Herb Alpert - Biography
By Scott Feemster
Herb Alpert is an American trumpeter, musician, producer, composer, artist, music executive, restaurateur and philanthropist whose work has spanned from the late 1950s to the present. However, in the public's mind he will probably always be thought of as the smiling, dark haired man in the charro suit who fronted the Tijuana Brass in the 1960s. Either with the Tijuana Brass or solo, Alpert has scored 5 #1 pop hits, 14 platinum and 15 gold albums, 8 Grammy awards and has sold over 72 million albums worldwide to date.
Herbert Alpert was born on March 31st in Los Angeles, California, the youngest of three children born to a Russian Jewish tailor and his California-born wife. Young Alpert was raised in a home filled with music. His mother played violin, his father played mandolin, his sister played piano and one of his brothers played drums in some of Alpert's earliest groups. While attending elementary school, Alpert took a music appreciation class and was drawn to the trumpet. As Alpert recalled, “They had a room with a bunch of different instruments on a table and I picked up the trumpet. It took a long time before I made any sense of it. I was very fortunate that I stuck with it.” Alpert practiced and eventually formed a band in high school called the Colonial Trio who performed regularly.
By 1951, even though he was making a name for himself locally, playing weddings, parties and clubs on the weekends, he still didn't see music as a career option. After graduating high school, Alpert spent two years studying and became a member of the gymnastic team. Then he was drafted into the Army in 1955. While in the Army, Alpert was married. After finishing his term in the army and starting a family, he needed a steady income. Music was an option and Alpert spent his evenings playing gigs. He spent his days with his songwriting/production partner, Lou Adler. The pair was hired by LA-based record label, Keen Records, which was then enjoying success with Sam Cooke. During these years, Alpert tried a little of everything in the music business. Within a span of three years he co-wrote “Wonderful World” with Sam Cooke, produced Jan and Dean's “Baby Talk” and even tried out a little acting, blowing a ram's horn in the film The Ten Commandments. By 1960, Alpert was signed to RCA and performing as “Dore Alpert.”
As a solo artist, Dore Alpert didn't find much success. Alpert kept experimenting in his make-shift studio in his garage with his reel-to-reel recorder, trying out different combinations and learning how to overdub. After recording a tune called “Twinkle Star,” Alpert remembered a recent visit to Tijuana, Mexico where mariachis introduced each portion of a bullfight with a rousing fanfare. Feeling he could adapt this sound to the tune he was working on, he overdubbed more trumpet parts to make himself sound like a mariachi band. In addition he mixed in crowd cheers and other ambient noises and renamed the song “The Lonely Bull.” With his new partner, Jerry Moss (a music promotion man from New York City) the two pooled their money together and released “The Lonely Bull” as a single on their new label, A&M (Alpert & Moss) Records. The two had previously started a label called Carnival shortly before but found that someone else was using the name. “The Lonely Bull” was sent out to DJs across the country. By the end of 1962, the song was a top ten hit, eventually reaching #6 on the pop charts.
As soon as Alpert realized that he had a hit on his hands, he followed up with a full length album of mariachi-flavored pop tunes called The Lonely Bull (1962 A&M). The album was credited to Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, but the Brass didn't yet exist as a band so studio musicians filled out the arrangements on the album. The album was A&M's first album release and was a major success, turning Alpert into a household name. A&M, on the back of Alpert's success, went on to become to become one of the most successful privately-owned record labels in history, and helped to launch and support the careers of such artists as The Sandpipers, Chris Montez, Sergio Mendez & Brasil '66 and many more. Moss and Alpert ran the company until 1989, when it was sold to Polygram Records. They still retained artistic control until 1999, when the label was absorbed into the Universal Music Group and effectively dismantled.
Alpert followed up the album with a second album, Tijuana Brass Featuring Herb Alpert, Vol. 2 (A&M) in 1963, which wasn't quite as successful as the debut. A third album followed, South of the Border (A&M) in 1964.
