Spend a Week With The Mexicali Brass

If you didn’t much like the Tijuana Brass back in their day (1960’s to early 1970’s) then you won’t much care for Crown’s imitation of the real thing. Crown wasn’t the only budget record company churning out TJB soundalike/lookalike fodder but they might have been the most successful.

Several of these LPs are direct ripoffs of successful TJB LPs, using the same title tracks like Taste of Honey, Whipped Cream, Spanish Flea & What Now My Love.  So what kind of bargain are these fake TJ Brass LPs?  All the Crown MB LPs have 5 cuts per side and most share tracks;  Pico Pico, Tijuana Hot Sauce, El Choclo, El Relicario & others appear on many of the various MB records with no attempt to hide the fact (printing the shared titles right on the covers in most cases)–so for your 99 cents you get 10 tracks with up to three appearing on other MB LPs you may have purchased. So what’s the better deal here: one authentic TJ Brass LP or several 99 cent fakes which share cuts and fall apart in your hands? And none of the suggestively posed Mexicali Brass models can compete with TJ Brass’ famous whipped cream cover.

Besides sharing titles, Crown included many public domain tunes on these LPs, giving the Mexicali Brass treatment to inappropriate titles such as In The Shade of the Old Apple Tree, Song of the Volga Boatman & Bill Bailey to name a few.

The story I heard from Bill Lazerus, the recording engineer on most of these LPs, is that the brilliant Maxwell Davis wrote the arrangements and churned out these tracks with hired horns in the old Normandie studios until a lawsuit from Herb Alpert put a stop to it. Most of tracks sound like the same band & arranger.  The tunes sound rushed through and unrehearsed, like much of Crown’s budget era LPs under the direction of Jerry Cole & Maxwell Davis. The same guitar sound is prominent on most tracks though I have no evidence that it’s Jerry Cole on the strings.

Poor Maxwell Davis…he passed away from exhaustion, worked to death at Crown’s budget record factory, before he could retire and enjoy the benefit of a long & successful music career.  Everyone speaks highly and with great affection of this talented musician, composer, arranger & band leader.


Crown created several Mexicali Brass LPs based on tracks on the TJ Brass LP Whipped Cream & Other Delights. Up first is the Mex Brass LP A Taste of Honey with a cover shot showing a model’s ample cleavage, somewhat suggestive of the cover on Alpert’s classic.

Crown’s treatment of the tune A Taste of Honey sounds (at least in my opinion) like a high school band, complete with sour horn notes & some offbeat drumming.

Better sounding is MB’s treatment of the blues classic Careless Love, featuring guitar work & sound found throughout these LPs.

tasteofhoney

CLP 5487 / 1966


Thunderbolt apparently was never covered by the Tijuana Brass but it’s natural tune for the MB treatment. A better than average track here:

Thunderball

CST 506 / 1966


South Of The Border is a direct ripoff of a successful TJB LP of the same name. Cover shot doesn’t match much though. The tune Tijuana Harlem is a crazy mix of Latin brass, blues & rock and roll. One of the better MB cuts on any of the LPs.

SouthBorder

CST 524 / 1966


What Now My Love is another direct ripoff of a TJB LP of the same name. Adding to the insult, Crown adds another TJB hit to the mix, Spanish Flea.

Way Down On The Swanee River is one of those absurd choices Crown picked to give the MB treatment.

WhatNowMyLove

CLP 5511 / 1966


Whipped Cream is Crown’s first Mexicali Brass LP. They didn’t attempt to imitate the classic whipped cream TJB cover but went for broke, putting two TJB hits on one record: Whipped Cream & The Lonely Bull.  Strange, this LP was immediately reissued, erasing any trace of Lonely Bull on either LP or cover. Perhaps A&M issued a warning from the start.

whipped cream2WhippedCream

CST 471 / 1965


The Shadow of Your Smile was a hit for the TJ Brass on the What Now My Love LP.

ShadowSmile

CST 544 / 1967


Here MB goes country though this tune sounds like its horn charts were stolen from a soul record.

CW

CLP 5543 / 1967

I still have a stack of Mex Brass LPs to go through and post but that’ll have to wait for another week this year.

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4 thoughts on “Spend a Week With The Mexicali Brass

  1. Ok. The Mexicali Brass is really spinning my head a little bit. Let me explain. I bought quite a few of these, and the darndest thing is, I actually love my Mexicali Brass albums. The whole thing is such a dichotomy: here you have a rip-off group, with tracks being churned out in a style appropriate for a low-budget operation and yet…in there is something altogether enjoyable about these rag-tag albums. Its a paradox.

    Because the imitation band was basically a small combo- drums, trumpets, bass, guitar and maybe an occasional marimba/xylophone and trombones at times, there was no way to get the genuine TJB sound. But often, when someone is trying to imitate something else, what you get is a group of musicians whose personal play styles color whatever it is they are copying, so you get something ironically kinda, sorta original in a strange way.

    I like how the drummer used in these Mexicali cuts really has no problem with driving the bass right into the ground on some of the faster cuts. I had never heard anyone outside of Motown’s Benny Benjamin who really drove a song with a full-out assault on the bass drum. This gives the Mexicali Brass sound a great “bottom” that I don’t hear with TJB.

    Also, I like how these productions follow a sort of formula: horns start at the beginning, a hot guitar solo that plays the melody line the horns played on the first verse, then back the trumpets. And those trumpets must have been pegging beyond the “hot zone” on the recording meters, because they really JUMP out of the speakers.

    Yes, there is a rushed quality to the music, but that gives it a rawness that, to me, is fun to listen to. As odd as this may sound, anyone can record a flawless, perfectly mastered tune, but when you hear a few flubbed notes here and there and a drum that doesn’t quite synch up all the time, it’s weirdly fun.

    That may be another reason I like these albums. Your expectations aren’t high- at all- so when you get a tune like El Relicario, it can really be mesmerizing. That thing makes all kinds of illegal left turns and yet the band is incredibly in synch on every stop and start and gear-shifting changes between sections.

    “The Mexicali Brass Go Country And Western” is another paradox. Supposedly, these are country and western tunes but frankly this could as easily been called, “The Mexicali Brass Go R&B” There is even a tune that sounds like the Crown interpretation of The Motown Sound. So you have Country tunes with a Soulful interpretation.

    You got me hooked here and I’m frankly enjoying this whole Crown collecting adventure.

  2. Great review of the Mex Brass LP series Mark! You went deep into the grooves here. These were one-take recordings with little or no rehearsal which gives them that raw feel you mentioned. The arrangements were written by Maxwell Davis overnight and the band members were session musicians who could play right off the charts; there’s no record of their identity. You’ve probably noticed that many of the MB LPs share cuts and that most of the tunes were original or public domain, budget LPs all the way. Hope you’re buying these Crowns on the cheap!

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