Musician . Co-Founder of A&M Records . Artist . Philanthropist . Record Producer
Herb Alpert is a platinum-selling musician, song writer, record executive, fine artist, and philanthropist. After early success composing "Wonderful World" for Sam Cooke, Alpert went on to co-found A&M Records in 1962, a label which grew from his garage in West Hollywood into the largest independent record label in history. His band, The Tijuana Brass, was wildly popular throughout the sixties, with Alpert becoming the top-selling recording artist of 1966. Though Alpert's claim to fame was his trumpet work on albums like The Lonely Bull and Whipped Cream and Other Delights, he left his mark as a record producer as well, launching the careers of major artists including Sergio Mendes, Burt Bacharach, Carpenters, Janet Jackson, and The Police. He lives in Southern California with his wife, Grammy Award-winning vocalist Lani Hall.
Early Life and Career (1935-1962)
Herb Alpert was born in Los Angeles on March 31st, 1935, the son of Louis and Tillie Alpert, themselves both amateur musicians (as were Alpert’s siblings, Mimi and David). Alpert took up playing the trumpet at the age of eight, and received both jazz and classical training as a young man.
His first formal group, the Colonial Trio, debuted when Alpert was only 15 years old, and became a hot ticket around Southern California after winning several consecutive victories on the television show High Talent Battle. Alpert studied music at the University of Southern California and performed with the school’s famous marching band, “The Spirit of Troy.” In 1955, he dropped out of college and voluntarily moved his name up the draft list to join the Army, leading to an assignment with the 6th Army Band in Fort Ord near Monterey, California. Following discharge in 1956, Alpert returned to Los Angeles, where he continued to pursue a career in music and married his high school sweetheart, Sharon Mae Lubin.
A former flame of Lubin’s, Lou Adler, became friends with Alpert, and the two men began a professional partnership as songwriters, with Alpert handling the music and Adler the lyrics. Their breakthrough, Sam Cooke’s 1960 hit “Wonderful World” came while the two were on staff with local company Keen Records. Adler and Alpert began producing other artists shortly after, achieving recognition with Jan and Dean’s “Baby Talk” and the smash cover version of “Alley Oop” by Dante and the Evergreens. By the end of the year, Alpert and Adler disbanded their partnership to pursue separate interests. Alpert attempted a solo career with RCA Records, recording under the name of his son, Dore, but after a year he had failed to generate any notable successes.
Rise To Stardom (1962-1969)
After leaving RCA in 1962, Alpert established another professional partnership, this time with New York-born and raised record promoter Jerry Moss. After being introduced to one another by mutual friend Ted Fagan, Alpert and Moss founded their own independent label, Carnival Records, with each man contributing $100 to a shared account. Upon discovering that their company name was already in use by another firm, Alpert and Moss retitled the label A&M Records.
Alpert and Moss’s first release under the A&M moniker was “The Lonely Bull,” inspired by traditional mariachi music and the vibrant pageantry of Tijuana Bullfights. Though the record had the distinction of being the first release credited to “Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass,” in truth, no such band existed in 1962. The sound on “The Lonely Bull” was created by Alpert on his AMPEX tape recorder, overdubbing several tracks of himself playing multiple instruments. Local and regional success swiftly followed the song's release, with the single eventually selling 700,000 copies and inspiring the release of a full album.
Alpert and Moss proceeded to run A&M as a full partnership as the label steadily grew, with Alpert focusing on his music as well as production for acts such as the Baja Marimba Band. In 1964, South of the Border, the Tijuana Brass’s third album, produced an even bigger hit single with “The Mexican Shuffle.” 1965 saw the breakout success of Alpert’s Whipped Cream & Other Delights, which contained the single “A Taste of Honey.” The album went gold and won Alpert a total of four Grammy Awards.
Whipped Cream’s follow-up, Going Places!!, finally saw the arrival of the members of the real-life Tijuana Brass, who toured with Alpert and played on every subsequent album until the group was disbanded.
