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Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass: “Spanish Flea”

Without doubt, the most surprising thing I’ve learned during the seven or so months I’ve been doing this website is that Norah Jones is Ravi Shankar’s daughter. That’s simply impossible to beat.

But the bio of Herb Alpert in a close second. And, unlike the connection between Jones and Shankar, this is a series of small surprises, not one big bomb.

Of course, many of you know all or some of what follows. But for me, it all was a revelation: Albert was born and raised in the U.S. (I had assumed that he was was from Tijuana, since the name of his band was the Tijuana Brass.) He was the Jewish son of immigrants (his mother’s maiden name is Tillie Goldberg) from what is now Ukraine. Alpert  is the “A” in A&M Records. (The “M” is Jerry Moss.) The two created the label in 1962 and sold it to Polygram in 1989. They managed it for four more years.

It was quite a label, according to Wikipedia:

In the late 1960s, through direct signing and licensing agreements, A&M added several British artists to its roster, including Cat Stevens, Joe Cocker, Procol Harum, Humble Pie, Fairport Convention, Free, The Move, and Spooky Tooth. In the 1970s, under its manufacturing and distribution agreement with Ode Records, A&M released albums by Carole King and the comedy duo Cheech & Chong. Other notable acts of the time included Nazareth, Y&T, the Tubes, Styx, Supertramp, Rick Wakeman, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Chuck Mangione, Squeeze, and Peter Frampton. On March 10, 1977, A&M signed the Sex Pistols after the band had been dropped by EMI. However, A&M dropped the band within a week.[1] A&M sustained its success during the 1980s with a roster of noted acts that included Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Henry Badowski, Janet Jackson, the Police, Sting, The Brothers Johnson, Falco, Atlantic Starr, the Go-Go’s, Chris De Burgh, Bryan Adams, Suzanne Vega, Brenda Russell, Jeffrey Osborne, Oingo Boingo, Human League, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Sharon, Lois & Bram, Annabel Lamb, Jim Diamond, Vital Signs, Joe Jackson, and Scottish rock band Gun.

Here are Albert’s site and some clips:

Whipped CreamA&M was housed in Charlie Chaplin’s old studios. I am not sure if this was the home of United Artists–which Chaplin started with D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks–or a previous studio. In any case, the video uses it as a set and is quite interesting.

This Guy’s in Love With YouWritten by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

RiseA late hit.

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The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

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Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.


What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.


The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.