With the recent release of the documentary Herb Alpert Is... the world got a glimpse into the life of a man with many accomplishments. Sure, most know him for Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, or his '80s hit "Rise." But how many even realize he partnered up with Jerry Moss as A&M Records and ran one of the most successful independent labels of all time? (Not to mention their legendary A&M Studios.) Or the fact that he's also a successful painter and sculptor? Or that he was still out gigging and touring with his wife and vocalist, Lani Hall, up until the pandemic hit? I don't even have time to get into his philanthropy, so view Herb Alpert Is... soon and learn more!
I saw your documentary this week and loved it. I've seen you and Lani Hall play up here in Portland at the Aladdin, and I really enjoyed the shows.
Yeah. We enjoyed playing up there!
I dug around in your recording history, and it even goes back to a wire recorder you had when you were really young, right?
Absolutely. I had a Webcor wire recorder. I had to edit with a soldering iron with that. That was a whole other world. But that was before your time, I'm sure.
I never used one of those, but I've seen them around. Were you just recording yourself and listening back to hear what it would sound like and such when you were young?
On the wire recorder, I don't remember what I did with it. Then I got the Ampex mono machine. A 400, I think? Maybe a 401. Then the Ampex stereo. I started out with mono, then 2-track, 3-track, 4-track, 8-track, 16... Now there are as many tracks as I desire!
You've seen the progress of the recording era. How does it look to you now when you see computers and people moving parts around in a song?
Yeah, it's a whole different world. Obviously, they improved quite a bit on the sound. But it was a different feeling going into a session with a bunch of musicians and listening to the playback on tape. That was another feeling. I think it can be great, if used wisely. It certainly opens the door to a lot of possibilities. It's not all bad.
Before the Tijuana Brass, you were recording in a garage and had a home studio set up. What was the impetus for that?
I was searching for my sound and searching for an identity in sound. I was trying to play like a lot of musicians I liked. I was trying to play like Harry James, and Miles Davis, and Louis Armstrong. Anybody who had a feeling that I liked, I tried to play like them. Then I realized that nobody wants to hear that man. They've already done it. So, I was looking for my own thing. When I heard Les Paul layering his guitar on a record,I thought, "Hmm, that's interesting." So, I tried doing that. I had two Ampex tape machines at home. I went from one machine to another and I hit on this sound. "Hmm, that sounds good. Bingo. I think I got something here, maybe." But you need the songs, and I had the experience of watching Sam Cooke, who was a teacher and didn't know it. It was interesting watching this guy who was a gospel singer; just a nerve ending, man. He was real. He was authentic. Having that experience; and then I was recording for a major company, RCA, for about a year and a half.
I didn't like the way I was being treated. They were not treating me the way I felt I should have been treated as an artist on their label. I filed all this stuff away, and when it came time to start A&M, I used all that negative information as a positive, and I turned A&M into an artist-oriented label.
Famously so! There's a great story in The Wrecking Crew documentary [Tape Op #107] that you told. I was amazed that on "The Lonely Bull", you funded that out-of-pocket and in violation of the musician's union. And then you went back, took care of everybody, and paid the fines afterward. Is that right?
Yeah, but that was just the right thing to do. These musicians played on the record, and they deserved to be compensated properly.
Well, you know how the record industry works. Some people might not be so gracious.
Uh, true! But, hey; you gotta live with yourself and you gotta sleep good at night. I try to do good things.
I think you've proven that! You used a lot of the Wrecking Crew for the early Tijuana Brass records.
I did. There was no Tijuana Brass until after I recorded the Whipped Cream & Other Delights album. Hal...