Gary James' Interview With John Wier Of The
Herb Alpert And The Tijuana Brass Tribute
A Taste Of Herb
Out of Denton, Texas comes a band known as A Taste Of Herb. Led by John Wier, it's a tribute to Herb Alpert And The Tijuana Brass.
Q - John, I'm not going to ask you your age, but you look so young. How did you hear about Herb Alpert? Did somebody lend you a CD?
A - I don't know when the first time I heard of him or heard them. I'm not sure when. I'm actually a fairly young guy. I can remember, maybe sometime in the mid '90s, actually getting one of his CDs. I really hadn't listened to him that much. He had a very nice sound and I knew that his career was massive. He's one of these guys that's known. About two and a half years ago somebody in Denton came to me. That's about when I moved down here. I sat in with this Latin band in town. One of the guys playing in the band came up to me later and said, "You know, I want to do something by you." He told me about making a Herb Alpert Tijuana Brass tribute band. I said, "I'd be interested." I didn't have a whole lot of stuff going on at that time. So, I started listening to the music. I went to
www.TijunanaBrass.com. I guess it's the website where there's all the discography, band information and memorabilia. I started going through the discography, every album, every song. I wanted to listen to everything that the band had done. I've actually listened to everything that's been recorded to pick out what we play. It's amazing. I try to sound like him sometimes, but it's difficult. He did some really different things sound-wise sometimes, at the end of notes mainly. I think I would exhaust myself to try to actually emulate his style fully. But sometimes my tone sounds like him. One of the guys we had playing piano in the band one time said, "Hell, John, you sound just like the guy." It's interesting. I really don't have a history of listening to Herb Alpert, yet now I've played a lot of his stuff. I've learned a lot of his music. I'd like to learn some of his solo stuff, but I haven't got around to it yet.
Q - What is it that Herb Alpert does with the trumpet that makes it sound so different? I've never heard anyone play the trumpet like that.
A - It's really vocal, the way he plays the trumpet. It's very voice-like. When he does his vocal stuff, which I think sounds great, I read all the interviews with him, it's strange that he even sang on anything. He tried and tried to find something to work. His trumpet playing to me is very voice-like. That would probably be the best way to say it. I can't think of any trumpeter there is that has done the same thing. There are a couple of guys that do Easy Jazz that's similar, but it either gets more busy than what he did, melodic wise or notes or a little more Jazz influenced maybe in some of the riffs. It's also kind of amazing how he made it work because it's not super technical on the trumpet. He has definitely got the ability because if you listen to "Zorba The Greek", everything is solid. There's not a lack of ability in his playing.
Q - When was A Taste Of Herb put together?
A - May 2012.
Q - Was it difficult to find musicians to play the material? Did anyone say "Herb Alpert? Who was that?"
A - No. Not at all. The guy who came to me, came to my apartment and we listened to some music. I said, "This will work. Yeah, this will work. This will be great for actually a tribute kind of thing," playing where we were going to have to start out at, in just small clubs or a small bar. He kind of knew more musicians in town then I did because I was pretty new here. Some of the guys he had played with. The other trumpet player played with a band called Brave Combo, a Grammy Award winning polka band. They had been out for 35 years. He played in that band for 15 years. He is a great trumpeter and all the guys that play with me, at one time, went to University of North Texas. All of them had heard of Herb Alpert before. The guitarist, his father was a trumpeter. He actually had some transcription books of Herb Alpert And The Tijuana brass. So he was into it. He's a very amazing player. He's only 25 years old. He's an amazing guitarist. And the drummer, same thing. He's got five or six of the albums. So really it was easy. The drummer we have now, he came in a month after the guy that first started. He just wanted to play percussion parts. Then the basis that I started with, we had some differences. When he first started he was really into making the sound exactly the same. He was trying to make the sound exactly like the recordings. At that point, everybody learned I listened to the recordings, lifted everything off the records. Everybody has stayed. Everybody has a great time. We are about in the 45 to 46 songs of Herb's stuff that we kind of switch in and out. Everybody's still happy to be playing it. Everything is pretty close to the recording. There are a few places where personal artistry goes in. It's still us playing. We are playing TJB music and it's directly lifted from the recordings, but there's still the personality of each one of the players that is playing in this band. It still coming through with how we're doing it and then a few times we didn't change much. We play a song called "The Continental". We changed that where there's some improvisation in it. Other than that, everything's pretty well straightforward. Sometimes we play flugel horns instead of trumpets on a few songs.
Q - I'm impressed with your xylophone player.
A - Well, that's a Nord. That's a keyboard, an electronic keyboard
Q - Oh, okay. It sounds just like a xylophone.
A - It sounds great. He doesn't actually make it to every gig. I love when he is there. He's a radio personality guy. He does a lot of other stuff. He's a very busy guy. It's great when he is there. Sometimes, some of those chime sounds in "El Lobo" , he can switch over and play the chimes sounds or he can do the "Tijuana Taxi" horn. Different sounds he can pick up with that, that make it sound like the recordings also.
Q - Is there are a lot of work for a Herb Alpert And The Tijuana Brass band in Denton, Texas? Have you traveled at all or has it been local for the most part?
A - It's kind of been local. We haven't gone down to Austin, Houston, San Antonio. We haven't done that yet. We've gone up into Oklahoma and played a couple of festivals, but mainly here in Denton, Dallas and Fort Worth, but we've been able to play somewhere in between three to eight gigs a month. One place in town, we play a Happy Hour Show like twice a month and people come. I don't think it's just because they are our friends. They come and have a great time. We make a little tip money every time. There's other venues that I'm still trying to play at. There's a nice Jazz club in Fort Worth called The Scat Jazz Lounge, which is just like a real Jazz club. It's downstairs in a basement spot. It's a smoky Jazz club. It's a really nice smoky little Jazz club. We've played there every three months or so. So, work of this particular band is kind of moving around. People are like, "I can't believe you're doing this. We love it." The age range is people that either used to listen to this music themselves or their parents. We have both of those. It's amazing how excited some people get about it, especially more so for the ones that grew up with their parents playing it for them. And so, it's pretty neat.
Q - The music is refreshing.
A - Yeah. There's a thing they do here in Denton called Twilight Tunes. It's an outdoor thing. We actually played the large Jazz festival here in town. We played right before the headlining act on the final night on the main stage. There were almost 3,000 people out there for that. But we play on the town square and it's a local thing. People get to bring their blankets out on the grass with coolers. We had 600 people out there for that in May (2014). It was probably the largest one they ever had for the Twilight Tunes. Me and my family go to it. It's always pretty crowded. I think that is a tribute to what we're paying tribute to, playing TJB's music. It's so different than just seeing somebody play Rock 'n' Roll. It's different than any other band that could be playing straight ahead Jazz in town. The Jazz around North Texas is great. There are guys playing very high quality Jazz right around us, yet nobody is doing this kind of thing. It's different for people to come listen to.
Q - Do you know if Herb Alpert has heard of your group?
A - I don't think so. I want him to because I keep joking around that we're going to go out and play his birthday party some time. I've even thought about trying to play his restaurant out there in Santa Monica (California). Somebody told me, "Why would he want somebody to play his music in his restaurant when he can just go play his restaurant?" But I don't know if he knows about the group or not. He's quite the person. It's amazing what he's done with his success. I hope to meet him some day.