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Alpert, Herb, the trumpet player who translated mariachi music into a half-billion dollars; b. Los Angeles, Calif., March 31, 1935. Herb Alpert’s father, Louis Goldberg, was a tailor, an immigrant from Kiev who settled in the Fairfax area of Los Angeles. His mother, Tillie, encouraged his classical trumpet studies, which he started in elementary school. He started exploring other avenues after seeing Louis Armstrong perform.

After spending some time at the Univ. of Southern Calif., Alpert took a job as an A&R representative for Keen Records. He produced Jan and Dean’s first record, “Baby Talk” and the hit “Alley Oop” for Dante and the Evergreens. He also co-wrote Sam Cooke’s 1960 #12 single, “Wonderful World.”

After attending a bullfight, Alpert wrote a tune on his trumpet to capture the feeling of the event. The song took on a mariachi flavor. Called “The Lonely Bull,” it was released by Alpert and his business partner Jerry Moss as the first record by The Tijuana Brass (Alpert and studio musicians) on their own A&M Records label. The company operated out of Alpert’s garage and the two partners distributed records out of the trunks of their cars. Nevertheless, the record sold more than 700, 000 copies.

However, Alpert really didn’t catch fire until the release of his 1965 masterpiece Whipped Cream and Other Delights . The album featured cover art out of Playboy —an undressed woman in a pile of whipped cream—and produced a string of hits, including “A Taste of Honey.” From the fall of 1965 through the fall of 1967, Alpert was one of the few artists giving The Beatles a run for their money. He earned a dozen Top 40 hits, ten gold albums, and five Grammy Awards: three for “A Taste of Honey,” including Record of the Year in 1965, and two for “What Now My Love” the following year. Singles like “The Spanish Flea,” “Casino Royale,” and “Tijuana Taxi” hit the charts. Alpert earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for simultaneously having five records in Billboard’s Top 20 (in 1966), a feat not even The Beatles could manage.

By 1967, Alpert was feeling burned-out from the combination of running A&M Records and touring and recording with his band. A&M started releasing artists other than Alpert, starting with Sergio Méndez, Chris Montez, George McCurn, and The Kenjolairs in the mid-1960s. The label’s roster in the late 1960s and early 1970s included Joe Cocker, Carole King, The Baja Marimba Band, Cheech and Chong, and The Carpenters. A&M had become big business, an independent record company to contend with.

Alpert, in the meantime, cut a vocal version of Burt Bachrach’s “This Guy’s in Love with You” that went to #1, proving he wasn’t just a trumpet sensation. He disbanded The Tijuana Brass and put away his horn for close to two years, going without his daily practice for the first time in over a quarter of a century. Alpert’s career as a pop star sagged in the 1970s; he recorded several albums with South African jazz star Hugh Masakela, even touring for a while. In 1979, he returned to the charts with a vengeance, catching disco lightning in a bottle with the instrumental “Rise.” It was his second #1 single in a row, albeit they were 11 years apart! The song won the Best Pop Instrumental Grammy (his third). The follow-up, “Rotation,” also got good dance floor play and hit the pop Top 40.

Alpert recorded sporadically through the 1980s. He scored a minor hit in 1982 with “Route 101,” and a pair of hits in 1987 with “Diamonds” and “Making Love in the Rain,” both of which featured vocals from A&M artist Janet Jackson. The following year, he mined a gold single with “Keep Your Eye on Me.”

Meanwhile, A&M continued to sign and break new artists. They had huge hits with artists as diverse as The Police, Cat Stevens, Peter Frampton, Supertramp, Styx, The Go-Go’s, Bryan Adams, and many others. They built one of the finest studios on the West Coast, taking over a two-block-long stretch of Sunset Boulevard that included Charlie Chaplin’s old studio for their offices.

In 1989, Alpert and Moss sold A&M records for half a billion dollars to PolyGram Records, retaining only their publishing company. They stayed on as figureheads for a few years, but then left the company they’d started in Alpert’s garage 25 years earlier and launched Almo Sounds. Starting from the ground up, they signed the band Garbage and developed it into a platinum act.

Alpert continued to record for the new company. He put out an album of jazz called Second Wind . He also invested in Broadway plays, including Angels in America and Jelly’s Last Jam . With some of the millions he now had, he created a foundation to give grants to artists via the Calif. Inst. of the Arts. Into his 60s, he continued to play and record with anyone who suited his fancy. Passion Dance hooked him up with some hot Latin artists. The “Colors” in the name of his 1999 album referred to the rhythm section of the funk-rock group Living Colour. Neither sold especially well, but having sold over 72 million records and grown a half- billion dollar record company, Alpert had nothing left to prove.

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