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HOMB 2 : HERB, JERRY AND THE BULLFIGHT

Presenting another excerpt from History of the Music Biz Two, our special issue stuffed with profiles of industry trailblazers penned by the brilliant Mike Sigman. In this installment, legendary exec/musician Herb Alpert recalls partnering up with Jerry Moss for A&M, and the birth and early triumph of his band the Tijuana Brass.

By 1960, Jerry Moss, the “M” of A&M, had moved to L.A. from Cleveland, where he’d made a name for himself as a killer promotion man.

Herb isn’t sure exactly when and where he met Jerry, but, he recalls, “Jerry was a real people person, a very honest, straight-ahead fun guy to be around. He was becoming just about the number-one promotion man in the country, and we struck up a friendship. I was working on this record called ‘Tell It to the Birds,’ and he wanted to do a record with Charlie Robinson, an actor friend of his. I helped him with that, and we released both records.

“We put out ‘Tell It to the Birds’ on Carnival, the first label we had, and it started making noise in Los Angeles and San Francisco. We turned it over to Dot Records—at the time Wink Martindale was the label’s A&R person—and we used the $750 we got for the distribution rights to record ‘The Lonely Bull’.”

Released as a single in August 1962, “The Lonely Bull” was the initial iteration of a south-of-the-border sound that had gestated in Herb's garage.

"WHERE'S THE HOOK?"

“Jerry and I went to the bullfights, and there was this brass band in the stands that played fanfares for each event. I got caught up in that feeling and wanted to translate it onto a record. I made a demo that didn’t cost much—we used the drummer from The Ventures, I played piano and trumpet and I chose some other musicians. We played it for some of my DJ friends in L.A. and they said, ‘Where’s the hook?’

“Luckily enough, Ted Keeps, the head engineer at Liberty Records, had this tape of 30,000 people screaming ‘Ole’ at a bullfight. So I put that right at the front as the fanfare was hitting, and that became the hook that put it over the top.”

“The Lonely Bull” was the first release on A&M Records, the name Herb and Jerry chose after discovering that Carnival was already in use. The partners didn’t have much cash, but Jerry’s friend Nate Duroff of Monarch Records owned a pressing plant. “Nate extended an enormous amount of credit to us and gave us that opportunity.”

“The Lonely Bull” went Top 10, and Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass were on the verge of international superstardom. The only thing missing was, well, the Tijuana Brass.

“Thanks to Gil Friesen, I got a group together. He’d been encouraging me to do that for a long time. The first couple of times we traveled, the sound was not reflective of what it was on the records. So we became the first ones to travel with an actual sound company, which made a huge difference.

“I wasn’t in favor of doing concerts to make as much money as we could. I wanted to make sure people got their money’s worth.”

The shows featured choreographed moves and comedy bits written by Herb’s pal Bill (“Jose Jimenez”) Dana.

In 1965, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass—on the strength of the albums Whipped Cream & Other Delights and Going Places and the ubiquitous single “A Taste of Honey,” which would win the Record of the Year Grammy—became the biggest act in the world. The next year, the What Now My Love album and its title track led the way to an even more astounding explosion: At one point, there were five Tijuana Brass albums in the Top 20, with four reaching the Top 10. The group sold an estimated 13 million records in 1966, far outselling The Beatles.

 To order a copy of The History of the Music Biz Two: The Mike Sigman Interviewsgo here.

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