One of the most successful instrumental performers in pop history, trumpeter Herb Alpert was also one of the entertainment industry’s shrewdest businessmen: A&M, the label he co-founded with partner Jerry Moss, ranks among the most prosperous artist-owned companies ever established.

Herbert Alpert was born to immigrant Eastern-European Jewish parents on March, 31, 1935, in Los Angeles, California. Growing up in a family of musicians, the shy boy picked up a trumpet for the first time at age 8. He received classical training from Benjamin Klatzkin, a former principal trumpet for the New York Philharmonic, and was competing in local talent shows by the end of high school.

After serving in the Army, he attempted to forge an acting career, but soon returned to music, recording under the name Dore Alpert for RCA.

With Lou Adler, Alpert co-wrote a number of Sam Cooke’s most enduring hits, including “Wonderful World” and “Only Sixteen.” Under the name Dante & the Evergreens, he and Adler also recorded a cover of the Hollywood Argyles’ “Alley Oop”; additionally, Alpert produced tracks for the surf duo Jan & Dean.

Alpert became friends with a fellow young music executive named Jerry Moss, and the two enjoyed driving to Tijuana, Mexico, to watch bullfights. Struck by the charged atmosphere of these events, Alpert began working on a double-horned track with session musicians. After forming A&M Records with Moss, the trumpet player enjoyed his first hit as an artist and executive in 1962 with the release of “The Lonely Bull,” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.

Whipped Cream & Other Delights

From its humble origins as a company run out of Alpert’s garage, A&M grew to become the world’s biggest independent label; among its greatest successes were the Carpenters, Cat Stevens, Joe Cocker, and Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66.

Nevertheless, Alpert and his backing unit, the Tijuana Brass, remained the label’s flagship act. The band’s popularity skyrocketed with the release of Whipped Cream & Other Delights, an album that featured a famously provocative cover, as well as the 1965 Grammy Award-winning single “A Taste of Honey.” The Tijuana Brass in 1966 sold 13.5 million albums, surpassing the Beatles’ record sales, and in 1968 Alpert scored a No. 1 hit as a solo artist with a rare vocal track, “This Guy’s in Love with You”

The band was not formed until after the WHIPPED CREAM album was released, when demands for live shows made a “real” band a priority. The band members were:

Herb Alpert – Trumpet, vocals
Tonni Kalash – Trumpet
Bob Edmondson – Trombone
John Pisano – Guitar
Nick Ceroli – Drums
Lou Pagani – Piano
Pat Senatore – Bass.

The group disbanded in 1969.

As Herb Alpert remembers it, he was in a recording studio one day in 1965 when the art director for A&M, the label Alpert co-owned, showed him the photograph that would soon grace one of the most memorable LP covers of all time. “My first reaction was, ‘Holy shit, man. Too racy,’” Alpert says. “Obviously now it would hardly register, but at the time I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a little much.’ And I didn’t know, quite frankly, whether it reflected the album — the music I was doing at the time. But we decided to go with it. Obviously that was fortuitous.”

It was, because the LP in question, Whipped Cream & Other Delights, attributed to Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, was his breakout album, and the photo in question was the now iconic shot of a seemingly nude, doe-eyed young woman sunk up to her décolletage in what appears to be a giant pile of the titular dessert topping. Looking askance at the camera, she touches a long cream-tipped finger to her lips. On her head is an added dollop of white, evoking, maybe, one of Billie Holiday’s signature gardenias. In her left hand she absently holds a long red rose, perhaps a sop to notions of traditional romance, or maybe an unneeded effort by the photographer to add color and more visual interest.

