Herb Alpert on Jerry Moss & the Moment That Set A&M Records’ Course – Billboard

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Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, who died Wednesday (Aug. 16) at his home in Los Angeles, launched A&M Records out of Alpert’s garage in 1962 with the intent of making it friendly home for artists. 

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The label — which the pair sold to PolyGram for $500 million in 1989 — went on to carry that ideology to wild success, working with such artists as Sting, Janet Jackson, Cat Stevens, Peter Frampton, Amy Grant, Dionne Warwick and Alpert and his own hitmaking band, The Tijuana Brass

A story from A&M’s early history reflects Alpert and Moss’s artist-first attitude, even when it potentially could harm the label’s bottom line. One of the label’s first signings was Waylon Jennings in 1964. Alpert went to Arizona and produced several songs with Jennings, including the Bobby Bare-penned “Four Strong Winds.” “It was a really good recording,” Alpert told Billboard in an Aug. 15 interview, the day before Moss’s passing, for a separate story. 

RCA label head and legendary guitarist Chet Atkins heard the recording and liked it so much, “he made some overtures to Waylon about when he gets out of the contract with A&M, he’d like to talk to him,” Alpert says. “He shouldn’t have done that because Waylon was under contract to us and it seemed like he was jumping over our bones a bit, but I loved Chet. He was certainly a brilliant musician as well as administrator.” 

Jennings wanted to be a country artist, while Alpert wanted to take him “a little more pop,” Alpert says. “[Waylon] told me confidentially that Chet Atkins wanted to see him, so Jerry and I decided to let Waylon out of his contract so he could go with Chet and RCA. I remember we told Waylon and he couldn’t believe we were willing to do that. I remember the day that Jerry and I signed his release.” 

As they let Jennings go, they were well aware of the future country legend’s potential, but cared more about letting him pursue his artistic vision than keeping him yoked to A&M.  “I looked at Jerry and said, ‘Man, this guy’s going to be a big star,’ and Jerry said, ‘I know it.’ And I got goosebumps thinking that if we could be that honest with our artists, we’re gonna be a big success,” Alpert says. “It was a pivotal moment for me and my feeling about A&M Records and what we were doing.” 

Upon learning of Moss’s passing Wednesday, Alpert simply said in a statement, “I never met a nicer, honest, sensitive, smart and talented man then my partner Jerry Moss.”

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