A&M Records Tooting Its Own Horn

ON A 2.3-ACRE lot near the corner of La Brea and Sunset in Hollywood sits one of the most successful record companies in the country, a five-year-old organization whose staff numbers 65 persons.

The company lot has evolved from a home built by Charlie Chaplin in 1919. Three recording studios are under construction on the grounds, which owe their present bustling prosperity to the ideas and tenacity of a trumpet player who has “sort of lost count” of the groups on his label.

The trumpet player is Herb Alpert who, with his partner, Jerry Moss, formed A&M Records in 1962 as the medium for a studio group of musicians called the Tijuana Brass.

Alpert and the Brass, along with Sergio Mendes’ Brasil ’66 and the Baja Marimba Band (the three mainstays of A&M’s original Latin sound), will appear in concerts at the Hollywood Bowl tonight and Saturday.

‘The Lonely Bull’, the record which started it all, was conceived and rehearsed in a garage which also housed his office. Now his office is in a stable. It takes up about four horses’ worth of room and has been renovated beyond equine recognition.

“That was the first record we released as A&M,” Alpert recalled recently. “It started in San Francisco with one play and the switchboard lit up, then it spread across the country by word of mouth.

“For the first six months, Jerry and I handled the business alone, not even a secretary. I was playing on weekends as a sideman and he was working in town as an independent promotion man.

“The follow-up album was, I think, Top 20 in the country on the strength of the single. Then the subsequent record, ‘Marching Through Madrid’, sort of nosedived.”

Distributors told Alpert that he had a “territorial sound” because California was so close to the Mexican border. “I don’t believe in a territorial hit and we just blamed it on lack of exposure, which proved to be true.”

Two albums followed, Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, Volume 2 and South of the Border.

“In that album was ‘The Mexican Shuffle’, which became a commercial for Clark Teaberry Gum and was heard on network television quite often. Possibly that had sort of a subliminal effect.”

Then came Whipped Cream and Other Delights, which included Alpert’s renovation of ‘A Taste of Honey’ and marked the point at which he created a performing version of the TJB.

“The first job we had for any duration was in Seattle and we included ‘A Taste of Honey’ in the show. This tune got more response than ‘The Lonely Bull’ or our other fair-sized hits.

His Own Poll

“We had a feeling that maybe we should release it as a single and I remember taking sort of my own poll among friends of mine and disc jockeys. Everybody felt that it was a little bit too long and that it was far removed from what was happening and you could not really dance to it. Which goes to prove that nobody knows.

“It was No. 1 on all the Top 40 stations, then I think at one period we had the 1, 2 and 3 albums in the country.

“We were in my garage for 8 months, from August, 1962, until March of the next year, then we moved to our first office, on Sunset across from the Body Shop.”

At this point, Alpert created a second group, the Baja Marimba Band, inspired by a marimba group he heard while walking through Tijuana.

Their success and the growing popularity of the Brass led to the acquisition of more artists. We Five were signed and came up with a hit, ‘You Were on My Mind’. Chris Montez, Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 and the Sandpipers followed, each very successful.

Now the roster includes the Merry Go Round, Wes Montgomery, Claudine Longet, Jimmie Rodgers, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Burt Bacharach, Herbie Mann, the Parade, the Roger Nichols Trio and Pete Jolly.

A&M moved from its Sunset Strip offices to the new lot nearly one year ago. Three producers — Allen Stanton, Larry Marks and Tommy LiPuma — supervise the output of groups with which Alpert is not directly concerned.

“I’m aware of who is being recorded and what is being recorded,” Alpert said. “But I believe firmly in producer’s choice. I like my freedom when I record and I suspect they like it also.

Successful Albums

“We are only concerned with the product. We have never been concerned about how much time it will take or how much it will cost.”

His laissez faire attitude and lack of strict recording schedules have paid off. A&M has released 33 albums in five years. None of them, reportedly, has lost money. Most were hugely successful.

The company’s album output has tripled in the last six months and it has established a beachhead in New York, a five-man outpost in a brownstone building.

And A&M has become a potent force in the 45 R.P.M. record market with a smoothly-produced brand of rock ‘n’ roll exemplified by the sound of the Merry Go Round, the Parade and the Garden Club.

Stays Busy

Montgomery and Jobim mark A&M’s expansion into jazz and Jimmy Rodgers is their first excursion into folk music. Classical music could be next, depending on how well the new studios work out.

Meanwhile, Alpert stays busy, spending an average of three months each year on the road performing, splitting the rest of his time between recording, arranging, producing and television work.

Asked about the net worth of his company, Alpert said, “The company is doing well. On paper, we’re the fourth largest record company in the United States right now.

“I would sort of rather not go into that. It’s an area I think everybody has touched on and it sort of… takes the fun out of it for me. I mean, we never started with the concept of trying to make as much money as we could.”

© Pete JohnsonLos Angeles Times, 29 September 1967

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