From a straight male point of view, and perhaps from others’, this was the sexiest album cover of the 1960s, as many then-adolescent boys can to this day vividly recall. Whether or not it accurately reflected Alpert’s gently swinging, mariachi-inflected instrumentals, the photo surely help propel Whipped Cream & Other Delights, released in 1965, into the number-one slot on Billboard’s list of top-selling LPs for 1966, beating out The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra, The Rolling Stones, The Mamas and the Papas, Lou Rawls, and Barbra Streisand. This triumph wasn’t a fluke solely attributable to art direction: Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’s Going Places (also 1965) and What Now My Love (1966) held the third and fifth spots on the 1966 year-end chart despite pleasant yet far more anodyne covers. Two songs on Whipped Cream,“Lolllipops and Roses” and the album’s title song, became swingers’ anthems after they were used to play on contestants on ABC-TV’s The Dating Game.

Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
GAB ARCHIVE/REDFERNS

According to Alpert, Whipped Cream also launched him as a lucrative touring act. To that point the Tijuana Brass had been a loose group of studio musicians, mostly Wrecking Crew members, with Alpert overdubbing his own trumpet. Most “experts” agree that not all of the band members played on the albums, even after the band was formed. Since Herb Alpert played all of the trumpets heard on record, Tonni Kalash apparently did not play in the studio — and if he did play, he just did so as a counterpart to Herb, who would then go back and dub in his own second trumpet part. There are various sources (including the liner notes of the new TJB CD releases) stating that Herb used session musicians to get the exact sound he wanted.

The band was not formed until after the WHIPPED CREAM album was released, when demands for live shows made a “real” band a priority. The band members were:

Herb Alpert – Trumpet, vocals
Tonni Kalash – Trumpet
Bob Edmondson – Trombone
John Pisano – Guitar
Nick Ceroli – Drums
Lou Pagani – Piano
Pat Senatore – Bass.

There were no Mexicans in the Tijuana Brass, but there were several Italians though!

Fifty years later, he’s still recording and still on the road, including an upcoming two-week stand at Manhattan’s Cafe Carlyle, beginning May 31, with his wife, singer Lani Hall.

The Whipped Cream model was a Seattle woman named Dolores Erickson, now 80 (as is Alpert) and a working artist. Back in the early ’60s she ran in the same L.A. social circles as Alpert, along with Jerry Moss, his eventual partner at A&M, and, maybe most importantly, the label’s eventual art director, Peter Whorf. Erickson, who aside from her modeling career was also briefly under contract at Paramount — you can spot her, fleetingly, in Jerry Lewis’ The Ladies Man (1961) — remembers frequent jaunts to Tijuana with Alpert, then a songwriter and producer, and “our whole group” to see the bullfights. These excursions inspired Alpert’s hit single “The Lonely Bull,” which launched the Tijuana Brass sound in 1962. Erickson attended the recording session, in Alpert’s garage. “It was one of those wonderful experiences, being young, aspiring to success, everybody cheering everybody on,” she remembers.

By the time Whipped Cream came along in 1965, Erickson was an old hand at album shoots, having appeared on records for Nat “King” Cole, Stan Kenton, and the Kingston Trio, as well as an LP of Berlioz overtures, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, for which she was photographed in close-up with flowers in her hair, looking vaguely like a Frida Kahlo self-portrait. The Whipped Cream shoot, both Erickson and Alpert say, was entirely Whorf’s concept. He shot it himself in his home studio, a converted garage. Erickson, who wore a bikini with the shoulder straps pushed down and hidden, was for the most part surrounded by cotton batting and many cans’ worth of shaving cream because actual whipped cream turned runny and smelly under hot lights. The real thing was used only on her head and on the index finger she touched to her lips.

Was it an odd assignment, trying to look enticing while sitting in a big pile of shaving cream? “It wasn’t unusual for me,” she insists. “I’d worked on a catamaran in the middle of a storm for a cigarette commercial. This was just another job. Peter always told me to make love to the camera. We just had a lovely time.” Adding to the not-really-very-sexy-at-all atmosphere was the fact that Erickson was three months pregnant with her son, Brett. How does he feel about having been an inadvertent participant in such a milestone of Baby Boomer erotica? “Oh you know how it goes,” Erickson says, laughing. “It’s just ‘mom.’”

