A&M Records has long been admired for being an artist-oriented label. That point was made again and again at “Live at the Music Center: Concert Celebrating A&M Records Co-Founder Jerry Moss,” held on Saturday (Jan. 14) at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.
The show was hosted by David Foster and featured live performances by longtime A&M artists Herb Alpert, Amy Grant and Peter Frampton, as well as Dionne Warwick, among others.
The point about A&M’s artist focus was made most vividly in a videotaped recollection from former A&M executive Jim Guerinot, who recalled looking at an A&M artist’s declining sales fortunes and going to Moss with a blunt question. “Why are we even putting out this artist’s 13th record, when it will likely lose money?” he asked. In his telling, Moss’ reply was “It’s because she’s an A&M artist.”
At A&M, it was that simple. The label believed in its artists and put them first. Alpert, who formed A&M with Moss in 1962, talked about that artist focus in his remarks which preceded a performance of his 1968 smash “This Guy’s in Love With You.”
“A&M was really special,” Alpert said. “I know why they [the artists] liked us – We were on their side. I was at RCA [as an artist in the early 1960s]. They treated me terribly. I vowed that if I ever had a record company, it would have to be the artist first.”
In 2020, Moss and his wife Tina donated $25 million to the Music Center to expand access to its programs to people of all backgrounds. This salute was the Music Center’s way of saying thank you for that generous gift, and it was the participating artists’ way of saying thank you for Moss’ belief and support. As Peter Frampton said, “Thank you, Jerry Moss, for my entire career.”
Here are seven highlights from the salute to Jerry Moss:
Amy Grant Opens the Show
Amy Grant opened the show with the sentimental ballad “I Will Remember You,” one of five top 20 Hot 100 hits from her 1991 album Heart in Motion. Grant received the Kennedy Center Honors last month, the ultimate validation of A&M’s belief in her. Grant recorded seven studio albums for A&M/Myrrh between 1985 and 2003.
Peter Frampton Puts His ‘Talk Box’ to Good Effect
Peter Frampton performed “Do You Feel Like We Do,” a highlight of his 1976 blockbuster Frampton Comes Alive!. That hit famously featured a talk box solo (similar to a vocoder) during Frampton’s extended guitar solo. Here he used the effect to “say” “I want to thank Jerry” and “Thank you everyone for coming out.” It was a nice touch.
Frampton and Moss have a long history. Frampton’s band Humble Pie released six studio albums on A&M from 1970-75. Frampton released nine studio albums for the label from 1972-2006.
Frampton related a charming story which showed that Moss’ instincts as a promotion man are still as sharp as ever, even at age 87. “When we met this afternoon, Jerry asked me if you’re going to play – and ever the A&R guy, he said, ‘You going to give me new music?’”
Rita Coolidge Says Thanks
Rita Coolidge, who recorded 13 studio albums from A&M from 1971-84, did not perform, but appeared in person to thank her long-time boss and mentor.
She remembered that at the end of Joe Cocker’s celebrated “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” tour, she was offered a solo deal at A&M. “Jerry said we’re in this for the long haul,” she remembered. “He said ‘If you get a hit record right away, great,” but added that Moss made it clear that she should feel no pressure to come up with a hit.
Coolidge eventually had a hit, but it took a while. Anytime…Anywhere, which made the top 10 on the Billboard 200 in 1977 and spawned a pair of top 10 hits on the Hot 100, “(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher” and “We’re All Alone,” was her seventh A&M studio album.
“I’m eternally grateful, as Peter is, for my whole life,” Coolidge said.
David Foster Remembers His Moment of Brazen Chutzpah
David Foster was a genial host for the event. He recalled a moment in 1980, when he was coming off a pair of hits for Earth, Wind & Fire (“After the Love Has Gone,” No. 2 on the Hot 100) and Cheryl Lynn (“Got to Be Real,” No. 12 on the Hot 100) and was feeling cocky.
He took a meeting with Moss and said he’d like to be a staff producer for A&M. He asked for $2 million a year – a lot of money in 1980 (and not a small sum today). As Foster remembered the moment, Moss was gentlemanly, as ever, but “he indicated the meeting was over.”
