Herb Alpert is a music legend.
As leader and trumpeter for Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, he had a string of hit songs in the 1960s, including “The Lonely Bull,” “A Taste of Honey,” “Spanish Flea,” “Casino Royale” and “This Guy’s in Love with You.” Famously, in 1966, the band outsold The Beatles by a ratio of 2-to-1. Musical success continued, including Alpert’s 1979 instrumental recording “Rise,” which hit No. 1 in the charts. Alpert’s latest album is “Over The Rainbow,” released in 2019.
Along the way, Alpert co-founded A&M Records with Jerry Moss — the “A” is for Alpert, and the “M” is for Moss. In addition to Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, A&M artists included The Carpenters, Cat Stevens, The Police, and Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66, whose early albums for the label were produced by Alpert and Moss. Alpert married Brasil ’66 singer Lani Hall in 1973.
Finally, the Herb Alpert Foundation was created in the 1980s and has provided millions of dollars to support youth and arts education in California and beyond.
Alpert and Hall will be performing at The Granada Theatre in Santa Barbara on Feb. 28. Tickets are available by clicking here.
Alpert talked to Noozhawk about the upcoming show and his life in music.
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Jeff Moehlis: What can people look forward to at your upcoming concert?
Herb Alpert: Well, we’ve been doing this for the last 13 years with the same group. We’ve really refined it. It’s a fun show. It’s musical, it’s honest, it’s very authentic. There’s a Tijuana Brass medley, there’s a Brazil ’66 medley in it, but surrounding it is just good songs. It’s a little different each night. It’s very loose. It includes the audience — they get to participate in it. I don’t think anyone will be disappointed.
JM: How did you develop the sound of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass?
HA: It was a long and winding road, man. You know, I’ve been playing trumpet since I was 8, and once I started getting a good feeling of the instrument and was able to play melodies and have a good time playing, I started trying to play like some of my favorite musicians — Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis and Harry James — and I came to the conclusion, who wants to hear that? They’ve already done it, so why should I try to be a carbon copy of these people? So I was looking for my own voice, and I think that’s the most important element in the arts, to find your own way of doing something.
So I heard this record from way before your time, “How High the Moon.” Les Paul and Mary Ford had this record, in the 1950s, where he layered his guitar. He did a take, and then he overdubbed his guitar on top of himself, and then did it a couple times, and came up with this sound. And out of curiosity, I tried doing that at my little studio at home. When I put the trumpet on top of my trumpet, the sound hit me like, “Bingo, that’s good!” [laughs] “That feels good.” So that was the genesis of the Tijuana Brass sound.
JM: I want to ask you about my favorite Tijuana Brass song, “Spanish Flea.” Can you tell me about recording that song, and how that came together?
HA: If you want to know the truth about that [laughs], it was written by Julius Wechter. He had this song — it was down on paper — and he showed me the lead sheet. The title of the song on his lead sheet was “Spanish Fly” [laughs]. I said, “No man. I love this song, but we can’t use that title” [laughs]. “How about we call it ‘Spanish Flea’”? So that’s how that came about.
There’s something about that song. It’s an upbeat, happy song. It’s not the beat-of-the-week type of song. Until this day, I still like it. We play that in the medley, as well.
JM: Of course, that also got used in “The Dating Game.” How did that come about?
HA: It was fortuitous. They wanted to use that song, and obviously they had to get permission from the publisher and the writer. So that’s how that came about. That was just a lucky stroke. We didn’t solicit it.
JM: Can you give me the backstory behind the “Whipped Cream & Other Delights” album cover?
HA: I was in the studio recording “Whipped Cream & Other Delights,” and the art director, Peter Whorf, came in with this picture that he was crazy about. When I looked at it, I didn’t even like it, because I thought it didn’t really represent what I was doing musically. That’s what I felt. He was really selling it, and my partner, Jerry Moss, loved the picture, and I just went along with it. It was Jerry Moss’ idea to name the album “Whipped Cream & Other Delights,” so I went along with him. And I’m glad we did, because as you know it turned into an iconic cover.
JM: In addition to your own music, you had great success with the A&M Records label. How do you think your approach to running a record label differed from your contemporaries?
HA: You mean back then? Because, you know, if we tried to start A&M in today’s environment, with what’s happening in the music industry, we wouldn’t have had a chance. It was all about timing. In short, I recorded for a major record company before A&M, and I wasn’t crazy about the way I was being treated. They treated me like a number. In fact, the recording facilities they had there were very ice cold. It was white on white on white, and very clinical.
I had an experience one afternoon where I recorded a song that I thought was pretty good when I was listening to the playback in the control room, and I wanted to hear a little bit more bass. So I went over to the board and lifted the bass, and the engineer slapped my hand, and he said, “Man, don’t ever touch this again.” I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “This is a union board.” Anyways, I filed that feeling, and when we started A&M, I decided A&M is going to be all about the artist. It’s the artist first. That’s what a record company is all about. So that was basically the concept of the company. You know, treat people fairly. Treat people the way I would like to be treated myself. We were lucky. We picked some great artists, and, like I say, the timing was right.
JM: What’s in the works? Are you mostly focused on touring, or are you thinking about new recordings?
HA: Oh man, I’m always thinking about recording. That’s what I love to do. I love to keep my brain occupied with the 0s and 1s. I have a set-up at home. And there’s a huge documentary coming out on me about three or four months from now. You know, I paint and sculpt. I’ve been doing that for 50 years. I have works in museums and galleries all over the world. I’m a right-brain guy, and that’s what I love to do.
Click here for the full interview with Herb Alpert.
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his website, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.