1966 was a watershed year in Alpert's life, bringing yet another hit album, What Now My Love, the title track of which would go on to earn Alpert another two Grammys. Later that year, the release of S.R.O. put Alpert in the Guiness Book of World Records, with him becoming the only artist in history to simultaneously claim five albums in the top 20. Alpert sold an astonishing 13.7 million albums in 1966, making him the top-selling artist of the year. As his popularity grew, so too did Alpert's family--his daughter Eden was born in the early summer.
Their success in 1966 prompted Alpert and Moss to purchase a Hollywood landmark, the former Charlie Chaplin Studios, to serve as both a business center and recording studios for A&M Records. Alpert brought in his brother, David, to oversee a massive construction project on the property, and after two years, the newly-titled "A&M Studios" set the industry standard for its luxurious, artist-friendly environment and unrivaled recording facilities.
In 1968, the Burt Bacharach/Hal David-composed “This Guy’s In Love With You” became Alpert’s first number one hit single, notable for featuring Alpert on vocals as well as trumpet. In 1969, Alpert personally signed the Carpenters to A&M over the objections of his A&R department, and later was the one to suggest that the brother/sister act record “Close to You,” which became the most successful A&M release to date.
After the Tijuana Brass (1969-1979)
By the end of the decade, the stress of touring and recording nonstop, whilst simultaneously running a record label, was affecting both Alpert’s health and his ability to play the trumpet. In December of 1969, he led the Tijuana Brass in a farewell show at The Forum in Los Angeles, then disbanded the group.
Soon after, trumpet instructor Carmine Caruso began a ten year-long training program with Alpert to help him rehabilitate his playing. Temporarily unable to express himself through music, Alpert constructed a home studio and began experimenting with abstract expressionist painting, a hobby which quickly grew into a lifelong passion.
In 1971, Alpert and his wife Sharon formally divorced. Alpert began a relationship with Chicago native and former Sergio Mendes and Brasil ‘66 singer Lani Hall, marrying her in a private ceremony in December of 1973. In 1975, Alpert and Hall had a daughter, Aria.
During these years, Alpert returned to performing and recording, but at a more manageable pace. Highlights of his work included productions and collaborations with Hall, saxophonist Gato Barbieri, trumpeter Hugh Masekela, and singer Rita Coolidge. In 1977, Alpert received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in acknowledgement of his growing stature over the previous two decades.
In 1979, Alpert engaged in a recording session with his nephew, Randy Badazz Alpert, who had intended to create disco re-workings of the Tijuana Brass-era hits. Alpert, dissatisfied with the results, instead used the studio time to tinker with a single Randy had co-written with Andy Armer. The result was the Grammy-winning "Rise," which became another number one hit single. “Rise” also earned Alpert the unique accolade of having topped the charts separately as both an instrumentalist and a vocalist (“This Guy’s In Love With You”). Alpert’s musical career experienced a new flush of fame, while “Rise” itself eventually returned to the top of the charts in 1997 as the musical bed for the Notorious B.I.G.’s posthumous hit, “Hypnotize.”
During the broadcast of the 1984 Acadamy Awards, Alpert, Hall and a new version of the Tijuana Brass performed a cover of “Maniac” from the movie Flashdance. Alpert’s 1987 album Keep Your Eye on Me featured collaborations with Janet Jackson, and production from Jackson’s core team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The hit singles from the album were “Making Love In the Rain,” the title track, and “Diamonds,” which topped the R&B Charts. In 1988, Alpert performed the National Anthem at Super Bowl XXII.
After A&M Records
As the music industry’s business model changed throughout the 1980s, independent A&M Records became unable to compete with the financial resources of the major labels, who were throwing around enormous sums of money to lure away high-profile artists. As a result, 1989 saw Alpert and Moss agreeing to sell A&M to PolyGram Records for an estimated $500 million, under the stipulation that Polygram would preserve and maintain the label’s respected public image and unique corporate culture for a minimum of twenty years.
In 1989, Alpert held the first public exhibition of his painting at ART LA, receiving an excellent response from the art community. In 1992, he became involved with Broadway shows, co-producing the Tony-winning Jelly’s Last Jam. The following year, he co-produced both parts of Tony Kushner’s Tony-winning Angels in America.
