To call Herb Alpert a legend is an understatement. He has come as close to doing it all in the music industry as anyone in the business. But there was one medium the great trumpeter, artist and music executive conquered recently that he is still trying to figure out.
"Somebody on TikTok took one of the songs I did on the 'Whipped Cream' album called "Ladyfingers." They made a little vignette and in the background, they had that song playing. Well, hundreds and hundreds of kids picked up that same theme and started playing it, and that song now has had 100 million streams. I don't even know what that means," Alpert laughed, "but that was a song I did 50 years ago."
Alpert will be joined by his wife and outstanding singer on her own — Lani Hall — on the stage of The Palladium at The Center For The Performing Arts in Carmel on September 22. It's a tour that would have happened already were in not for that little event in 2020 that kept everyone home for a while. "It (the pandemic) was a very interesting time for me, because I started thinking about all the trumpet teachers I had through the years, and I kind of rebooted what they were telling me. It's actually easier for me to play now at my age than it was 20 years ago."
That age — Alpert turned 87 in March — belies the schedule he keeps. Besides touring the country, Alpert has been well known in the world of visual art — painting and sculpture — for decades. He says good art is a lot like jazz... at least how an idea comes to him. "Good art is very spontaneous. Art is all about freedom, if you can get to that place. Be original and try to do something that's naturally coming out of you," much the same advice he gives to musicians. "Once I got rid of thinking 'am I as good as Miles Davis or any of these great trumpet players, then it started opening up for me. I'm just expressing myself the way I feel it has to be for me. Plus, timing plays a great part of my success. I was in the right place at the right time."
That right time was 1962. Alpert had written some hit songs for others and had a short and not-so-widely successful career as a singer after he left the military in the late 1950's. When he started putting together his own material, Alpert submitted some of his songs to Los Angeles label Specialty Records. He was now-famously told he would never make it in the music industry by Sonny Bono - songwriter, A & R (albums and repertoire) executive and future star himself.
Instead, Alpert and his friend Jerry Moss formed their own record company - A&M Records. They would release Alpert's recording of "The Lonely Bull", in which Alpert melded sounds of an actual bullfight crowd with his trumpet lead overdubbed on itself — a recording technique rock and roll singers were using to enrich their sound. Alpert formed The Tijuana Brass as his backing group, and "The Lonely Bull" would eventually rise to number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
To be sure, exactly zero members of the Tijuana Brass came from Tijuana, and they were augmented by session musicians such as the legendary Wrecking Crew when recording. But the band would become a cultural icon of the 1960's, finishing the decade with five number 1 albums and four others that made the top 10.
Herb Alpert is still the only artist to have a number 1 Billboard Hot 100 single with a vocal song ("This Guy's In Love With You" - 1968) and another number 1 with an instrumental (his 1979 solo record "Rise"). Alpert would have a number 1 R&B hit in 1987 with help from a woman he helped push toward stardom in his record executive role. Alpert helped sign Janet Jackson to A&M Records when she was 16. After two albums that didn't move the needle much, Jackson's third album "Control" skyrocketed when she collaborated with two of the funkiest songwriters and producers of their era — Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
Following "Control", Alpert called on the trio to help him out with his own new album, and the single "Diamonds" — with Jackson leading the way on vocals — would land on radios and on MTV for weeks. "(Jimmy and Terry) are brilliant producers, and of course they had that studio in Minneapolis. The first thing they said when I walked into the studio was 'you want to go have some chicken? Lovely guys, very spontaneous, and that song — thanks to Janet Jackson — went to number one. I was lucky enough to be in their slipstream there."
Alpert has been performing alongside his wife for almost all the 49 years they have been married. They first met through A&M Records in the 1960's. The label had signed Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66, and Lani Hall was their co-lead singer. The two worked together again on Alpert's latest album, "Sunny Side of the Street", which comes out September 30. And Alpert says they will likely keep making new music until they can't, though Alpert could have rested on his massive laurels long ago. "It's a need. I love to play, I love to record and whether I'm selling records or not, I love to do it."
Herb Alpert and Lani Hall will perform at the Palladium on Thursday, September 22 at 7:30pm. Click here to find out how to get tickets, and catch our entire conversation in the link above.