Q&A with producer/composer Alan Lorber - leading arranger in the early '60s, having made over 2,000 recordings

"I believe all genre in one way or another reflect the social and political mood of the time. I’d say less with Jazz which evolved and changed not because of the time but because of the players who expanded the creative envelope. Blues is always the soul of the people. But rock ‘n roll had the greatest impact on the socio-politico-cultural."

Alan Lorber: The Blossom of  Music Lotus

Arranger, producer, composer - leading arranger in the early '60s, having made over 2,000 recordings, Alan Lorber was responsible for having generated over 60 million dollars in sales. He created innovations in classical/rock fusion, East/West and jazz/fusion, with the ability to write for most genres. Lorber was the first arranger from New York City to record in Nashville (1963), bringing his New York-style arrangements to Nashville "picking." Later he brought various Nashville rhythm sections to New York to record with his New York musicians. Lorber worked with all of the top New York record producers, top artists and labels of the day. During the late '60s he established the now historic rock phenomenon, the "Boston Sound." Lorber currently composes and records new classical and jazz/fusion concepts, continues to produce and contribute to the worldwide reissues of his vast discography, and serves as producer and creative director of his Iris Music Group music publishing companies and record labels. Lorber's most recently work was the late bluesman Michael Packer's last album “I Am the Blues – My Story” Volume 3 (2017) – Post Production by Alan Lorber. New York guitarist Michael Packer was an activist, a dreamer and a true believer in the power of the blues. He spent his life crusading for peace and political and social change. Packer lost his battle to liver cancer on May 6, 2017, but not until he had completed volume three of his recording project, “I Am The Blues – My Story.”

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

With Phil Spector: Every Breath I Take (Gene Pitney) is historically documented as the real beginning of the "Wall of Sound." Lorber also recorded 30 other Gene Pitney recordings for Musicor including hits such as I Must Be Seeing Things. He also created the arrangements for Pitney's 1962 San Remo Festival appearance, in which his song was the winner. With Leiber & Stoller: Among the many sessions in which Lorber collaborated with this famous team, Mike Clifford's Top 10 hit, Close To Cathy, various sides by the Coasters, and the innovative Clovers hit, Bossa Nova, are standouts. With Nevins & Kirshner: Lorber, as Music Director of the Aldon Music stable of artists, created hit singles for Neil Sedaka, including the #1 single Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen, Next Door To An Angel and twelve others, producing over 7 million units sold. Lorber also recorded albums and singles for Tony Orlandoand Barry Mann during this period. With Luther Dixon: Dixon, as A&R Director of Scepter Records, commissioned Lorber to record Mama Said and Thing Of The Past for the Shirelles, I Wake Up Crying for Chuck Jackson, Human with Tommy Hunt, and Killer Joe for the Rocky Fellers. Lorber also made the hit follow-up albums for these respective artists. With Shelby Singleton:  Singleton, at that time, was A&R Director for Mercury Records, for which Lorber made Clyde McPhatter's classic Deep In The Heart Of Harlem and the famous follow-up album Songs Of The Big City. It was Singleton, originally from Nashville, who brought Lorber there to record Teresa Brewer and Brian Hyland, and to New York to record Lesley Gore's hit single Young Love and the All About Love album. Lorber was also commissioned to record, with Brook Benton, the Burt Bacharach title song A House Is Not A Home for Paramount Pictures. Also, for the Mercury subsidiary Smash Records with independent producers Feldman, Goldstein & Gotterher (FGG), Lorber recorded the Angels' hit I Adore Him and various cuts for their follow-up albums. Kapp Records: A&R Directors Al Stanton and, later, Tom Catalano, brought Lorber in to record the Top 5 Johnny Cymbal hit Mr. Bass Man and Teen Age Heaven, Lenny Welch's Darling Take Me Back and Two Different Worlds, and Ruby and the Romantics' classic Your Baby Doesn't Love You Anymore. The follow-up hit albums were also created by Lorber. With George Goldner: Industry legend Goldner hired Lorber for his recordings at Roulette and then his Gone/End labels, for which Lorber made Lou Christie's You And I Have The Right To Cry and other chart singles, Joey Dee albums and, for Gone, the Bobbettes, the Chantels, and Top 10 singles and albums for Ral Donne. With Hy Weiss: For this equally famous music pioneer, Lorber created hits for the Earls, and Arthur Prysock for Weiss' Old Town Records. Brunswick Records: Of all the many records Lorber made for Nat Tarnapol's Brunswick label, including many of those by Big Maybelle and the Clovers, Lorber's recordings with Jackie Wilson are today, in reissue, the most written about and historically important of the '63-'65 period of Wilson's career. Lorber basically combined a more pop-oriented rhythm against more traditional Gospel lines. Shake A Hand became a hit single, drawn from the Gospel duet album Lorber made with Wilson and Linda Hopkins. Other Wilson hits included Shake! Shake! Shake! which came from the multiple hit albums Lorber made for Wilson, including the Baby Workout LP. Lorber also wrote the arrangements for Wilson's famous 1963 Copacabana act and collaborated with Wilson on many songs, which were included in Wilson's singles and albums. Connie Francis:  Francis first hired Lorber to bring his newly-honed Nashville styles into her repertoire, whereby Lorber created the hit Blue Winter. Other worldwide hits Lorber made with Francis include Spanish Nights And You and Be Anything (But Be Mine), and introduced the premier recording of Games That Lovers Play, which was written especially for Francis.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS: By 1964, now an established record producer, Lorber created the legendary group, the Mugwumps for Warner Bros. Records, which then split up to become the Lovin' Spoonful (for which Lorber produced Do You Believe In Magic). The other half of the group became The Mamas And The Papas. In 1967 Lorber, with MGM Records, established the "Boston Sound," where 200 albums were produced with such hit psychedelic artists as Orpheus and Ultimate Spinach. During the same period Lorber released his highly successful "East/West" jazz/fusion album The Lotus Palace for Verve, featuring sitarist Colin Walcott. Lorber also composed many scores for ABC-TV specials, including "Hit The Surf," and BBC-TV specials with Anthony Newley.