By the end of 1964, due to more and more requests for live appearances, Alpert decided he should put together a real Tijuana Brass band, and hired a group of crack session musicians from around LA. The irony was that no one in the band was Latino. Alpert later described the band as “Three pastramis, two bagels and an American cheese.” The original line-up of the Brass consisted of Lou Pagani on piano, Pat Senatore on bass, John Pisano on electric guitar, Nick Ceroli on drums, Tonni Kalash on second trumpet, Bob Edmondson on trombone and Alpert on lead trumpet and occasional vocals. The band also occasionally included Alpert's long-time friend, marimba player Julius Wechter. Wechter also wrote songs for the band and went on to form his own spin-off band, inspired by the success of the Tijuana Brass, the Baja Marimba Band.
The new band debuted in 1965 and quickly became one of the biggest draws across the US, complete with their own revue, comic routines and choreographed dance steps. In 1965, the band released two albums, Whipped Cream (and Other Delights) (A&M) and Going Places (A&M). Both were resounding successes, no doubt helped by the cover of Whipped Cream (and Other Delights)’s cover, featuring model Dolores Erickson wearing only what was meant to look like whipped cream. In fact, Erickson was wearing a white blanket with daubs of shaving cream attached at key points, as real whipped cream would have melted quickly under the hot photographer's lights. Because the album cover was provocative and so many copies were sold, it has gone on to be universally acknowledged as one of the classic record covers of all time.
The Tijuana Brass went on to appear in television specials, commercials, variety shows and live dates. Yet they still managed to crank out albums at the rate of one or two per year throughout the 1960s. Alpert and his Brass were so successful that they won six Grammy awards, fifteen of their records went gold and fourteen went platinum. In 1966, they set a Guinness Book of World Records record for having five albums in the Billboard Pop Album Chart at the same time, a feat that has never been repeated. Curiously though, none of their singles reached the #1 spot on the pop singles charts until a fluke release in 1968. In a CBS television special, Beat of the Brass, Alpert was featured in a segment with his first wife walking along the coast near Malibu while a solo recording of “This Guy's In Love with You” played. The song wasn't intended to be released commercially but after thousands of calls came in asking about the song, Alpert and A&M decided to release it as a single. The song went on to top the pop charts at #1 for four weeks and has gone on to be considered a classic song for Alpert and Bacharach/David.
By 1969, Alpert had been on nearly decade long run as not only a band leader and label executive, but also as a pop star. Understandably tired, Alpert decided to disband the Tijuana Brass, concentrate on running his label, and enjoy life with his new wife, singer Lani Hall. Alpert reformed the Brass for an album in 1971. Later he used some of the original Brass members (as well as new members) to make a new band, the TJB who released albums in 1974 and 1975 and toured. Alpert issued a few solo albums during the ‘70s that stayed mostly under the radar until his 1979 album, Rise (A&M). The instrumental title cut off of the album went on to be a #1 hit and won Alpert another Grammy award. Herb Alpert is the only artist in the history of the Billboard pop charts to have had both a #1 instrumental and vocal hit. A few years later, Alpert had another hit with the song “Route 101” off his album Fandango (1982 A&M). A few years later he made a successful R&B-infused album, Keep Your Eye on Me (1987 A&M) with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and featuring vocals by Janet Jackson.
Throughout the ‘90s, Alpert continued to release solo albums that flirted with styles ranging from smooth jazz to Latin jazz and even trip-hop. He also contributed to albums by friends including Gato Barbieri, Jim Brickman, David Lanz, Rita Coolidge and Brian Culbertson. Alpert has also contributed more time to returning to one of his other loves, the visual arts. His paintings and sculptures are part of the permanent collections at the California Institute of Art, the American Jewish University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center. In addition to his visual arts work, Alpert established The Herb Alpert Foundation in 1982, a philanthropic organization that helps fund youth arts education as well as environmental issues. He has also opened a restaurant/jazz club in Bel Air, California called The Vibrato Grill. Alpert donated $30 million to UCLA to found the Herb Alpert School of Music and recently donated upwards of $15 million dollars to the California Institute of the Arts for its music programs. Though Alpert hasn't issued an album of new material since 1999, he has been very active in acquiring his back catalog from Universal Music and started reissuing his Tijuana Brass material in remastered versions through the Shout! Factory label in 2005. An album of unreleased material from the ‘60s called Lost Treasures was released in 2005 as well. He also agreed to allow various producers to remix his Whipped Cream (and Other Delights) album to give it a more modern groove. The resulting album, Whipped Cream and Other Delights: Re-Whipped (2006 Shout! Factory), made it to #5 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz chart.