Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Music of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass

Herb Alpert
Herb Alpert source Wikipedia
This is part of a multi-part post: Tijuana Day Trip

    It Started At The Border-A Visit To Tijuana Mexico
    Still in Tijuana and Enjoying the Music of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass
    Still in Tijuana With Artists Inspired By Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass
    Rock and Roll in Tijuana-Mexican Style!
    Tijuana Remixed: Molotov, Nortec Collective, and Faca
    Border Curios Part 1
    Border Curios Part 2
    Border Curios Part 3


    If you ask any one alive in the 1960's what name comes to mind when you say the words music and Tijuana, most than likely their first response will be Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. It's not surprising, from Wikipedia:

    Alpert and the Tijuana Brass won six Grammy Awards. Fifteen of their albums won gold discs, and fourteen won platinum discs. In 1966 over 13 million Alpert recordings were sold, outselling the Beatles. That same year, the Guinness Book of World Records recognized that Alpert set a new record by placing five albums simultaneously in the top 20 on the Billboard Pop Album Chart, an accomplishment that has never been repeated. In April of that year, four of those albums were in the Top 10 simultaneously.

    The mastermind behind the wildly successful band was none other than Herb Alpert himself. Herb was as much of a master businessman as he was a master musician. In addition to his artistic contributions he was the A in A&M Records, the M being Jerry Moss. They founded the label in 1962 and ran the studio out of the Charlie Chaplin Studios in Hollywood, which will show up in the video embedded later in this post. The label was successful. From Wikipedia:

    Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, A&M had such acts as Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, Baja Marimba Band, Burt Bacharach, Waylon Jennings, Sérgio Mendes & Brasil ’66, We Five, The Carpenters, Chris Montez, Elkie Brooks, Lee Michaels, Captain and Tennille, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Quincy Jones, Lucille Starr, Stealers Wheel, Barry DeVorzon, Perry Botkin, Jr., Marc Benno, Liza Minnelli, Rita Coolidge, Wes Montgomery, Paul Desmond, Cat Stevens, Bobby Tench, Hummingbird, Toni Basil, and Paul Williams. Folk artists Joan Baez, Phil Ochs and Gene Clark also recorded for the label during the 1970s. Billy Preston joined the label in 1971, followed by Andre Popp and Herb Ohta in 1973.

    But this is a blog about geography and music, so back to the music, and the story of Herb Alpert. While Herb Alpert's name will probably forever be associated with Tijuana, he was not Mexican. A child of Greek parents who grew up in a musical home in Los Angeles, Herb began to play the trumpet at age 8. He played at some school dances in high school and purchased an early recording device called a wire recorded and began experimenting with it. After high school, he enlisted in the Army and served 2 years performing in military ceremonies before returning to Los Angeles to resume his education at USC. While there he performed in the Trojan Marching Band and also made a few film appearances, perhaps most notably as "the drummer on Mt. Sinai" in The Ten Commandments. Moving forward in his musical career Wikipedia notes:

    In 1957, Alpert teamed up with Rob Weerts, another burgeoning lyricist, as a songwriter for Keen Records. A number of songs written or co-written by Alpert during the following two years became top twenty hits, including "Baby Talk" by Jan and Dean, "Wonderful World" by Sam Cooke, and "Alley Oop" by The Hollywood Argyles and by Dante and The Evergreens.[2]

    All this and he was still largely unknown. But that would be changing before long.

    Leaning on Wikipedia again, they explain:
    Alpert set up a small recording studio in his garage and had been overdubbing a tune called "Twinkle Star", written by Sol Lake, who would eventually write many of the Brass's original tunes. During a visit to Tijuana, Mexico, Alpert happened to hear a mariachi band while attending a bullfight. Following the experience, Alpert recalled that he was inspired to find a way to express musically what he felt while watching the wild responses of the crowd, and hearing the brass musicians introducing each new event with rousing fanfare.[10] Alpert adapted the trumpet style to the tune, mixed in crowd cheers and other noises for ambience, and renamed the song "The Lonely Bull".[11]

