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Herb Alpert: On The Record

Telly Davidson By

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At the time, I wasn't quite sure what he was driving at, but boy, did I find out what he meant later! And from that point on, after I'd started A&M, whenever I would audition new acts, I used to listen with my eyes closed. I didn't want to be intimidated by their "look" or for them to sell me a bill of goods with their body motions, or whatever. And that's how I picked out artists for the most part.

On the Carpenters' tape, for example, I remember sitting on my couch at A&M, and there were two stereo speakers on the floor about 8 feet in front of me. I had my eyes closed, and it felt like Karen's voice was just sitting next to me on the couch, and that's why I was intrigued to meet them. To be honest, it wasn't really the kind of music that I would have actually gone out of my way to listen to myself, but I liked it, I liked their passion about it. They were making the music that was coming out of them naturally. And Richard seemed to be like a student of the record business, he knew about recording and technology and he just was somebody I felt if he was given a chance, he could really put it together.

AAJ: Do you think Karen Carpenter ever realized just how good she was, especially as a singer? It was always said that she thought of herself first and foremost as a drummer, especially back then.

HA: You're absolutely right. I think if you'd asked her at the time, she thought of herself as a drummer. And this is the sad part for me because I loved her, and I don't think she really realized just how much she touched people deeply. It was so unfortunate, because she was such a lovely, innocent girl.

AAJ: Not that they deserve it, but with some performers—John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, John Belushi, Tupac Shakur— you can sort of see it coming. But when you have a Karen Carpenter, a Gilda Radner, a Natalie Wood, though, you never think that they're going to die young, that it could happen to them.

HA: Oh yeah, it was a major shocker. Especially because she bounced into my office about two weeks before she passed away, and this was after she had spent some time in the hospital trying to work out this problem that wasn't identified at the time at being [anorexia], and she was all excited about getting back in the studio and recording again and getting back with Richard. And then, just two weeks later, she was gone. It was unbelievable.

AAJ: One other A&M question: People today always talk in business-speak about the "brand." When you look back at A&M, what was the A&M brand to you? What did the label stand for, in its glory days?

HA: Well, I never really thought of it as a brand. Jerry and I just wanted to make the best music we could. In the '60s, it seemed like a lot of companies would just get a hit record, and then they'd surround it with 10 other so-so cuts, and we never did that. We always wanted to make sure everyone felt like they were getting their absolute money's worth with an A&M record. And then right after The Lonely Bull, I hired a quality control person who was listening to every master coming out of A&M to make sure that the quality was as good as it could be. And I think people recognized that we were trying to make the records that we would buy ourselves.

AAJ: Going back to the Tijuana Brass, that group had some of the top studio/session musicians in Hollywood—Tonni Kalash, Bob Edmondson, Phil Ceroli, Hal Blaine. How did that come together? How did you recruit them for such a new concept?

HA: Well, I didn't really "recruit" them, they were hired guns. They were professional musicians who were working in Los Angeles—you call 'em and pay 'em—that's about what it amounted to. And when I hit on Hal Blaine, I loved the sound of his drums. He was on most of the recordings—he didn't do The Lonely Bull but he was on everything after the South of the Border album, and he was the one who gave me the idea for that bass drum line in A Taste of Honey. I was just using musicians of my choice, I would sometimes scramble them up. I didn't have a really set group together until after the Whipped Cream and Other Delights album, when I got a traveling group together. Quiet as it's kept, I played all the trumpet parts on all the Tijuana Brass records, so that was the sound. The sound of the Tijuana Brass is the sound of my horn.

AAJ: And the second people hear it, they know it's you. It's certainly one of the most distinctive sounds in popular music.

HA: I think that's what everybody strives to get. You want to find your own personality on your instrument, and if you can do that, then that's a big win.

AAJ: There was a 20/20 (ABC-TV news program) interview, aired in 1980, about how you almost had to give up the trumpet. And there was kind of a gap in there from the last Tijuana Brass album in the early '70s to Rise in 1979 and '80. What was that all about? Was there a health issue?

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