Oral Histories

Interview of Jerry Moss

Co-founder of A&M Records.
Z: Orphan Interviews after 1999
Biographical Note:
Co-founder of A&M Records.
Cline, Alex
Moss, Jerry
Persons Present:
Moss and Cline.
Place Conducted:
Moss's office at Almo Sounds, Inc. in Beverly Hills, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Alex Cline, Series Coordinator, UCLA Center for Oral History Research; musician.Cline prepared for the interview by researching the subject via the A&M Records Collection at the UCLA Music Library as well as via books, periodicals, recordings, interviews, and available online services, as well as from drawing from his own memories of the subject and of the time period discussed.
Processing of Interview:
The interviewer compiled the table of contents, biographical summary, and interview history and supplied most of the spellings of proper nouns and the complete names entered in brackets in the text. The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Moss was then given an opportunity to review the transcript and made a few corrections and additions. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff.
11.4 hrs.
Interviewee Retained Copyright
Family background—Life in Moss’s Bronx, New York, neighborhood—His relationship with his mother, Rose Moss—Father, Irving Moss, dies when Moss is seventeen years old—Interests and activities at school—More about Moss’s neighbors and neighborhood—Jobs Moss held as a youth—Early encounters with popular music—How his father’s death decidedly changed the course of Moss’s life—How jobs working at summer resorts contributed to Moss’s aspiration to work in the entertainment field—Enlists in the National Guard in 1958—Jobs Moss sought out with the aim of breaking into the entertainment business—Meets record executive-publisher Marvin Cane, who suggests Moss would make a good record promotion man for his record company—Moss is hired by Cane to travel to radio stations on behalf of the company, Co-Ed Records—The job turns successful when the record “Sixteen Candles” by the Crests becomes a big hit—Moss’s awareness of the financial limitations of his job—The McCarthy era—Moss’s and his family’s political point of view.
More on Moss’s father’s death and its impact on Moss as a teenager—Moss’s early exposure to art—How he learned about dealing with girls as a teenager—Activities for Jewish trainees while in training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina—Moss’s brush with polio as a youth—More on why Marvin Cane envisioned a future in record promotion for Moss—Radio stations and disc jockeys during the late fifties—The issue of race in the popular music world during the late fifties—Dick Clark—Important figures Moss met or encountered at the Brill Building in New York City—Friend Bruce Meyerwitz, who later becomes disc jockey Cousin Brucie—Moss’s take on the state of rock ‘n roll during the late fifties—How Moss came to California in 1960—First impressions of Los Angeles—After failing to find employment in L.A, Moss becomes an independent promo man—Live music venues in L.A. in the early sixties—Attends a recording session for a record produced by Phil Spector—How higher production values began to change the way pop music records were made—How Moss met Herb Alpert—Moss begins publishing songs through his own company, Irving Music, and begins producing records himself—Alpert and Moss pool their resources to produce a single on their own label, Carnival Records—With profit made from their first single, Alpert and Moss create and produce their next single, “The Lonely Bull” by the Tijuana Brass, under their label’s new name, A&M Records.
Alan Freed and the payola scandal of 1960—Negative attention placed on the music business by parents and interest groups around the late fifties—Changes in radio station practices after the payola scandal—Conditions in popular music that allowed for the success of the Tijuana Brass’s “The Lonely Bull” in 1962—Steps Moss and A&M took to secure and further the success of “The Lonely Bull” after its release—Key factors in the creation of the Tijuana Brass’s sound—A&M hires its first employee, Jolene Burton—Moss’s responsibilities following the hiring of Burton—Other artists signed to A&M in the early sixties—Julius Wechter and the creation of the Baja Marimba Band—Waylon Jennings--Reasons A&M abandoned its foray into rhythm and blues releases—Impact of Herb Alpert on the further success of the Tijuana Brass once he became a performing artist in 1964—Alpert becomes a star—Alpert’s memorable performance at major charity event at the Hollywood Bowl in 1968—Sergio Mendes and Brazil ’66 are signed to A&M in 1966—A&M purchases the old Charlie Chaplin studios on La Brea Avenue for $1 million and moves its operation, A&M Studios, there in 1966—Liza Minelli’s brief signing to the label—Burt Bacharach’s impact on the label after he signs on in 1967.
