It’s been a while since we took a spin through my dad’s record collection, which today got a little smaller.
After I went through Dad’s vinyl last month, picking out some goodies, he offered to donate the leftovers to the senior citizen center my brother supervises. So Jim drove over today and took all the rest of Dad’s albums.
For lack of a better word, Dad’s collection seems to poop out about the mid-’60s. I’m guessing that’s when money became tight, what with three boys to raise on a rather modest income. Either that, or his record money went into the camper he built with my uncle.
But in 1965, when he was 40, Dad picked up a couple of albums that became my favorites.
One was “Going Places” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. That has a couple of goodies — particularly “Spanish Flea,” the tune used on “The Dating Game.”
On the other, the Baja Marimba Band delivered a bunch of sweet, swinging instrumentals on “The Baja Marimba Band Rides Again.”
You know Herb Alpert, but you may not know Julius Wechter, who led the Baja Marimba Band. I can’t tell his story any better than the following, found on the Julius Wechter and the Baja Marimba Band page at A&M Corner, a fan’s guide to vintage recordings on the A&M label.
Back in 1962, Herb Alpert contacted Julius Wechter to play on his first Tijuana Brass recording, “The Lonely Bull.” Julius hardly knew Herb at the time, and was paid $15 for his session. Shortly thereafter, this chance meeting turned into a successful recording career. Hot on the success of the first Tijuana Brass albums, Julius Wechter was offered the chance to record his own music on the newly-formed A&M Records. His creation was the Baja Marimba Band, which went on to record 11 original albums for A&M Records throughout the 1960s and tour America with Herb and his Tijuana Brass organization. While the first Baja albums were rooted heavily in Mexican soundscapes (even more so than Tijuana Brass recordings), the music evolved into jazz, MOR, samba, Dixieland and even novelty settings. Above all, Wechter’s virtuoso marimba and vibraphone playing would be the highlight of each song he would record.
Wechter, who died in 1999, was a well-regarded session player on the West Coast before he hooked up with Alpert. Even while he led the Baja Marimba Band, Wechter played on and wrote for Alpert’s records and on other A&M records.
The perception lingers that the Baja Marimba Band was the B team to the Tijuana Brass’ A team. Well, only if you go by the number of hit records. Listen, though, and you hear some similarly gifted musicians and some inspired music.
“Rides Again” was the Baja Marimba Band’s second album, and it indeed had a strong Mexican flavor wrapped into its California cool. It’s fresh, not cliched. Wechter did the arrangements with Alpert, wrote five of the 12 cuts on the album and fronted a group of studio musicians. (The Baja Marimba Band didn’t have a regular group of members until the fourth album.)
Mixed in with Wechter’s originals are some interesting covers, including “Walk On By,” by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and “More,” by Riz Ortolani and Nino Oliviero from the soundtrack to “Mondo Cane.” My all-time favorite, at least as a kid, was their cover of “The Woody Woodpecker Song,” from the old cartoon.
Simply put, I played the living shit out of this album when I was a kid. You’ll be able to tell when you hear the rips. Pops, scratches, even the occasional skip. But until I find a new copy or have more time to run it through the audio software, it’ll have to do.
So, from Ray’s Corner, the apartment with the loud music, where the martinis are made of gin with the vermouth bottle held about a foot away, enjoy. Both of these cuts were written by Julius Wechter.
“Guacamole” and “Majorca,” the Baja Marimba Band, from “The Baja Marimba Band Rides Again,” 1965. It’s out of print.