From Brazil '66 With Love
Lani Hall on an incredible five-decade career and "the love of my life," Herb Alpert
Lani Hall burst onto the international music scene in 1966. As the lead singer of Sergio Mendes and Brazil '66, she made the rounds of variety shows and concert halls, igniting a career that now includes nearly two dozen albums in three different languages, two Grammy Awards and is the author of the book Emotional Memoirs & Short Stories, first published in 2012.
Since 1971, the effusive singer-songwriter has been the wife and frequent collaborator of Herb Alpert. The harmonious duo are currently on a tour that includes a stop at Atlanta's City Winery on May 5. INsite caught up with Hall by phone at her home in Malibu.
You've worked with Herb Alpert since the mid-60s. How has the collaborative dynamic evolved over the years? Obviously things changed with your marriage in '71.
It's so much deeper now. Our relationship affected everything and it's changed quite a bit. I actually think it changes by getting deeper. It's more mature emotionally and trusting. It's the perfect situation for me. There I am, onstage with the love of my life and an amazing band of friends who are great musicians. We get to have these musical conversations with each other and take chances knowing that we aren't going to fall flat on our faces. They're listening and we're listening. We're always experimenting with our own gifts. It's more mature now because that experimentation wasn't really there yet in the '60s.
It must be very satisfying to create - often spontaneously - with your partner.
I feel like an audience when we're on stage. I'm listening to him and to the band when they're improvising. It's thrilling!
At this point, you have three albums as a duo and over 50 years of material to pick from for the set.
We do and we also get a chance to do things we've always thought about doing but never did before. We have some medleys and we experiment with other genres as well. Like, Herb does a Jason Mraz tune called "I'm Yours," this funky reggae thing. It's all just a blank canvas and Herb paints it in the direction he wants it to go, so it suits all of us.
That's the best way to perform.
It's so relaxed. He talks to the audience and really brings them in. He says, "Does anybody have any questions? Any thoughts or ideas?" It's really nice and intimate.
What do you remember about the first time you met Herb?
It was at the audition we did for A&M Records. Herb and Jerry Moss came in, the A and the M. We played probably three or four songs and they signed us! At that audition, he asked to drive me home.
Ah, so he was already charmed.
(laughs) But I said, "No. I have a ride, thank you very much, Mr. Alpert." Then it just blossomed. We were friends for a while and then we were on the road. Brazil '66 opened the show for the Tijuana Brass at the time, when they were the biggest music sensation in the world.
The mid-'60s must have been like Beatlemania for you.
It was. We went from playing small clubs to all-of-a-sudden playing to 20,000 people. We really had to adjust to that! Then we started recording the albums. Herb was producing us and everything just took off. The exposure that we had and the way the albums were produced, just made it all shine.
That era, from '66 through the early '70s, is arguably the best in music history.
So many different styles were out there. The music was so rich and wonderful, it was exciting and interesting and experimental.
In those days, discovering new music and even playing a new record was a ritual.
That's right. It was just an adventure to hear all of that great music.
As a kid, when I bought a single or LP on A&M - often without even hearing it first - I knew it would be good.
Well that was Herb and Jerry. They really nurtured the artists. It was very unusual. And the artists were really grateful to be on A&M because they were given the freedom to experiment and understand their own artform. No one was pressuring them, so it was quite a time. I was so fortunate because I was on A&M for my whole career. It was the only company I ever dealt with.
Right, even your solo records were on A&M.
When I left Brazil '66, I started a solo career and they were all on there. I was lucky that I didn't have to deal with the music industry and trying to get a label.
But obviously you had interest from the other companies, too. Clive Davis and some of the suits of the day must've made offers.
They did but I was married to the A of A&M and I wasn't going anywhere else.
When you joined Sergio's band you were working in Chicago and he was based in L.A. How did you connect with him?
Well you know, Sergio had a group called Brazil '65 and they worked all over. They were at a club in Chicago on the same street of a coffee shop where I was singing. His group was breaking up and going back to Brazil. But he didn't want to stop. He wanted to put a new group together, this time with some Americans instead of an all Brazilian line-up. Somebody told him about me and between shows, he came over to see my show. He introduced himself afterwards and he said he would like for me to be the lead singer for his new group, Brazil '66.
That was a very sudden decision.
Yeah, but I said, 'Well you're going to have to ask my father.' Because I didn't know anything about anything. So he came over to our apartment and asked my father if he could whisk me away with this new band. My father reluctantly said, 'Ok, but if there's ever any problems, you hop on a plane and come home.' I was 19 and that was it. I never lived in Chicago again and we were on the road eleven months out of the year.
A pretty cool fact about your marriage to Herb is that you've both recorded James Bond themes. "Casino Royale"(1967) may have a bit of an edge on the coolness factor but your "Never Say Never Again" from '83 was a really good theme from an often-overlooked piece of the franchise.
That was Sean Connery's swan song as Bond, too.
What was that session like for you?
It was really interesting because it was Sergio who brought that song to me. He said, "You'd sound great singing this, so let's do it. I'll produce it with Herb. Here, you can have this song." I thought that was very generous of him. So we went into a studio at A&M and recorded it. It was the first time I'd worked with Sergio since I'd left the group.
You've been back out on the road since 2006. Will you be performing any of the songs from your duo albums with Herb?
We do a couple, but we're kind of moving on from even that. We like to keep it fresh for us so musically it's a very exciting show. We did 52 concerts last year and we're booking even more for this year. It's just a great time.
Lani Hall performs with Herb Alpert on May 5 at City Winery. For more information, please visit citywinery.com/atlanta.