Moss marries and starts a family in 1965—His memory of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy—Moss’s interest in the Beatles and bands comprising the “British invasion”—Travels to London in 1964, where he makes business strides on behalf of A&M Records, including securing Gil Friesen to come to L.A. to work for the label as general manager—The Tijuana Brass’s reception in the Mexican and Latin American communities—How A&M reached audiences for artists like Waylon Jennings—Moss’s and Alpert’s musical vision and how they achieved it in the studio—The music and cover of the Tijuana Brass album Whipped Cream and Other Delights—The Monterey Pop Festival—A&M pursues contemporary rock acts after 1967—The escalation of hippie culture in the later sixties—The Sunset Strip scene—A&M secures its relationships with Denny Cordell and with Island Records, leading to its acquisition of many notable artists from England—The label opens its own office in London in 1969, A&M Records, Ltd.—Joe Cocker is signed to the label in 1967 and becomes one of its major artists—Moss attends Woodstock in support of Cocker’s appearance there—A&M signs the band Humble Pie in 1969.
Tom Donahue and the advent of FM underground rock radio—Bill Drake at Los Angeles Top 40 radio station KHJ—Rock acts on television in the late sixties—A&M Studios opens in 1968—Changes in recording technology during the sixties—Changes in popular culture, specifically the drug culture, toward 1970—Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass perform for presidents and royalty in the late sixties—The Flying Burrito Brothers—Cat Stevens—The Carpenters are signed to A&M—Supertramp and their introduction to American audiences in the early seventies—A&M Records’ changing identity and competitive success as the 1970s bring change to popular music and to the music business—Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, double album, and film—The Moss family takes its first big vacation in 1970—A&M makes a deal to distribute George Harrison’s label, Dark Horse Records—The deterioration of A&M’s relationship with Dark Horse and Moss’s relationship with Harrison—Alpert takes a break from performing in 1969 to refocus and redirect his activities—How Moss characterizes the nature of the diverse projects and activities he and Alpert experienced during the seventies.
Effect of the Charles Manson murders on the late sixties Los Angeles social scene—The Ozark Mountain Daredevils—Moss’s belief that most of A&M’s artists had hit potential—His personal involvement with each A&M release—A&M’s reputation as being artist friendly at a time of intense record company competition—Impact of Moss’s full involvement at work on his family life—Moss’s stance during the early seventies when high-profile record company executives and music managers become prominent—Styx—Moss becomes concerned about Karen Carpenter’s health—The Captain and Tennille—The Sex Pistols briefly sign with A&M in 1977—A&M signs the Police—The label’s artist roster as the eighties begin—A&M loses its independent distributor and signs with RCA for national distribution in 1979—A loan is taken out in order to help the label weather a major industry slump in 1979—The A&M Records Financial Center opens in 1977—A&M Films is founded in 1981—A&M Horizon begins producing jazz albums simultaneous with the industry slump—The fate of A&M’s Latin division in the early eighties—The advent of the compact disc and its impact on the music industry—The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me, Baby.”
Changes at A&M once Gil Friesen becomes its president in 1976—Music venues in Los Angeles during the explosion of new rock music in the late seventies—MTV’s impact on the music business in the early eighties—More on the introduction of the CD—Production of music videos—The return of the Tijuana Brass in 1984—The death of Karen Carpenter—A&M celebrates its 25th anniversary in 1987—Janet Jackson becomes one of A&M’s biggest artists with the release of her album Control in 1986—Unable to afford her, A&M loses Jackson to Virgin Records—Reasons Alpert and Moss felt the sale of A&M would be a good move—A&M is sold to Polygram International in 1989—How the sale to Polygram eventually turned sour, resulting in Alpert and Moss taking a settlement and opting out of their contracts—Direction music and broadcasting have taken since the nineties—Moss’s philanthropic activities—His art collecting—The speed with which a record could once be made and heard on the radio—How Moss got into horseracing and owning racehorses—Personal, health, and business challenges Moss had to face in 1993—Alpert and Moss establish a new label, Almo Sounds, in 1995—Impressions of the music business in the digital age—Current activities at Almo Sounds—His reflections on what the record business was vs. what it is or could be now—Impact of A&M’s business style on the record business as a whole—The fate of the A&M lot—Moss reflects on his relationship with Alpert—The importance of humor—Moss’s feelings about the state of the present-day United States and its people—Artists and associated individuals memorable to Moss—Things that are important to Moss in his life now—His feelings about Los Angeles—How the A&M Records Archive at UCLA came to be established—Parting wishes.