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Arts and Entertainment

Herb Alpert On His Storied Life And Musical Career

Dewey Nicks
Herb Alpert

When young Herb Alpert chose a trumpet during a music appreciation event at school, he says he found his voice. Years later, Alpert turned that ‘piece of plumbing’ into a tool that helped him find the love of his life and become an internationally renowned musician, record mogul, and noted philanthropist. 
In anticipation of his October 16th appearance at the Tower Theatre in Oklahoma City, Alpert shares some of the key moments in his storied life and career. 

Alpert: I loved Leon! When I met Leon … he used to come to the sessions in suit and tie and short hair. (laughs) That’s when I met him. He was just fresh from, uh, coming from Oklahoma.

Johnson: The ‘Leon’ Herb Alpert is referring to is none other than Leon Russell, who was part of the Wrecking Crew, individual musicians-for-hire who contributed greatly to Alpert’s early success.

Alpert:  He was on a couple of records I did on the Whipped Cream and Other Delights album. I think he played on Whipped Cream and Green Peppers. He was like a groove machine. He just had this great sense of time and he’d usually come to the session, sit down by the piano and say, “Herbie, I don’t know what to play.” I’d say, “Well, if you find something once we start rehearsing, jump in. If you don’t, it’s okay, too.” Inevitably he’d find something that would really kind of knit everything together. That was Leon! He was a spectacular musician and wrote some great songs.

Johnson: Famed drummer, Hal Blaine, was another influential member of the Wrecking Crew, and one who more than any other was called upon to help convey Alpert’s musical vision on record. This was during Alpert’s Tijuana Brass days. As the group’s name suggests, Alpert’s vision was inspired in part part by trips the trumpeter and California native took south of the border.

Alpert: I used to go to bull fights in Tijuana in the spring. There was a brass band in the stands and they used to do fanfares (makes horn noises, ‘Ba-da-da-do-da-dee …’) and then the bull would charge out. Another fanfare and the matador would come out. And then the picadors would come. They all had different fanfares and I got caught up in that feeling and I tried to see what I could do to make those days ‘visual’. I wanted to see if I could capture the feeling of those days on record. That’s how The “Lonely Bull” came about.

Johnson: A top ten hit in 1962, “The Lonely Bull” marked Alpert’s entry into the world of popular music. In addition to setting the stage for what would be Alpert’s sound to come, this success helped convince Alpert and his friend Jerry Moss, to form A&M Records—the label Alpert would use to distribute his music and propel the talents of Cat Stevens, The Carpenters, Jo Cocker, Peter Frampton, Janet Jackson and others, including Sergio Mendez whose group Brazil ’66 featured a young American vocalist named Lani Hall, who would eventually become Alpert’s wife and partner on stage and off.

Another notable year for Herb Alpert was 1966 in which he gained prime time television exposure, thanks to ABC’s hit show, “The Dating Game.” “The Dating Game” featured several Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass numbers, including “Spanish Flea”—the show’s lively and catchy theme song.

This weekly showcase fueled even more demand for his music and helped make Alpert the most successful recording artist that year, with five albums in the Billboard Top 20, simultaneously—a Guinness World Record, and a feat that is unmatched to this day.

Two years later Alpert enjoyed a number one hit as a singer with “This Guy’s In Love With You.”  In 1979 he again topped the pop charts with the disco infused instrumental “Rise.” And, A&M records faired equally well during this period and in 1989 was sold to Polygram records for nearly $500 million dollars.

To date Herb Alpert has sold over 70 million records under his name, amassed 39 Top 40 hits, won multiple Grammys, was inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, and was presented the National Medal of Arts for his various musical, philanthropic and artistic contributions.

By every measure, it’s been quite a journey for the self-proclaimed shy kid and introvert who “found his voice” on what a former music instructor described as a piece of plumbing,  

At 84 years old Alpert is still hard at work: sculpting, painting, performing and helping others through the philanthropic Herb Alpert Foundation. Just last month, his latest album, Over The Rainbow debuted at number 1 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Chart. The twelve-song release includes the original composition “Skinny Dip,” which serves as a great reminder of Alpert’s unique sound and artistry driven by the same passion and outlook he credits for all of his successes over the years.

Alpert:  I’ve boiled it down now at my age to … it’s one thing. Whether you’re a poet, movie actor, dancer, whatever it is … You’ve got to find your own voice. You have to find your own individual way of doing something, and be content doing that. Because, if you’re passionate about what you’re doing, you’ll find it. You just got to search for it. And you’ve got to forget about pitting yourself against all the other artists you might like … saying, “Is that as good as?” No, it’s not as good as Michelangelo can paint. You know, it’s not as good as Rodin can sculpt. But, I do my own thing, and I leave it at that.

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