Jerry Moss, the ‘M’ of A&M Records, Is Dead at 88

Jerry Moss, who with the trumpeter Herb Alpert founded A&M Records, which at its peak from the 1960s to the ’80s was an independent powerhouse behind hits by the Carpenters, the Police, Janet Jackson, Peter Frampton and Mr. Alpert’s group, the Tijuana Brass, among many others, has died at his home in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles. He was 88.

His family announced the death in a statement on Wednesday.

Over their more than 30 years with A&M, Mr. Moss and Mr. Alpert developed an eclectic roster — Cat Stevens, Carole King, Supertramp and the grunge band Soundgarden all released music there — and established the label’s reputation for being supportive of artists and treating them fairly.

Sting, who signed to A&M with the Police in 1978 and has remained associated with the label throughout his career, said in an interview on Thursday that those values radiated directly from Mr. Moss and Mr. Alpert.

“They were gentlemen,” he said. “I think their extraordinary success was really predicated on those very human qualities — not being ruthless businessmen or kill-or-be-killed people. They were artist friendly.”

Built from humble beginnings in Mr. Alpert’s garage, A&M — its name was taken from the initials of its founders’ last names — became a major force in pop music and eventually earned its founders a huge payday. In 1989, they sold A&M’s recorded music business to PolyGram for a reported $500 million (about $1.2 billion in today’s money), though Mr. Moss and Mr. Alpert continued to manage the label until 1993. In 2000, they sold Rondor, their music publishing catalog, to Universal Music for an estimated $400 million.

Mr. Alpert set the tone for how the label interacted with musicians after what he said in an interview on Thursday were his own unhappy experiences, early in his career, with big labels that had treated him “like a number.” That approach also gave some negotiating leverage to A&M, which in its early days lacked the financial resources of its corporate competitors in pursuing new acts.

Mr. Moss, who began his career promoting pop and doo-wop records to radio stations, ran the business side of A&M with its longtime president, Gil Friesen, who died in 2012. But he also insisted on fair dealings with artists.

“You can’t force people to do a certain kind of music,” Mr. Moss said in an interview with The New York Times in 2010. “They make their best music when they are doing what they want to do, not what we want them to do.”

Early on, A&M signed the country singer Waylon Jennings, who cut a handful of singles but disagreed about his career trajectory with Mr. Alpert, who favored pop material. When Mr. Jennings got an offer from RCA Victor’s Nashville office, A&M agreed to release him from his deal.

“I looked at Jerry and said, ‘This guy is going to be a big artist.’ He said, ‘I know,’” Mr. Alpert recalled. “At that point I realized we could be a big success with that attitude. We let Waylon out of the contract. He went on to a great career, and we remained friends with him.”

Mr. Moss with one of A&M’s most successful artists, Janet Jackson, with platinum albums for her 1986 album, “Control.” The label’s eclectic roster also included (among many other artists) the Police, Peter Frampton and the Carpenters.Credit…Lester Cohen/Getty Images

Jerome Sheldon Moss was born in the Bronx on May 8, 1935, to Irving and Rose Moss. His father was a department store salesman, his mother a homemaker.

Mr. Moss graduated from Brooklyn College in 1957. While waiting tables at a resort, he met Marvin Cane, one of the founders of Coed Records, who offered him a job pitching records to radio stations for $75 a week. His first big success was the doo-wop ballad “16 Candles” by the Crests, which reached No. 2 on the Billboard pop singles chart in late 1958.

Mr. Moss moved to Los Angeles intending to enter the television business, but instead he soon set himself up again as a radio promoter. It was there that he met Mr. Alpert, who had worked as a songwriter and was attempting to establish himself as a vocalist under the name Dore Alpert.

In 1962, the two young men went into business together, investing $100 apiece. They released “Tell It to the Birds,” a single credited to Dore Alpert, on a label they called Carnival.

After learning that another record company was already using that name, they settled on A&M for their next release: “The Lonely Bull,” a trumpet-led instrumental with atmospheric sounds recorded at a bullfighting ring in Mexico. They borrowed $35,000 to press the single, which went to No. 6 and immediately put A&M on the map.

By 1966, A&M was as successful as any label in pop music. That year, Mr. Alpert and the Tijuana Brass outsold the Beatles and had four albums in the top 10 at the same time. The group dominated the easy-listening market of the era with hits like “A Taste of Honey” and “Spanish Flea”; Mr. Alpert himself had a No. 1 vocal hit in 1968 with “This Guy’s in Love With You.” A&M also signed the Brazilian pianist and bandleader Sérgio Mendes and his band Brasil ’66, which toured with Mr. Alpert.

In 1966 the label moved into Charlie Chaplin’s former film studio lot in Hollywood. A&M later signed another huge soft-pop act, the Carpenters, and, through deals with other labels, put out records by Cat Stevens (who now goes by the name Yusuf Islam) and Carole King, including her blockbuster 1971 LP, “Tapestry.”

In 1976, A&M released Mr. Frampton’s double live album “Frampton Comes Alive!,” which became one of the defining rock hits of the decade, eventually going eight times platinum. In the 1980s, A&M signed Ms. Jackson, whose album “Control” (1986) went to No. 1 and established her as a major talent.

After selling A&M, Mr. Moss and Mr. Alpert briefly ran another label, Almo Sounds, whose artists included Gillian Welch and Garbage. The founders were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as nonperformers in 2006.

Mr. Moss’s survivors include his wife, Tina Moss; two sons, Ron and Harrison; two daughters, Jennifer and Daniela; and five grandchildren.

Mr. Moss at a Songwriters Hall of Fame event in New York in 2012.Credit…Theo Wargo/Getty Images North America

In his later years, Mr. Moss had notable success owning racehorses. One, Giacomo — named after one of Sting’s sons — won the Kentucky Derby in 2005, at extraordinary odds. Another racehorse, Zenyatta, was named after one of the Police’s albums, “Zenyatta Mondatta” (1980).

Mr. Moss was active in local philanthropy. In 2020, he and his wife donated $25 million to the Music Center, a performing arts complex in downtown Los Angeles that includes the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Ahmanson Theater, Walt Disney Concert Hall and other spaces.

But Mr. Moss said that he was at his happiest making records with Mr. Alpert.

“It is the best feeling in the world,” he told The Times. “I’d turn to Herbie and say, man, what in the world did we do to deserve this?”

Back to top button