Interview by Michael Limnios      Special Thanks Betsie Brown (Blind Raccoon)

What did you learn about yourself from the music industry?

Never believe your fame is endless—everyone is subject to becoming a victim of change. It is just the nature of the music industry to discard the old in favor of the new. I have been active since the mid-50s and been through many changes. I started at a time of transition in mainstream America with the birth of rock ’n’ roll. Old breed artists like Guy Mitchell and Eddie Fisher, even Sinatra were fighting for life with Bill Haley and Elvis Presley. There was something new in radio called, Top-40. All-White radio and Race radio integrate. A white pop-culture, mostly teens are hearing a fusion of sensuous new rhythms, new lyrical philosophy, strange but attractive vocal-inflection of black artists, and loving it.

The record business adopted new technology, replacing cumbersome large and fragile wax 78’s, with more fun to handle big-hole vinyl-45’s, both easier to store and cheaper to ship. New automatic record-changers are invented to accommodate the new discs which can be stacked on a center-spindle that RCA invented for its new 45-Player. Other record machines provide a reserve playing-speed for the up-coming 33 & 1/3 Long Playing record. Alan Freed, a former classical DJ from Cleveland, gave life to this new rock ’n’ roll, leading his new pack of listeners to howl into the night with him on his Moondog Show. Without exception, through each generation and change, unfortunately, artists wait too long to step off the merry-go-round and find themselves spinning out of control—destroyed.”

What characterizes your sound and music philosophy?

As the leading arranger in the early 60s, the artist, the genre and the song’s lyrics set the philosophy and direction for my orchestration. Another important object was to make the music have the greatest universal appeal with great “hooks.” I brought a new sound-- rock ‘n roll-bottom and classical-top.

How has the Blues/Jazz and Rock n’ Roll music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Each country has its own musical culture which if you’re lucky enough to travel to different countries as a musician it is their music that influences, not ours.

What were the reasons that you started the Psychedelic Folk/Rock researches and experiments at the 60s?

It was the prevailing music of the time. The sound of recorded music went from orchestrated to self-contained. The new groups forming in America were for the most part influenced by the British Invasion. As a producer, I tried to find artists with something new to offer, a vocal sound, different instrumentation, songs that reflected their own personality--not a copy of a trend. My Alan Lorber Orchestra Lotus Palace album of 1969 for Verve was the first fusion of Indian and jazz—East meeting West.

Are there any memories from studio with Phil Spector and Leiber & Stoller which you’d like to share with us?