Though Alpert’s ventures outside of music were proving fruitful, his relationship with the new regime at Polygram became a source of frustration. Alpert and Moss left A&M Records in 1993. In 1994, Moss asked Alpert to join him in creating a new, smaller label. The result was Almo Sounds, once again named for the two men who founded it. In addition to featuring new albums from Alpert, the label also became the home of noted artists such as Garbage, Gillian Welch and Ozomatli.
In 1998, Alpert and Moss filed a lawsuit with PolyGram to reclaim revenue owed to them. During the lawsuit, A&M itself was formally shut down by PolyGram’s new owners, Universal Music Group, leading to dramatically increased stakes in the suit, approaching the neighborhood of $250 million in damages. The matter was eventually settled out of court.
After the lawsuit, Alpert took a break from his music career. The archives of A&M Records from 1962 to 1989—the time it was run by Alpert and Moss—were donated to UCLA. In 2004, Alpert collaborated with the Smith Brothers Restaurant Group to create the Vibrato Grill Jazz Restaurant in Bel Air.
After a hiatus of 10 years, Alpert returned to performing in 2009, touring alongside his wife, Lani Hall. The success of their performances led to the recording and release of the live album Anything Goes in 2009, and the follow-up studio album I Feel You in 2011. In 2012, Alpert released a 50th anniversary version of “The Lonely Bull” in recognition and thanks to his many supporters and fans over the years.
Though he began painting in 1969, Alpert did not unveil hiw work to the public until twenty years later. Alpert finally decided to hold the first exhibition of his work as an abstract expressionist painter as part of a group exhibition at ART LA in Los Angeles. The following year, artist Kristan Marvell introduced Alpert to sculpting, which rapidly became another lifelong passion. Since then, Alpert has continued to sculpt and paint on a daily basis, and his work has shown all over the world.
Alpert’s style as a painter was primarily influenced by the works of Rufino Tamayo, Vincent Van Gogh, and Jackson Pollack. As a sculptor, he is best known for his work with totems, particularly his Spirit Totems series in 2005, and his colossal Black Totems series in 2010, which featured bronze sculptures reaching heights of up to 20 feet.
After providing the recording studios for the 1985 landmark charity album We Are the World, Alpert created the Herb Alpert Foundation in 1989, to establish a formal vehicle for his philanthropic efforts in education and the arts. In 1995, the Foundation began issuing its annual Alpert Awards in the Arts, with a goal of providing individual financial support to exceptional artists in a wide variety of creative pursuits. The Alpert Awards continue to this day.
In 2007, the Herb Alpert Foundation sponsored the creation of the UCLA Alpert School of Music. 2008 saw the creation of the Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts, also via the efforts of the Foundation. Alpert has also donated to the Harlem School of the Arts, which is being renamed “The Herb Alpert Center” in appreciation.
Awards and Acheivements
1965 #1 album sales for Whipped Cream & Other Delights and Going Places!!
1966 #1 album sales for What Now My Love
1966 #1 album sales for 18 weeks straight
1966 Four Grammy awards for “A Taste of Honey”: Record of the Year, Best Instrumental Performance, Best Instrumental Arrangement and Best Engineered Recording
1966 Cited by the Guinness Book of World Records for simultaneously having five albums in the Top 20
1966 Total overall album sales of 13.7 million for the year
1967 Two Grammy awards for “What Now My Love”: Best Instrumental Performance and Best Instrumental Arrangement.
1967 #1 album sales for Sounds Like...
1968 #1 single for “This Guy’s In Love With You”
1977 Hollywood Walk of Fame star
1979 #1 single for “Rise”
1980 Grammy award for “Rise”: Best Pop Instrumental Performance
1987 #1 R&B single for “Diamonds” with Janet Jackson
1989 Named Spokesperson for the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts
1994 Awarded the Asa V. Call Achievement Award by his alma mater, the University of Southern California
1997 Grammy Trustees Award for Lifetime Achievement winner with Jerry Moss
2007 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee with Jerry Moss
By Ned Raggett