By Jeff Maisey
One of the most recognizable, iconic record album covers in pop culture almost never saw the light of day.
“If it was up to me I would have rejected the cover,” said legendary trumpet player Herb Alpert, who released “Whipped Cream & Other Delights” with his Tijuana Brass Band in 1965. The album art featured a photograph of a alluring young female model — Dolores Erickson — seated seemingly nude but covered in whipped cream.
“The art director came into the studio when I was doing the album and I looked at it and didn’t like it at all,” Alpert continued by phone from his home in California. “I mean I liked the girl, she was pretty, but it didn’t reflect the music I was playing. So I didn’t get it. But my partner Jerry Moss and the art director, Peter Whorf, were really excited about it.”
Herb Alpert was willing to take the creative advice of his working partner who also came up with the name for the album.
The album cover along with the hit song from the record, “A Taste of Honey,” became an instant success in American pop culture. In some cases, consumers purchased the album for the cover alone.
“This guy comes up to me a month after the album was released on A&M and says, ‘Mr. Alpert, I think you should win an award for that cover. I love the girl. I love the whipped cream. I love everything about it.’”
“I said, ‘Thanks a lot. What about the music?’”
“He said, ‘Well, I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet.”
“For some reason that album cover has touched a lot of people,” Alpert continued. “I understand why now.”
While consumers were enamored with the sexuality of the album cover, the music was captivating and became so iconic of the mid-1960s vibe. Instrumental pop songs like the hit “A Taste of Honey,” which earned Alpert a Grammy Award, “Whipped Cream,” and “Lollipops and Roses” kept the album in the top 10 of the Billboard charts for 61 weeks.
Herb Alpert views much of his success to being in the right place at the right time, and the timing was perfect for instrumental jazz/pop in the mid 1960s.
“I got lucky with that,” Alpert reflected. “I finished that album and in the studio wanted to listen to the whole album to see how it connected and to see if the sequence (of songs) was right. I was sitting on the couch with my eyes closed. When it finished I said to myself, ‘This makes me feel good.’ And that’s the way I make records.”
Herb Alpert learned to play music at the age of 8. He came across a table with instruments and just happened to pick up the trumpet.
Alpert said he, like many musicians, first tried to emulate those who influenced him. In his case Harry James, Louis Armstrong, and Miles Davis. He loved jazz music but wanted to find a voice of his own.
“Luckily I had this experience working with my partner Lou Adler, who wrote a song with Sam Cooke. I was in the studio and watched Sam record and spent a little time with him. He said, ‘Herb, people are just listening to a cold piece of wax, man. It either makes it or it don’t.’”
Sam Cooke, who was referred to as the King of Soul before his unfortunate death at age 33 in 1964, carried a booklet of potential song lyrics with him, according to Alpert.
“He showed me this lyric,” said Alpert, “and I thought it was the corniest thing I’d ever seen. I didn’t say that to him.”
Alpert asked Cooke to play the music that was to accompany the lyric.
“So he picked up his guitar and started playing to that same lyric, and I thought, man, he just transformed that corny lyric into something that’s really interesting. From then on I realized it ain’t what you do it’s how you do it.”
Herb Alpert also shared another “ah-ha” moment that helped him find his musical voice. He was working with his trumpet teacher and having trouble with the mouth piece. Alpert asked if he should change his trumpet.
“He (music instructor) said, ‘Look kid. This trumpet of yours is just a piece of plumbing. You’re the instrument. The sound comes from within you and this trumpet is just an amplifier of your sound. So what you have to find is your own voice; your own sound.’”
“That was the big moment for me and I try to pass that on to kids when they ask, ‘What’s the secret to your success?’ When I found my voice it was working for me.”
Herb Alpert will perform with his longtime wife Lani Hall on July 26 at the Sandler Center. Alpert said fans can expect a full segment of Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass Band material as well as some of Lani’s repertoire, which includes tunes from her time as lead vocalist with Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66.
Beyond the heyday of the Tijuana Brass years, Herb Alpert released material including the 1979 hit “Rise.”
Alpert has had many awards bestowed upon him including the 2012 National Medal of Awards from then president Barack Obama.
As a philanthropist, his foundation provides 11 up-and-coming, cutting edge young people a $75,000 (each) fellowship in the areas of dance, theater, visual arts, and film/video.
As the co-founder of A&M Records, Herb Alpert said he always allowed the recording artists he signed to do their own thing. His favorite A&M artist was The Police.
And, regarding performing live in concert at age 87, the remarkably sharp-minded and witty Alpert shared this: “I love what I do. I’ve been doing it for so long. I do it to keep healthy. Playing these concerts I feel oddly energized from it. I feel like I just had a transfusion of energy. I feel useful and that I’m doing something worth while.”
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Herb Alpert & Lani Hall