says Erickson, now 65,
> retired and living in Washington state. "It's what you can't see"
that
> adds to its allure. "I understand it was very suggestive to men, but
I
> never thought of it like that."
> She refers to it as "the world's most famous album cover."
> "Whipped Cream" stayed at No. 1 on the album charts for eight weeks.
> Alpert's biggest-selling single of the era came three years later, in
> 1968, when Alpert asked the celebrated composer (and A&M artist) Burt
> Bacharach if he would contribute a song for an upcoming TV special
> featuring the group. Bacharach offered an old composition he'd
written
> with Hal David. It was a song that Dionne Warwick had made a demo
tape
> of, called "This Girl's in Love With You." With a few quick lyrical
> alterations, Alpert sang the song "This Guy's in Love With You" on TV
> and later recorded it.
> "You didn't ask me this," Alpert says, somewhat amused by his own
> braggadocio, "but I'm the only guy who had a No. 1 instrumental
record
> and a No. 1 vocal record."
> Not long after, Alpert went through the same drill. Hal David handed
> him
> "(They Long to Be) Close to You." But after recording it, Alpert felt
> the song wasn't right for his understated tenor. He passed it off to
> Karen and Richard Carpenter, who put it on their second A&M album. It
> was the Carpenters' breakthrough song.
> As it happened, the Carpenters ushered in Alpert's later career as a
> record-industry mogul. By 1969, he felt burned out from the Brass's
> worldwide touring and constant recording. His first marriage was
> crumbling. For the first time in many years, he briefly stopped
playing
> the trumpet. Alpert disbanded the group (though it would have
periodic
> revivals) and began investing more of his energy in A&M's artists.
> After several years in which Alpert's Tijuana Brass records carried
A&M
> (its logo featured Alpert's horn, after all), the label began signing
> more rock and folk-rock acts. It added Cat Stevens, Joan Baez, Joe
> Cocker, Peter Frampton and the Police to its roster. It also released
> the work of Quincy Jones, Hugh Masekela, Antonio Carlos Jobim and,
> later, Janet Jackson.
> "When we started," says Moss, "small labels lived and died on a hit
> single. Herbie and I wanted to develop artists who could make albums
> that would sell for years and years to come. We were trying to build
> something real."
> Real indeed: By the time Moss and Alpert cashed out in 1990, A&M was
> the
> largest independent record label in the world.
> Alpert would release 14 more original albums of his own, but with
> inconsistent commercial reaction ("Rise" in 1979 and "Keep Your Eye
on
> Me" in 1987 were comeback records). In the meantime, he branched out
to
> Broadway and philanthropy. He was one of the producers of "Angels in
> America," Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, and the musical
> "Jelly's Last Jam." After selling A&M in 1990, he and Moss joined
> forces
> again and in 1994 started Almo Sounds, which signed the rock group
> Garbage.
> These days, Alpert's name usually rises in connection with his
> foundation. It gives money to environmental and arts-education causes
> benefiting children; Alpert's name is affixed to a private school
> campus
> in Santa Monica, Calif., an annual state arts award, and a visiting
> professor's chair at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
> If anything, Alpert's career as a recording artist says much about
the
> value of simple, nonthreatening, happy music. It may be just a
> coincidence that his greatest musical success coincided with a period
> of
> turbulence and upheaval, socially and musically. "Lonely Bull" became
a
> smash in the months preceding Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream"
> speech and John F. Kennedy's assassination. It postdated Elvis and
> predated the Beatles. As rock grew increasingly rebellious, as the
> civil
> rights movement and the Vietnam War flared, the Tijuana Brass offered
> something dreamy and transporting and distinctly non-edgy.
> Listening to it now, you can almost feel the shag carpet beneath your
> feet.
 
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