Baja Marimba Band
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The Baja Marimba Band was a popular musical group led by marimba player Julius Wechter. Initially formed by producer Herb Alpert to cash in on the "south of the border" craze started by his own Tijuana Brass, the Baja Marimba Band outlasted the Tijuana Brass by several years thanks largely in part to TV producer Chuck Barris, who featured the group's music on his game shows through the mid-1970s.
In 1958, Julius joined Martin Denny's band where he played marimba (replacing Arthur Lyman) as well as numerous other percussion instruments. Four years later he was paid $15 as a session man on Herb Alpert's debut album, The Lonely Bull. Wechter soon composed "Spanish Flea" for Alpert, which became a hit for him. Alpert encouraged Wechter to form his own group, The Baja Marimba Band, to help cash in on the faux-Mexican popularity of Albert's own Tijuana Brass.
In 1964, the Baja Marimba Band was formed using session men to supplement Wechter. These musicians included, at one time or another, Roy Caton, Pete Jolly, Lew McCreary, Nick Ceroli, Hal Blaine, Tommy Tedesco, and Leon Russell. The band hit the charts with its first single "Comin' in the Back Door" and recorded a dozen albums for A&M, as well as being Alpert's support act. The main lineup from 1965-1971 was Bernie Fleischer on reeds, Ervan "Bud" Coleman on guitar (replaced upon Coleman's death in 1967 by Charlie Chiarenza), Frank DeCaro on rhythm guitar, Dave Wells on trombone, Lee Katzman on trumpet, Curry Tjader on percussion, Mel Pollan on Fender bass, and Frank DeVito on drums. Most if not all of the band's musicians were seasoned jazz musicians who performed with such artists as Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Don Ellis, Terry Gibbs, Buddy DeFranco, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie.
The group would appear on stage dressed in sombreros and old clothes, with fake mustaches, smoking cigars, and drinking beer, all of which was stereotypical Mexican behavior. Although this brought criticism from Mexican-American advocacy groups, for most Americans it was acceptable "bad boy" behavior, which was part of their image. The group appeared in goofy group photos on their album covers, stylishly created by Peter Whorf Graphics, and added a comedic allure (every one of their album covers after the first had a man in the background appearing to be urinating.)
Seen by many as a marketing gimmick, the group rode the wake created by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and Sérgio Mendes and Brasil '66 in the musically fertile mid-1960s. The albums were cross marketed successfully by A&M, with images of Baja Marimba Band albums appearing on the record sleeves of other A&M products. All three acts were the staple of A&M during this period. The content was considered "adult contemporary" or "easy listening" and consisted mainly of standards, originals and pop covers. Despite the humorous album covers, the music inside was a light and sophisticated mixture of bossa nova, jazz, and pop elements.
Decline and reunions
All three groups lost momentum by the end of the 1960s as the genre faded away. By the late 1960s, Alpert's Tijuana Brass disbanded, but the Baja Marimba Band stayed together for one more album on A&M in 1971 called As Time Goes By. They had a brief reunion in 1973 with an album called The Baja Marimba Band's Back on Bell Records. During the 1970s, Julius and his wife, Cissy, collaborated on film scores and musicals.
One last reunion took place in the 1980s which lasted a couple of years and produced an album called Naturally in 1982. It featured Julius Wechter on marimba and three band alumni, Bernie Fleischer on reeds, guitarist Charlie Chiarenza and trombonist Dave Wells. New to the band were: Carmen Fanzone on horns, Jules Greenberg on 2nd marimba/percussion, Harvey Newmark on bass, and Kim Stallings on guitar. Original drummer Frank DeVito toured with the group during this time, but retired and was replaced for the recording by drummer Ed Roscetti. Still later, Julius Wechter formed a new group in the early 1990s called The Baja Marimbas with marimbaist Jules Greenberg, and they released one album, called New Deal.
After Wechter's death from lung cancer in 1999, the Baja Marimba Band disbanded.
- 1964: Baja Marimba Band (A&M)
- 1965: Baja Marimba Band Rides Again (A&M)
- 1965: For Animals Only (A&M)
- 1966: Watch Out! (A&M)
- 1967: Heads Up! (A&M)
- 1968: Fowl Play (A&M)
- 1968: Do You Know The Way To San Jose (A&M)
- 1968: Those Were The Days (A&M)
- 1969: Fresh Air (A&M)
- 1971: As Time Goes By (A&M)
- 1973: The Baja Marimba Band's Back (Bell)
- 1982: Naturally (Applause)
- 1990: New Deal (Bay Cities)
- 1970: Greatest Hits (A&M)
- 1973: Foursider (A&M)
- 1974: A Treasury Of The Award-Winning Herb Alpert And The Tijuana Brass Plus Selections From The Baja Marimba Band (Longines Symphonette)
- 1998: Digitally Remastered Best (A&M Japan)
- 2001: The Best of The Baja Marimba Band (Collector's Choice Music)
- 2002: 36 All-Time Favorites (Timeless/Traditions Alive)