The Peculiar Truth
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The Peculiar Truth

The Peculiar Truth about Herb Alpert

  • One of the most popular musical recording artists of the 1960s was Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.
  • Their pop/Latin/jazz sound, almost exclusively instrumental, could be heard on radio and television all across America.
  • The band featured Alpert on lead trumpet with a rotating group of studio musicians on trombone, trumpet, guitar, bass, piano, and drums.
  • The band released 13 albums between 1962–1970. Five reached Number 1 in the US, and 12 went gold.
  • In 1966, they outsold the Beatles.
  • In 1970, the band released a greatest hits album which featured the following tunes: South of the Border, Spanish Flea, Lonely Bull, Mexican Shuffle, and Tijuana Taxi.
  • Given those titles, the band’s sound, their appearance, and their name, a listener might assume (like I did) that the Tijuana Brass featured Mexican musicians.
  • None of them were Latinos.
  • Alpert grew up in Los Angeles, and his parents emigrated from Eastern Europe; his mother from Hungary, his father from Kiev. Four band members were Italian Americans.
  • Alpert and the band did not overtly try to pass as Latinos, but with their dark hair and complexions — and because they occasionally wore sombreros onstage — it was easy to assume they had Latin American heritage.
  • Many of the Tijuana Brass tunes, including El Presidente, Adios Mi Corazon, El Garbanzo, Lonely Bull, Mexican Road Race, and Cantina Blue were composed by Sol Lake — real name Solomon Lachoff.
  • One of the group’s biggest hits, Spanish Flea, was the theme music for the TV series The Dating Game. It was composed by Julius Wechter. He formed the Baja Marimba Band, which Herb Alpert produced. Although they appeared on album covers as a group of Mexican banditos, none of them were Latinos, either.
  • When Alpert wanted stage choreography and comedy for the band to perform live, he turned to Bill Dana — a comedian best known for his portrayal of a befuddled Bolivian named Jose Jimenez. His real name was William Szathmary, and he was from Quincy, Massachusetts, the son of Hungarians.
  • Alpert married the lead singer of the Latin pop group Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66, known for their South American bossa nova sound. Her name is Lani Hall, a Chicago-born daughter of Russian and Polish parents.
  • When Herb Alpert co-founded A&M Records, the company signed many famous recording artists, including Joan Baez, Cat Stevens, Liza Minelli, Joe Cocker, Procol Harum, Supertramp, Chuck Mangione, Styx, the Carpenters, Carole King, the Police, and many, many more.
  • Very few have been Latino.
  • A notable exception: Cheech Marin of Cheech and Chong.

Dan is the author of over a dozen novels. His latest is Tight Five.




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Dan Spencer

Dan Spencer


Author of over a dozen novels, including Tight Five. I publish The Peculiar Truth every Tuesday.