What Now My Love

After 1966’s What Now My Love — his most popular effort, remaining at number one for nine weeks — Alpert continued to dominate the charts with records including 1966’s S.R.O.and the following year’s Sounds Like and Herb Alpert’s Ninth. In 1968, he scored his first number one single by taking a rare vocal turn on a rendition of Burt Bacharach’s “This Guy’s in Love with You.” The album Beat of the Brass followed the hit to the top of the charts, becoming Alpert’s fifth and final number one LP.

Warm

Released in 1969,Warm was the first of Alpert’s 11 albums not to crack the Top 20; by 1971’s Summertime, his commercial fates had fallen to the point where he no longer reached the Top 100.

Alpert disbanded the Tijuana Brass in 1969, but A&M Records continued to thrive thanks to a roster that included Joe Cocker, Cat Stevens, the Carpenters and Peter Frampton. After performing with new iterations of the Tijuana Brass, he became the first artist to have No. 1 songs both as a vocalist and instrumentalist with his 1979 hit “Rise.” As A&M continued to thrive, he moved his primary focus from music to industry, although he regularly recorded throughout the early ’70s; 1974’s You Smile, the Song Begins was his most successful outing in several years, but subsequent releases like 1975’s Coney Island and 1976’s Just You and Me met with greater chart resistance.

Rise

In 1979, Alpert staged a major comeback with Rise; not only did the album reach the Top Ten, but the title track topped the singles charts and became the biggest hit of his career. The follow-up, 1980’s Beyond, was a Top 40 success, but subsequent efforts like 1982’s Fandango and 1985’s Wild Romance fared poorly. In 1987, Alpert enjoyed another renaissance with the album Keep Your Eye on Me; the lead single “Diamonds” hit the Top Five and featured a guest vocal from Janet Jackson, one of A&M’s towering successes of the late ’80s.

North on South St.
A&M Records’ success continued in the 1980s via the chart-topping work of the Police, the Go-Go’s and Bryan Adams, but Alpert and Moss realized their values were becoming outdated in the music industry. Alpert continued recording throughout the ’90s, producing work like 1991’s North on South Street, 1992’s Midnight Sun, and 1997’s Passion Dance.
After selling A&M to PolyGram in 1990 for a sum in excess of $500 million, he and Moss founded a new label, Almo Sounds, in 1994; among the imprint’s hit artists was the group Garbage. His own albums, including 1997’s Passion Dance and 1999’s Colors, were also released on the label. Alpert also tackled other forms of media, exhibiting his abstract expressionist paintings and co-producing a number of Broadway successes, including Angels in America and Jelly’s Last Jam.

Around the time he sold his ownership in A&M, Alpert formed the Herb Alpert Foundation to provide funding for charitable organizations and institutions. Its major initiatives included the endowment of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music in 2007 and the creation of an annual college scholarship program through the California State Summer School for the Arts.  The Herb Alpert Foundation, a philanthropic organization was dedicated to establishing educational, arts, and environmental programs for children.

Anything Goes

In 2007, Alpert and his wife, former Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 vocalist Lani Hall, began touring regularly and recording together, releasing 2009’s Anything Goes and 2011’s I Feel You. The albums found the duo touching upon various aspects of their careers, including jazz standards, Brazilian and Latin music, pop songs, and reworkings of classic hits. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in 2012.

Alpert devoted more time to his abstract paintings and sculptures and earned his first solo exhibition in Los Angeles in 1989. Inspired by the indigenous sculptural forms of the Pacific Northwest Indians, he erected a series of towering totem poles that were displayed in New York City and Santa Monica, California, among other locales.

Steppin' Out

Alpert was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006 and presented with the National Medal of Arts in 2013. Meanwhile, he continued to perform and hone the craft that made him one of the top-selling musicians in history. Alpert’s 2013 album, Steppin’ Out, featuring wife Lani Hall on vocals and  also  keyboardist Jeff Lorber, earned the legendary musician a 2014 Grammy Award for best pop musical instrumental album. In 2015, he returned with yet another stylistically varied collection of originals and cover songs, Come Fly with Me.

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