Herb Alpert chose songs to arrange and record for his upcoming album Over the Rainbow the same way he always has. “It all starts with melody,” the trumpet-playing legend tells Billboard. “The memory has to be there.” And Alpert deemed it certainly was on Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Fantasy,” premiering exclusively below.
“That was on a song on an Earth, Wind & Fire album I always liked (1977’s All ‘n All),” Alpert says. “My friend Eddie Del Barrio wrote it with Maurice (and Verdine) White and arranged it for me on this one. I just always like the melody — here again it’s just about the melody, and I tried to find a way to do it that if people hadn’t heard the song before maybe they might listen to it in different way.” And, per usual, a lot of trial and error went into the track before Alpert was happy with “Fantasy” and the other 11 tracks on Over the Rainbow, which comes out Sept. 20.
“I’ll fool around with several different ways to approach something,” Alpert explains. “I’ll always have my horn with me and see what different types of grooves I can put in, and if I hit on one that feels right that’s the one I stop with and I start creating an arrangement from that.”
Over the Rainbow features one new song, “Skinny Dip,” as well as versions of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana,” Joe Cocker’s Billy Preston cover “You Are So Beautiful,” Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy,” Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” and more, along with the title track, hailing from The Wizard of Oz. “It’s kind of a formula I have in that it has no real reason,” Alpert explains. “I just pick a song that I like to play. When I hear a song that I think I can do in a way that’s not been heard quite that way before, that excites me.”
At 84, Alpert continues to play live, with wife Lani Hall singing, as well as paint and sculpt — with pieces at museums in Chicago and Jackson Hole, Wyo. He’s also currently assisting in the making of a documentary about his life and career. And Alpert is bristling a bit about this year’s revelations about what might have been lost in the 2008 Universal Studios fire in Hollywood; though he has his own and Hall’s master recordings, many of the releases from his A&M Records, which he and Jerry Moss sold during 1989, are thought to have been lost in the blaze.
“It’s beyond words,” Alpert says. “They really tried to cover it up and did cover up what actually happened way back then. Now that it’s coming out it’s getting even more infuriating because they did nothing to help prevent that from happening. I have all my tapes and Lani’s tapes as well, but we lost a lot of great artists’ tapes in that, which is devastating.”