After decades of the US recording industry being centred upon New York, the 60s saw a period of re-focusing upon Los Angeles. Their time had come, and the cream of the musicians and arrangers were able to work as many hours in the day as they liked or could tolerate.
Los Angelean session musicians aided the chart action for the Beach Boys, the Byrds and many other local acts, but what turned out to be the biggest long-term seller was Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass. Many players attempted to gain some of the Tijuana Brass’s sales action by using the session talents available locally. World Pacific’s Bud Dain saw the opportunity, and approached the hard workin’ arranger man, Jack Nitzsche, to help bring a similar act to fruition. Nitzsche, fresh from his work with Phil Spector, Jackie De Shannon, Bob Lind et al, knew all the best local players, and was quickly able to assemble a crack team including guitarists Al Casey and Don Peake, bassist Lyle Ritz, drummer Frank Capp and brass players Roy Caton, Lou Blackburn and Lew McCreary – all names familiar to students of Californian recording of the time. World Pacific had another ace up their sleeve in that they had the cool jazzer Chet Baker under contract, and Bud Dain was keen, despite some misgivings from Nitzsche, to have Baker front the project.
Baker’s playing on the first two Mariachi Brass albums, A TASTE OF TEQUILA and HATS OFF, was delectable. Without having to be the main driving force of the group, he was able to relax and let his flugelhorn work around Nitzsche’s arrangements and produce some of the best of his later playing, making the albums’ title lines ‘Featuring Chet Baker’ genuinely rewarding sales points.
The team (that included George Tipton arrangements for some of the second album’s tracks), played safe with their choice of material, picking well-known recent pop hits that fitted the jaunty upbeat concept. The Statler Brothers’ Flowers On The Wall, the Champs’ Tequila and Gene Pitney’s Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa all got the treatment on the first album, with Speedy Gonzales, El Paso and La Bamba maintaining the geographical and cultural focus. The second album, “Hats Off”, predominantly took a more recent focus with hits from 1966, though one of the best tracks, Spanish Harlem, was of course from slightly earlier. Here Baker improvises easily atop a cool percussive arrangement that would make anyone smile. Sales of the project were not massive, but the quality of the playing and arrangements from a particularly successful US 60s genre demand attention. We are proud to bring the Mariachi Brass to market once again.
By Kingsley Abbott