Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss
- Herb Alpert
- Jerry Moss
The longest lived independent record label started as two guys in a garage.
Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss went from humble beginnings to music industry magnates by trusting their gut. Whether they were totally obscure or fabulously successful, they always recorded acts that they believed in.
Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss founded A&M Records, one of the most successful independent labels of the rock and roll era.
Over the decades a number of independents changed music history—including Sun, Asylum, Chrysalis, Island, Stiff, I.R.S., Arista, Geffen and A&M. The last of these had one of the longest runs of all, functioning as an independent label from 1962 to 1989 and lasting ten more years after its sale under the corporate aegis of PolyGram and Universal.
The company began in Alpert’s garage as Carnival Records, releasing two singles in 1962. After learning that another record company had “Carnival” in its name, the pair rechristened their label A&M, using the first initials of their surnames.
“We had a desk, piano, piano stool, a couch, coffee table and two phone lines,” Moss recalled of the early days in Alpert’s garage office. The familiar label logo was light brown with a trumpet beneath the letters “A&M.” The first release was “The Lonely Bull,” by trumpet player Alpert himself. For the first few years, A&M served as an outlet for the mariachi- and Brazilian-flavored pop-jazz recordings of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, the Baha Marimba Band, and Sergio Mendes and Brazil ’66. They also dabbled in softer-sounding pop and folk acts like the Sandpipers, Chris Montez and We Five.
Several key hires were made at A&M in 1964 and 1965, including engineer Larry Levine, general manager Gil Friesen and A&R director Tommy LiPuma. All would have great impact in the music industry in general and at A&M in particular.
In 1966 Alpert and Moss moved their company to the historic Charlie Chaplin Studio, at the corner of Sunset and La Brea Boulevards in Hollywood, where it remained until 1999. A&M began acquiring more rock-oriented performers in the late Sixties. These included such British blues-rock acts as Joe Cocker, Free, Humble Pie and Spooky Tooth, not to mention pioneering American country-rockers the Flying Burrito Brothers. On the American side, keyboardist Lee Michaels and folksinger Phil Ochs signed to A&M. In the early Seventies, A&M struck gold with Cat Stevens, the Carpenters and Carole King (who was signed to the A&M-distributed Ode label). In terms of jazz and R&B, A&M did well with Billy Preston and Quincy Jones. In the mid-Seventies, the label had great success with such arena-rock acts as Styx, Supertramp, Nazareth and Peter Frampton. The double live album Frampton Comes Alive (1976) became one of the top sellers of the rock and roll era. A&M even sold great numbers of comedy albums by the duo Cheech & Chong.
It should be pointed out that even though Alpert and Moss are being inducted as non-performers, Alpert himself has been a prolific musician and recording artist. Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass are inarguably one of the most popular acts of all time. Seemingly every suburban household owned at least a few Herb Alpert albums in the Sixties. Their albums Going Places (1965) and Whipped Cream & Other Delights (1965) each hit Number One, hung on the charts for over three years, and became A&M’s first gold albums. In 1966 Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass held down the Number One spot on Billboard’s album chart for eighteen weeks—more than any other act, including the Beatles. Alpert ultimately released more than thirty albums on A&M. His recordings—both with the Tijuana Brass and as a solo artist—have sold over 75 million copies worldwide, making him one of the cornerstone acts on his own label.
A&M continued to make prescient signings at the dawn of New Wave, including the Police, Joe Jackson, the Go-Go’s and Human League. Sting remained on A&M as a solo artist after the Police disbanded. A&M artists who helped carry the label in its later years included Bryan Adams, Amy Grant, Suzanne Vega and Sheryl Crow. A&M also served as a distributor for other independents, including Ode, Windham Hill, I.R.S. and George Harrison’s Dark Horse imprint.
In 1989 Alpert and Moss sold A&M to PolyGram for a reported $500 million dollars. Ten years later, the label was acquired by a new corporate overseer: Universal Music Group, which had been bought out by the liquor company Seagram. Huge staff cuts were implemented and the label was effectively shut down.
“I saw that train coming, [with] the sharp contrast between the independent world and the corporate,” Alpert told the Los Angeles Times. “I don’t think their bottom line has much to do with music or artists.”
At the time of its closure, A&M’s deposed president, Al Cafaro, observed: “The record business is changing fundamentally. It’s a Wall Street world now.”
When asked by interviewer Richard Warner what had made A&M so successful, Alpert replied: “We had a feel. What we did was respond to our gut. When we liked an artist, we recorded them. When we didn’t, we passed. If we felt good about it, we tried to find a way to do it. We’ve used that process right from the get-go and not bottom-lined it.
“We always felt that if you do something with quality and integrity, then it’s going to come back to you. I’m an old-timer in the business from the sense that when you do something you feel good about, there might be another person out there who feels the same way. Or a hundred. Or a couple million.”
Inductees: Herb Alpert (born March 31, 1935), Jerry Moss (born May 8, 1935)