Leiber & Stoller: Jerry, Mike and I would usually spend a day in their office (which looked like a living room with couches, grand piano etc.) to prepare a new recording session. Mike and I would sit at the piano and work on a musical concept while Jerry would pace up and down composing lyrics in rapid-fire jazz-like rhythms to complete the songs. The recording of Bossa Nova Baby by the Clovers is a perfect example. When I worked on Close To Cathy by Mike Clifford, without them, I created a Mozart-like setting without drums. The record went Top-5. Working with them on the Coasters was nothing but laughs and insanity.
Phil Spector: This story is too good not to share with your readers: During the past month (in 1961), I had been cutting an album with Ral Donner for George Goldner’s Gone Records label. Ral was a Presley imitator and sounded bluesy enough to be invited to appear at the Apollo. The Apollo’s stage-band was a big band Ral was going to sing Heartbreak Hotel.  The band arrangement I wrote was a total departure to his recorded sound. It was a big band modern jazz version of the Presley hit. At the Apollo rehearsal after hearing about 8 versions of Shout, my turn came. I climbed up on the podium and gave the count off. The trumpets blasted the intro. The baritone-saxes and trombones thumped a bass-line, while Ral moaned, “Feelin’ so lonely, feelin’ so lonely, I could die.

“In-cred-ible!” someone shouted from the back of the band. I thought it was probably some impressed manager on his way out. Ignoring it I kept on conducting. “In-cred-ible!” Again, it came, only louder this time from behind the sax section. “In-cred-ible.” The voice repeated a third time, coming closer. A weasel-like man, waving his arms, knocking down music stands, pushed and shoved his way through the brass section, still maniacally shouting “Incredible,” and finally stopping at my side. “Take Five!” the man shouted. The musicians put down their instru­ments and walked away, grateful for the break. Ral walked away, toweling his face, disgusted. I was pissed. The man stood there smiling up at me still on the podium as if I’m supposed to know who he was. He was dressed in a black velvet vest, a puff white shirt with a black-pearl tie­pin stuck in a paisley-tie. He looked like a cross between a midget Dr. Faustus and Abe Lincoln. “So?” I asked.”

“I mean, that’s incredible, man,” he said, stroking nervously at his squared-off black-goatee. beady eyes darting left then right. “Are you some kind of modern band-arranger, like Stan Kenton?” he said. “I never heard anything like this before.”

“No,” I told him. I’m a hit record arranger.” I had just come off hits with Shirelles Mama Said; I Wake Up Crying with Chuck Jackson; and Human for Tommy Hunt, all Scepter Records artists.” He offered me his card which he had slipped from his vest pocket. “Hi, I’m Phil Spector. Will you write the arrangements for the Gene Pitney session I’m doing in two weeks? You can have carte blanche. Write anything you want. The song’s Every Breath I Take, written by Carole King.” Just to remind you, it was the beginning of the 60s, when all recording was done live--the orchestra, vocal, vo­cal group, everyone together in the studio recorded live, at the same time. Without an arrangement there is no recording, no notes to play, nothing for the orchestra to read. The ar­ranger created all the music heard on a record, other than the melody of the song. He wrote the drum-parts, invented the rhythms, the guitar riffs, piano-parts, bass lines, string-music, group parts. He invented the “hooks.” The producer captured it on tape.”

Mono was the norm with 2-track for safeties. Other than a new 4 track machine all other multi-track tape recorder were still in development. Two weeks passed and I put 54 musicians into New York’s Bell Sound Studio-A. It had a great live sound and great echo chambers which would be needed for my orchestral concept--20 violins, violas, cellos, double-bases, two harps, oboes, flutes, bassoons, brass, rhythm section, percussion, and two background vocal groups, a white girls trio for ooo’s and ahs, and the Five Satins of “In The Still Of The Night” for the Doo-Wop parts. It was a new concept of mixing R&B, Doo-Wop with Classical, with a Rock n’ Roll bottom and a Bach “Brandenburg Concerto”-type top. Listening from the control room, when played across the speakers, one heard a Wall of Sound. It has been documented that this recording was the start of the Wall Of Sound. Phil spent it was almost three hours trying to get a drum sound he liked, trying out different equaliza­tions, listening to various echo-combinations, and asking to hear the drums again and again”. By then, the session was about to go into overtime and noth­ing was on tape. The standard union session was three hours for four songs. Musicians sat idly by. Guests in the control room, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, producers Leiber and Stoller and others sat patiently waiting for the recording to begin. Aaron Schroeder, the owner of Gene’s label, Musicor, was now fuming that the session was costing him $14,000.00—an unheard sum for a single session at the time. Finally, we start. The drums reverberate. The rhythm pounds. Gene Pitney moves closer to the mike as the Five Satins sway in unison, swinging their arms, snapping their fingers, “Click,” singing deeper and deeper in perfect street-corner harmony. The strings soared over and under and finally the record was finished. A spectacular event. The next morning Don Kirshner the publisher of the song called and asked me to create new sounds for two of his artists, Neil Sedaka and Tony Orlando. My first record with Neil Sedaka was “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.”

