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Adler made rock and roll history without ever needing an instrument

By Gillian G. Gaar

Although you may not know Lou Adler by name, you’ve likely heard of at least a few of his many endeavors that have made an indelible mark on our popular culture.

He served as manager to both Jan & Dean and The Mamas and The Papas. He formed the Dunhill record label. He produced Carole King’s blockbuster “Tapestry” album. He planned the Monterey Pop Festival. And, for those of you who’ve wielded squirt guns and pitched rice at the movie screen during a showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” you have Adler to thank, as he served as the musical movie’s co-producer.

Adler was born in Chicago in 1933, and grew up in East Los Angeles. He met his future partner, Herb Alpert, while working at Keen Records, where they wrote and produced acts like Marti Barris and Sam Cooke. Adler and Alpert had been working on a song called “Wonderful World;” once Sam Cooke put the final touches on it (all three have a writing credit), the song was transformed into a romantic classic.

Lou Adler

What would life be like without the Monterey Pop Festival, Carole King's 'Tapestry' and 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show'? Thanks to Lou Adler, we'll never have to find out. Photo courtesy Shutterstock.

“I don’t know what it would have been if [Cooke] didn’t get involved,” Adler later told biographer Peter Guralnick, “but what it became was because of him.”

Cooke moved on to RCA, and Adler and Alpert moved into management, where they worked with surf act Jan & Dean and co-wrote and produced the duo’s 1959 hit “Baby Love,” among others. Adler then went into publishing, heading up the West Coast office of Aldon Music (founded by Don Kirshner and Al Nevins), as well as working for the Colpix and Dimension labels. While at Aldon, Adler made several useful contacts, including songwriters Steve Barri and P.F. Sloan, whom he later signed to work for his own publishing company, Trousdale. When Adler formed his own label, Dunhill Records, he tapped Sloan to write a pre-packaged slice of protest pop called “Eve of Destruction,” which became a No. 1 hit for Barry McGuire in 1965. Dunhill enjoyed even greater success with the quintessential flower-power group The Mamas and The Papas, which had six Top 5 hits from 1965 to 1967, including “California Dreamin’,” “Monday, Monday” and “Dedicated to the One I Love” — all of which Adler produced. Adler’s first wife, Shelley Fabares, was another Dunhill Records artist.

In 1967, Adler sold Dunhill to ABC Records and then formed Ode Records — just in time to usher in the Summer of Love with Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” (co-produced by Adler). Adler was then one of the producers of that year’s Monterey International Pop Festival, the landmark event that transformed the U.S. careers of Jimi Hendrix, The Who and Janis Joplin. He also had the foresight to make sure the festival’s acts were filmed, co-producing the documentary “Monterey Pop,” one of the first notable feature-length rock music documentaries.

Rocky Horror Picture Show

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is one of many pet projects of Lou Adler. The 1975 musical, which has become a cult classic, featured Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick. This Mint-Condition "Chorus Line"-style movie poster sold for $155.35, including the buyer's premium, via Heritage Auction Gallery.

Even greater success was awaiting Ode in the ’70s, as a result of Adler signing Carole King to the label. While the singer-songwriter’s first album for Ode, “Writer,” was a only modest success, 1971’s “Tapestry” (which Adler produced) was a huge hit. It sold more than 25 million copies and won four Grammys, with Adler taking home two for Album of the Year and Record of the Year (for “It’s Too Late”). Adler produced all of King’s albums on Ode; her records have been credited with helping to launch the singer-songwriter movement of the 1970s.

In 1973, Adler opened the Roxy Theatre (which he still owns, having bought out his original partners) in West Hollywood. The club didn’t just host music acts; in 1974, Adler produced the first U.S. run of the musical “The Rocky Horror Show” at the Roxy (as well as producing the show’s soundtrack album). A Broadway run of the show in 1975 flopped, as did the initial release of the film version, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (co-produced by Adler). But over time, interest in “Rocky Horror” grew, as it became a staple on the midnight movie circuit, on its way to becoming the most successful cult film of all time.
“Rocky Horror” wasn’t the only cult film Adler has been involved with. He also produced the 1970 film “Brewster McCloud,” and 1981’s “Shock Treatment,” which was written by “Rocky Horror” author Richard O’Brien); directed and produced 1978’s “Up in Smoke,” the drug-themed debut film by comedy team Cheech & Chong, who recorded for Ode Records in the ’70s with Adler as their producer; and directed 1982’s “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains,” the ahead-of-its-time film about an all-female punk band, starring Diane Lane. Although “Stains” was initially unsuccessful, it, too, has found a cult following, and has been cited as an influence by numerous riot grrrl acts. GM