Longtime A&M exec Gil Friesen died yesterday at his home in Los Angeles after a prolonged battle with leukemia. Known as a charismatic and impeccably dressed man of many interests, he spent 31 years at A&M and was, along with founders Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, one of the key people who made the label what it was. He was famously described as the “ampersand in A&M.”
“At 5:53 p.m. PST, Gil moved gently and peacefully into the next world,” his wife Janet said in a note. “We brought him home early in the afternoon and he rested in front of the big windows in his living room. The sun came through the trees, and it was exceptionally beautiful and moving. He was comfortable, and it was an incredible honor to bring him home. Gil loved all of you as we loved him, and his spirit, and the stories, will live on.”
Tweeted songwriter Diane Warren: “RIP to one of the good guys and great record men, Gil Friesen.”
A native of Pasadena, Friesen began his career as a mailroom employee at Capitol Records, then based in his hometown, and served as a West Coast representative for Kapp Records. In an interview with Artists House Management in 2007, he said he was the first person Moss hired for the label.
“He gave me the title; they said I was the general manager,” he recalled. “I had to invent the job. Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass had just released their first record [in 1962], and there were sales and airplay [responsibilities] … I helped put together the band that would go on the road and promote them.”
A&M went from an operation working out of Alpert’s garage in the Fairfax District into the largest indie label in the U.S., one that called the iconic Charlie Chaplin Studios on La Brea Avenue its home.
Friesen was elevated to president of the label in 1977. He stayed until the company was sold in April 1990 for $500 million to PolyGram.
Among the acts with whom Friesen worked closely were The Carpenters, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Cat Stevens, Joe Cocker, Nils Lofgren, Supertramp, The Tubes, Peter Frampton, The Police, Squeeze, Joe Jackson, Bryan Adams and Janet Jackson.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of A&M, now owned by Universal Music Group.
Friesen launched the independent company A&M Films in 1981. In addition to the coming of age drama The Breakfast Club (1985), he executive produced Better Off Dead … (1985) and One Crazy Summer (1986), both starring John Cusack, and produced the biopic Blaze (1989), toplined by Paul Newman.
With backing from Liberty Media and Allen & Co., Friesen co-founded the Classic Sports Cable Network with Brian Bedol and Stephen Greenberg in the mid-1990s. It was sold to ESPN after a bidding war with News Corp. for a reported $175 million, a huge sum for a channel that at the time reached just 10 million homes.
His most recent film is ” Twenty Feet From Stardom,” a documentary focused on backup singers – for which he interviewed Mick Jagger, Sting, Sheryl Crow and many others – which was selected as an opening-night film at next month’s Sundance Film Festival.
He is survived by his wife Janet, his grown son Tyler, 7-year-old son Theo and 3-year-old daughter Uma.