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past?

I accept the state of the art as it presently exists. Each generation has a sound of its own—spontaneity, genuine musicianship and creativity. The past is the past. I can listen to my old favorites anytime.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

My hope is that music will become more varied rather than lopsided as it today. My fears are the industry will only go where the money is.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

That the industry should honor Arrangers in the Rock Hall of Fame. It is shameful that they have ignored such an important and vital creative contribution and trend setter to the sound of each era.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of music from Blues and Jazz to Folk, Psychedelic and Rock n’ Roll?

Blues gave to jazz and rock n’ roll. Roots music gave to traditional folk leading to contemporary folk in many variations such as bluegrass, country and jug band.  The Mugwumps that I produced in ’64 featuring Mama Cass Elliot was a cross between the Mamas & Papas and the Lovin Spoonful. My recording of Do You Believe In Magic was jug band, made when the Mupwumps split up.

Psychedelic came from new studio technology effects, new instruments plus cross influences of Indian music, the Beatles and “psychedelic” drug influenced lyrics.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences?

Each artist I worked with as an arranger and/or producer was a musical experience.

What has made you laugh from Ultimate Spinach?

Nothing made me laugh about Ultimate Spinach. What made me sad was their premature break up.  Artists from the my 1968 “Boston Sound” marketing concept created with MGM Records were too young and too immature to be caught in an establishment’s reading of a trend and the counter-culture’s rejection of it. The turmoil of 1968-69--Vietnam war RFK and Rev. King assassinations left the entire world in turmoil. These artists found themselves as “establishment” recording artists with an underground culture ranking them out, and it was too much to survive. Unfortunately, they choose poorly by joining the underground against their own major labels. The group Orpheus was another example. Today however their music by way of CD and Vinyl reissues are considered classics.

What touched (emotionally) you from Michael Packer?

I was there at his beginnings when he played songs for me when he was 17 years old, to the end. Having been Michael’s record producer and friend for 47 years what touched me most was his ability to come back and fight again. Of course, his early passing was a great loss not just to me but to the blues music world.

What is the impact of Rock, Blues, Jazz music on the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

I believe all genre in one way or another reflect the social and political mood of the time. I’d say less with Jazz which evolved and changed not because of the time but because of the players who expanded the creative envelope. Blues is always the soul of the people. But rock ‘n roll had the greatest impact on the socio-politico-cultural.

To expand a bit on what I related earlier in the interview about the birth time of rock & roll: Although Alan Freed was the “pied-piper of rock ’n’ roll,” his WINS Radio Show on top of the ratings, his riotous rock ’n’ roll-spec­taculars at movie theaters, like the Paramount, which were screaming successes, savvy politicians wanted him stopped. They said, ‘rock ’n’ roll is the devil.’ They believed they had to save the morality. It’s corrupting the youth. If Freed goes their brand of morality would return.

Those were empty claims, because it was never a question of moral­ity, but one of color. The politicos wanted to stop the black-into white spill-over, fearing it would cross-over into human-borders, into neigh­borhoods. But it was too late. Southern blacks had already moved North for in­dustrial jobs, and white radio played to a new audience. President Truman desegregated the Army, and black soldiers in Korea wanted en­tertainment from home. Cars become part of the American graffiti. White kids drove up and down Main Street-America blasting Orioles, the Dominoes, feeling the heat of rhythm-and-blues.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I like it right where I am now.

NOTE: Many of my above historical comments are paraphrased from my book, “Benny Allen Was A Star,” a mostly auto-biographical work.

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