I was in bed for a week with horrible flu in the summer of 1966 when I first heard Herb Alpert on an AM radio at my bedside. It was “The Work Song” by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass. It had a lively beat to it, with the sound of stakes being driven into the ground throughout. A lifelong passion for such a great talent began.
I still enjoy listening to it and hundreds of other tunes by the TJB.
The following fall, my mother brought home Herb’s “What Now My Love” album by the Tijuana Brass and placed it on the phonograph. I liked it immediately. I just couldn’t get enough of the Brass. I wanted all of their albums. For Christmas, I got the “South of the Border” album and couldn’t get enough of it either. I played it until you could hear Side 2 on Side 1. For my birthday in 1967 I got Herb Alpert’s “Going Places” and played that thing into extinction.
There were so many others from the TJB in the years to follow.
A half-century later, I retreat to my garage, work on a 1967 Mustang restoration (my high school car) and listen to the Brass from a library of TJB CDs. My garage is a nice quiet escape from the troubled world in which we live today. Oh sure—the 1960s had more than its share of troubles—the Vietnam War, three assassinations, and a lot of social unrest. The world was changing fast.
I suppose the home garage, a turntable, and Big Band music were a nice escape in those days. However, Big Band came of a world war and tremendous losses in the wake of the Great Depression. Big Band was upbeat, optimistic, and lively. It helped us forget our troubles if only for a short while. Not much changes as human life evolves. Always something to worry about—and escape from.
Music is a nice escape. It feeds our souls.
Herb Alpert comes from humble beginnings in the Boyle Heights region of East Los Angeles. His folks were of the Jewish Faith—immigrants from what is present-day Ukraine and neighboring Romania. That Herb Alpert became a musician was no accident. He was born into a family of talented musicians. It was in his blood. His father was an accomplished mandolin player. His mother taught violin. His older brother was a successful drummer.
Alpert took trumpet lessons at age eight and cut his teeth playing at dances in his teens. Inspired by his own success as a musician, he experimented with a recording device and learned the ropes of recording music. Overdubbing—the process of overlaying sound in a recording—was pioneered by Alpert. When you listened to his work, you were under the impression he was accompanied by another trumpetist. That was actually Alpert accompanying himself via overdubbing—a recording or recordings over a recording—which is very apparent in so many of his works. The harmony was unmistakable.
Upon graduation from Fairfax High School in Los Angeles in 1953, Alpert enlisted in the U.S. Army and further refined his craft in military band performances. When he got out of the Army, Alpert considered an acting career, which didn’t last long. He understood what he did best and became focused. He continued his agenda for being a great musician.
When Herb was attending USC in the 1950s, he played in USC’s Trojan Marching Band. After college in 1957, he joined forces with Rob Weerts, who was a songwriter for Keen Records. These guys cowrote several hits, some of which became Top 20 hits, including “Baby Talk” by Jan and Dean and “Wonderful World” by Sam Cooke.
By 1960, Alpert was well on his way as an established musician. His recording career began, ironically, as a vocalist for RCA Records under the name of Dore Alpert. By 1962, Herb and his newly established business partner, Jerry Moss, formed Carnival Records with “Tell It to the Birds” being their first release on the “Alpert & Moss” record label. After Carnival Records released its second big single “Love Is Back In Style” by Charlie Robinson, Carnival Records became A&M Records (Alpert & Moss) and a legacy of great recording talent began in earnest.
During a visit to Tijuana in the early 1960s, Alpert observed a Mariachi band at a bullfight. The raw emotions of that bullfight and its music inspired him to further investigate the feelings invoked during that cultural experience. He saw promise in combining Latin music with American jazz and an amazing phenomenon was born. From that moment in time came “The Tijuana Brass” and his first album, “The Lonely Bull” in 1962. He captured the very essence of a bullfight and put it to music along with the sounds and nuances of a bullfight. The Lonely Bull became a Top 10 hit in 1962 and the Tijuana Brass was well on its way to being a phenomenal success.
Herb Alpert is credited for bringing along great musical talent—such as The Carpenters at the cusp of the 1970s. When you hear Karen Carpenter’s soulful voice from the 1970s, you hear a chorus of Karen Carpenters in the background. That was Alpert-inspired overdubbing. It added a strong element of awe to what you heard. There was so much overwhelming emotion in what you heard.
The Tijuana Brass’ success during our youth can never be overstated. It has touched every portion of the population from the very young to the elderly. You heard it in commercials and even in The Brady Bunch. Alpert’s efforts a lifetime ago continue to live in garages, family rooms, and motor vehicles everywhere. Alpert never stopped growing as a musician, cultivator of great talent, and philanthropist.
In the late 1970s, Alpert went solo and continued to perform, cutting albums and performing around the globe. Who can forget “Rise” in 1979 and dozens of other efforts in the years since? He never faded from public view.
Alpert’s contributions to music and society have never stopped at just being a fabulous horn blower. He founded The Herb Alpert Foundation, the Alpert Awards in the Arts with The California Institute of the Arts. Alpert and his wife, singer Lani Hall, donated $30 million to University of California, Los Angeles in 2007 to fund the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music as part of the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture. Their contributions collectively are so many and varied and virtually impossible to cover here. Suffice it to say they’ve left their mark on the world.
At age 87, he and Lani, continue to do concerts around the country in small intimate venues where audiences can be close and connect with them. When they perform together and you are seated in front of them, it is nothing short of a mind-bending experience because you are in the company of greatness.
True greatness endures.