    It was a huge success of an album and I consider it to be a classic of 1960's pop music. The mixing of the title track in downright cinematic as Alpert launches into what is one of the greatest bullfighting songs of all time. The roar of the crowd really takes you there. Much of the album was created by Alpert overdubbing his trumpet and playing slightly out of sync. It's success led him actually form the completed Tijuana Brass to address the need for live performances. He got the right guys for the job based on there ongoing successes. Naturally, The Lonely Bull was the first album to make the cut on my playlist. You can find it here:

    Album: The Lonely Bull Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass
    • The Lonely Bull (El Solo Toro) 2:18
    • El Lobo (The Wolf)  3:05
    • Tijuana Sauerkraut  2:50
    • Desafinado  3:54
    • Mexico 2:40
    • Never On A Sunday 2:47
    • Struttin' With Maria 2:15
    • Let It Be Me  3:04
    • Acapulco 1922 2:44
    • Limbo Rock 2:12
    • Crawfish 2:28
    • A Quiet Tear (Lagrima Quieta) 2:21
    Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass had a sort of post exotica lounge sound going for them. There music evoked "Exotic Mexico" but it was raucous and fun and less sensual than Les Baxter or Martin Denny, the heroes of exotic lounge music. It was a just a little dangerous too, Tijuana always having a little bit of lawless reputation, and that bad boy image game them a certain swinging creditability. Alpert's background also got them much in the way of commercial and soundtrack work that many people remember best from The Dating Game or a Clark Gum ad that used "The Mexican Shuffle" reworked as the Teaberry Shuffle. They were funny and filmed well. Their success launched a series of TV specials that had good ratings.

    I have a tendency as a music collector to buy greatest hits packages first, then I will get the individual albums over time to fill out an artists catalog. Due to this tendency, the next album on my playlist is Herb Alpert Definitive Hits. Speaking of hits, Herb Alpert is the only artist to have a number 1 Billboard hit on both the vocal and non-vocal charts. The album lives up to its billing as being definitive. It covers all the classics, including another hit that is relative to our city of interest "Tijuana Taxi".

    Album: Definitive Hits Herb Alpert




    • The Lonely Bull 2:17
    • Mexican Shuffle 2:14
    • Whipped Cream 2:35
    • Lollipops and Roses 2:29
    • A Taste of Honey 2:45
    • Spanish Flea 2:08
    • Tijuana Taxi 2:07
    • Zorba the Greek 4:24
    • What Now My Love 2:17
    • So What's New 2:10
    • The Work Song 2:10
    • This Guy's in Love With You 4:01
    • Casino Royale 2:37
    • Route 101 3:18
    • Fandango 3:43
    • Rise 7:35
    • Rotation 5:10
    • Diamonds 4:54
    • Keep Your Eye on Me 5:13
    • Making Love in the Rain 5:56

    Continuing through my library we come to the third Herb Alpert album I have, Lost Treasures.I am often drawn to albums that features out-tracks and unreleased tracks. This collection gathers a bunch of that kind of material and slides in as the last Herb Alpert album to be included.

    Album: Lost Treasures 1963-1974 Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass




    • Up Cherry Street 2:36
    • Lazy Day 2:56
    • Wailing Of The Willow 2:52
    • Fire And Rain 2:44
    • And I Love Her 2:47
    • I Can't Go On Living Without You 2:38
    • (They Long To Be) Close To You 2:22
    • Promises, Promises 2:34
    • Happy Hour 1:52
    • Julius And Me 1:33
    • I Might Frighten Her Away 4:14
    • Alone Again (Naturally) 2:14
    • Tennessee Waltz 2:34
    • Tradewinds 3:03
    • Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head 2:02
    • Flowers On The Wall 2:07
    • Popcorn 3:45
    • Chris 2:33
    • Killing Me Softly 3:59
    • I'll Never Fall In Love Again 3:19
    • Speakeasy 1:51
    • Whistlestar 3:26
    There is a lot more to discover as we poke around the back roads of Tijuana looking for music. Join us next Sunday as we continue to explore Tijuana, Mexico just south of Highway 101.

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