Foster went on to write and/or produce a string of hits in the ‘80s for Chicago, Peter Cetera, The Tubes, Boz Scaggs, Kenny Loggins, Kenny Rogers, John Parr and others, which led to the capper on his story. “I saw Jerry in the late ‘80s. He said, “I remember you came to see me and asked for $2 million a year. Why didn’t you tell me you were going to become David Foster?”
Foster, who has headlined a string of successful PBS specials, did an entertaining “and then I wrote” medley, but it had little to do with A&M. It would have been better if he had talked about the acts on A&M he would have liked to work with; that made him want to be an A&M staff producer in the first place. And he could have performed bits of those hits. Next time.
Herb Alpert Salutes His Friend of 63 Years
Herb Alpert said he had rehearsed “This Guy’s in Love With You” with Burt Bacharach, who composed Alpert’s 1968 hit – the first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 for both A&M and Bacharach and lyricist Hal David – but Bacharach wasn’t able to make the event. Foster filled in for the master at the piano. As on the original 1968 recording, the fact that Alpert isn’t a commanding vocalist added to the song’s tenderness and vulnerability. This is an ideal combination of singer and song.
Alpert and Moss met in 1960 and became fast friends. Alpert gave Moss a lot of credit for his success as an artist – which included five No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 in a three-year span in the mid-1960s.
“To be honest, I don’t think I would have had the musical career without Jerry Moss,” he said, “I knew how to make records, but I didn’t know what to do with them.”
Alpert’s 1962 instrumental “The Lonely Bull” – the composition was originally and less evocatively titled “Twinkle Star’’ – became an unexpectedly big hit, climbing to No. 6 on the Hot 100. “Our distributors said ‘you should take the money and run’ because you got lucky, but we decided to see how far we could take it.”
They took it from a two-man operation to a staff of more than 500. “I was playing bar mitzvahs and weddings,” Alpert recalled of the very early days. “This was way beyond my dreams.”
Dionne Warwick Remembers Her Old Promotion Man
Warwick never recorded for A&M (save for a contribution to a Richard Carpenter solo album in 1987), but has been friends with Moss since the early 1960s, when he promoted her early Scepter recordings. Their careers both took off at the same time in 1962 – Warwick with “Don’t Make Me Over,” the first in a string of classics written for her by Bacharach and David, and Moss with A&M.
Warwick sang her 1967 classic “Alfie.” Her warm, conversational approach to the song, which many consider the best Bacharach/David/Warwick collab, showed that she still has it, even at 82.
Sting Warmly Salutes a ‘Mensch’
This salute was originally set to take place a year ago but was delayed because of a surge in COVID-19 cases at the time. Sting was originally set to appear in person, but because of the delay, his appearance was via video.
Sting’s remarks were warm and personal. He said Moss became “an elder brother, a wise head, a man’s man and a mensch” and added “you’re still my friend and mentor.” He also performed “Message in a Bottle,” a highlight from The Police’s 1979 album Reggatta de Blanc.
Sting has released 20 studio albums on A&M – five with The Police and 15 solo.
Sting’s son, Joe Sumner, appeared earlier in the show, covering The Police’s “Walking on the Moon,” which is also from Reggatta de Blanc. (His relation to Sting was not mentioned either at the event or in the printed program, but the family resemblance is strong.) Joe Sumner said “I’ve known Jerry Moss since I was a small child,” and so he has. He was two when The Police released their first A&M album, Outlandos d’Amour.
The show also included in-person performances by jazz singer Darynn Dean, a 2015 Music Center Spotlight Awards grand prize finalist; Morgan James (singing a Carpenters medley); Nova Payton (singing Janet Jackson’s 1990 smash “Escapade” and CeCe Peniston’s 1992 hit “Finally”); an in-person appearance by ballet dancer Misty Copeland; and video appearances by A&M veterans Sheryl Crow, Suzanne Vega, Yusuf/Cat Stevens and Paul Rodgers of Free.